Phoenix — The Detroit Lions fell well short of expectations in coach Matt Patricia's first season, winning three fewer games than the year before and failing to put together back-to-back victories at any point during the campaign.
A common belief is there wasn't enough buy-in to the culture and demands Patricia was attempting to establish after a lengthy tenure in New England, the gold standard of winning in the NFL.
Maybe. But what exactly is buy-in? Patricia pondered the topic during a breakfast session with reporters at the league meetings Tuesday morning.
"It's a good question," Patricia said. "I think the buy-in is always a tricky conversation. I'm not really sure. Everybody buys in when you win. It's easy.
"But do you know if they're really buying in or are they just riding the train of winning? I think this is where we find out."
Patricia believes buy-in comes naturally when you have a roster full of the right type of people, namely those with relentless work ethic.
"More so than buy in, it's, OK, who are the guys that want to work hard?,'" he said. "Who are the guys that want to do it the right way? Who are the guys that are trying to help us build long-standing success? Who are the guys that want to study the game and work hard at it? There's just a different level of work ethic that some of the guys have that are going to come in or that we're developing of the fine line of what the NFL really is. You know? It may just be an extra hour year or a little conversation here between players or being a little bit smarter in these situations. It's really more about that than the buy-in factor. It's about just the right types of guys you put together as a team."
Patricia, 44, doesn't deny there are talented players and good people who aren't willing to go the extra mile, but the coach would clearly prefer to build a roster with like-minded individuals, who eat, sleep and drink the game of football.
Like many coaches, he has developed a reputation for sleeping at the team's practice facility many nights during the season.
Patricia's goal for the Lions isn't simply returning to 9-7, sneaking into the playoffs or even winning the division. His eyes are on Super Bowls, as in plural. Anything short of competing for championships year in and year out, the way he did when he was in New England, is failure.
"A game here or there, we can all point to a play, or a particular situation, that if it had gone the other way, the record may change by two or three games, but it doesn't really solve the problem," Patricia said. "The goal, what we're trying to accomplish, is to build a really foundationally strong team. Then we can build on top of that to be a great team."
This offseason, the Lions already have added several players who played with or for Patricia in New England, including Trey Flowers, Danny Amendola, Justin Coleman. Naturally, those players would have inherent knowledge of Patricia's expectations, making them natural fits.
General manager Bob Quinn understands that sentiment, but insists each of his signings have far more to do with those players' talents than their ability to establish culture. But it also doesn't hurt.
"The culture part of it was important to us, it was something that we feel strongly about because this league's tough and it's a couple plays every game so if we can have guys that know what to expect in terms of the scheme, the philosophy, the message gets down to everybody on the roster easier," Quinn said earlier this week. "It's something we were conscious of, but I think, number one, is what they do on the field and what they can really give us on a day in and day out basis."
Patricia wasn't interested in evaluating the percentage of his roster he believed bought in or fit his culture in 2018. He doesn't want to focus on the past, but on the future, and believes the team has built a roster more in the desired mold this offseason.
He's also counting on his own improvements in his second season at the helm.
"It will always be better with the guys we have," he said. "I'll be better. We'll start there; I'm going to be a better teacher and a better coach. Hopefully the players will all improve. That's the biggest part of it, from that standpoint."