Mobile, Ala. — When the Detroit Lions hired Brayden Coombs to run their special teams units, it appeared coach Matt Patricia had gone outside the box to hire a young, up-and-coming assistant from beyond his traditional sphere of contacts.
But as things often due in Patricia's world, roads tend to lead back to New England.
Coombs, a former Miami (Ohio) University receiver had spent his entire coaching career with the Cincinnati Bengals, assisting with the team's special teams the past eight years under coordinator Darrin Simmons. Simmons had previously worked under Scott O'Brien, who had stints working for Patriots head coach Bill Belichick in both Cleveland and New England.
O'Brien moved from coaching into scouting in 2015 and currently works as an area scout in New England.
But back to Coombs. He earned his opportunity and had been on the Lions radar for the past couple of years. Despite the Bengals; dismal 2019 campaign, the team's special teams were excellent, ranking No. 1 in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders.
"He's been in the secondary role for a while, so he's had a whole lot of experience," Simmons said. "I relied on him a lot this year, in a different way. I probably asked for his opinion more on things, especially during games. I think he's more than ready to go."
Coombs reportedly drew interest from the Green Bay Packers a year ago but ended up staying with the Bengals another year. He found Detroit's job offer appealing because of the genuine emphasis Patricia and the Lions put on special teams.
"I can't overstate how important that is," Coombs said. "Not every head coach is like that. Some guys want no involvement with it. They want you to tell them what you're going to do and just go do it.
"Matt is, by far and away, any head coach I've been around, the most knowledgeable and invested and interested in the kicking game," Coombs continued. "He has a vision what he wants it to look like. I think that's a big reason why I'm here because he feels like it's a good fit with the things we did in Cincinnati from a scheme standpoint. For me to have him not just know what he's talking about, but to care about being involved in it and wanting to be a part of that, is really exciting for me."
When Simmons entered the NFL with Baltimore, he was 25 years old and did everything he could to prevent the roster from learning his age. He didn't want it to compromise the players' respect for his coaching ability. With birth dates being more readily available in this era, Coombs won't be able to hide the fact that at 33 years old, he might be younger than some of his players.
He also doesn't see it as an issue.
"I think the guys, in my experience, not just special teams players but NFL football players in general, they don't really care about your age, they don't really care about your past," he said. "What they want to know is how you're going to help them be a better football player, individually and collectively, how am I going to help them win games."
Coombs coaching style figures to be a hybrid of what he learned from Simmons, as well as his father Terry, who recently left his job as defensive backs coach for the Tennessee Titans to become the new defensive coordinator at Ohio State.
"I'm going to be high-energy, I'm going to be running around at practice, I'm going to be excited, all those things," Coombs said. "My dad is almost 60 and he's the same way."
Coomb's energy has been apparent during the early Senior Bowl practices, where the Lions staff is coaching the North team and he's getting his first work in his new role. His voice can often be heard booming above the chatter of the fans, media and NFL personnel in attendance at Ladd-Peebles stadium.
As for how he plans to build out his units, he'll follow the blueprint Simmons implemented in Cincinnati, demanding toughness, competitiveness and attention to detail in the meeting rooms.
"We always want to be the aggressor on Sunday," Coombs said. "We don't want to be reacting. We want to set the tone and take on the personality of our team. Make a difference every Sunday, control field position, make the explosive plays."