Ricky Jean Francois: More Lions need to 'buy in' to changing culture

By Nolan Bianchi
Special to The Detroit News

Detroit — The hiring of Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn and his ensuing appointment of former New England Patriot colleague Matt Patricia as the team’s head coach was dubbed as an attempt to change the culture of a franchise with one playoff win since 1957.

But according to defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois, in Sunday’s 27-9 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, the Lions confirmed once and for all that if a culture change is to take shape, there are still many more changes to be made.

Lions defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois strongly hinted that not every player has bought into changing the culture in Detroit.

“We can’t be on a level of a team like (the Vikings) until we understand that either people are going to buy in, or we’re just going to remold the culture around us,” Jean Francois said.

“I’m not finger-pointing on who needs to be changed, or who needs to go somewhere, but if you want a different regime, you want a different buy-in, system like that … you change the people that sit in it.”

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Jean Francois attributed the source of that philosophy to a line he read from famed Indian activist Mahatma Gandhi. The direct quote is, “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.”

And while Jean Francois wouldn’t say directly whether he was referencing Detroit’s coaching staff or its roster, it’s clear that his irritation lies with the latter.

Jean Francois said he disagreed with a reporter who suggested the Lions’ issue was with scheme rather than execution, and when asked about whether he felt that everybody “bought in” this season, Jean Francois asked, “Does it look like it?”

“I just know we got a hell of a team, we got a hell of a quarterback, we got great coaches around us, but it won’t show.”

Jean Francois reached the Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers in 2012 and made the AFC championship game with the Indianapolis Colts two years later. He also helped the Patriots reach the Super Bowl last season.

He’s part of a very small group of Lions’ players that has achieved postseason success with any team, which qualifies him for a deeper understanding of the nuances that separate a team like Detroit from those that are competing for titles.

“It’s not even just buying into what’s going on,” he said. “It’s buying into the preparation, buying into the process, buying into the stuff that they make us go through every week.”

And most importantly, buying into the idea that attention to detail is the key factor between pulling out a victory or having to “come out here and keep explaining this.”

“Like other teams when we played and brought it down to the edge, they wanted it because they fought with the details,” Jean Francois said. “They picked up certain things about us, they game-planned for us.”

The head coaching failures of Bill Belichick disciples such as Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel or Eric Mangini — who, at one point, was nicknamed “Mangenius” for his work as New England’s defensive coordinator — are proof that trying to carbon copy the Patriot way isn’t a guaranteed route to success.

So far, the Quinn-Patricia era in Detroit has disappointed, and it’s unknown at this point whether the Lions are experiencing growing pains or flooring the gas pedal of a vehicle stuck in reverse.

The problem, of course, is that the answer to that question is in the same place it’s been for the last 61 years: Next season.

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer