Head coach Matt Patricia speaks on the 2018 season as Detroit Lions players clean out their lockers at the end of a 6-10 campaign. Daniel Mears, The Detroit News
Allen Park — The Detroit Lions have parted ways with Jim Bob Cooter, opting not to renew the offensive coordinator's contract. The team offered no additional comment on the decision.
On Monday, when asked about potential staff changes, Lions coach Matt Patricia said everyone needed time for the emotions of the season to settle.
"I think it’s only fair, at this point of the season, for all aspects of the team, players, coaches, personnel, all of it, to allow the emotion of the season to come down and for everybody to just have that opportunity to clear your head and then go back through and analyze everything from that standpoint to see what is best for the team moving forward, in all aspects," Patricia said. "It’s not just coaching. It’s support staff, it’s players, it’s scheduling, it’s everything. So, we’ll definitely evaluate everybody."
Patricia didn't put a timetable on his process. It turns out another 24 hours was all he needed to reach a conclusion on Cooter, 34. Patricia now faces the critical challenge of finding the right man to lead and repair the team's broken offense, which ranked 25th in scoring this season.
Hired by Jim Caldwell in 2014 to coach the team's quarterbacks, Cooter was promoted to offensive coordinator in the middle of the 2015 season, after the Lions fired Joe Lombardi.
The move paid immediate and lasting dividends, particularly with quarterback Matthew Stafford, whose performance reached another level under Cooter's guidance.
For Cooter's first two-and-a-half seasons as offensive coordinator — 41 games — Stafford completed 66.3 percent of his passes, averaging 272 yards per game with a touchdown-to-interception ratio better than 3-to-1.
The offense also flourished, peaking during the 2017 season, when the Lions averaged 25.6 points per game. That ranked seventh in the NFL. The performance had the NFL advisory panel recommending Cooter as a viable candidate for head-coaching vacancies.
But Cooter is only known to have had one head coaching interview, for the Lions job last offseason, which ultimately went to Patricia.
Two days after Patricia was hired last February, he announced he would retain Cooter as Detroit's offensive coordinator, a move that had been stumped for by Stafford a month earlier.
"Jim Bob is on staff and he will be here," Patricia said. "Obviously, he’s done a great job here with what he’s been able to accomplish with Stafford and the offense.
“He’s someone that’s worked with a lot of guys that I’ve worked with in the past and someone everyone speaks very highly of, and I have a lot of respect for because I’ve been on the other side of the ball going against him,” Patricia continued. “I’m looking forward to working together and continuing that success, building on the things that have been done on that side of the ball.”
But despite offseason improvements to the offense, including the team using its first two draft picks to address longstanding issues with the run game, the offense failed to maintain its upward trajectory.
The Lions started the season with one of the league's best receiving trios, and rookie running back Kerryon Johnson quickly validated himself as the right man to lead the backfield rotation, but through seven games, the Lions ranked 14th in yardage and 18th in scoring.
After falling to 3-4 on the season, the Lions traded away Golden Tate. Not long after, Marvin Jones and Johnson would end up on injured reserve. Prior to the Lions' 31-0 season-ending victory over the Packers, the team had failed to score more than 20 points in six straight games, a product of both play-calling and the depleted personnel.
Patricia continued to praise Cooter's job performance throughout the season, and even acknowledged the difficult circumstances the coordinator had been working to overcome during the second-half of the year.
"I mean, obviously, it’s not an easy job, right?" Patricia said. "I think, he’s every single week, doing everything he can to just put us in a situation to help the collective team try to be in the end where we can win."
But more troubling than any other offensive issue was Stafford's declining performance. The 10-year-veteran's disastrous outing in the season opener proved to be foreshadowing for one of the worst years of his career. His 3,777 passing yards was the lowest total of any year where he played a full season and his 21 touchdowns were his fewest since 2012.
Last week, when Stafford was offered an opportunity to once again throw the weight of his support behind his longtime coordinator, the response lacked the zeal from a year earlier.
"(I) have no control over that, nor do I know what’s going on there," Stafford said. "I know that he and I are still working hand-in-hand right now trying to figure out the best way to beat the Packers. That’s the biggest thing on our mind right now, trying to figure out how we’re going to go out there and score points and beat a good Packers team."
On Friday, Cooter held his weekly conference call with reporters. His mood was light, he was cracking jokes, but he had little to say about his job status.
"Kind of the same old, same old story, we’ll deal with the future when the future gets here," Cooter said.
But as the call was winding down, and reporters were told there was time for just one more question, the line went silent. After a few seconds, Cooter piped up, unintentionally prophetic.
"Guys, last chance, come on," he said. "I'll get out of your hair. OK, thanks guys, thanks for everything."