The Lions Have a Lot of Work to Do

The Lions fired head coach Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn on Saturday with five weeks left in the season. Detroit is going to need all of that time to begin fixing its broken franchise.
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Sheila Ford Hamp just bought herself time, pulling the plug on coach Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn with five weeks left in the NFL season. And it’s a good thing, too, that the Lions’ new controlling owner did that, because she may well need all of it.

There’s a lot of work to do.

But before we get to that, I’ll make clear I’m not exonerating Quinn or Patricia. Until this year, the Lions hadn’t improved in any year, year-over-year, during Quinn’s tenure, and it only was about to happen in 2020 because the team was 3-12-1 in 2019. As for Patricia, he wraps up two-plus years at 13-29-1. This year, the Lions went deeper in on the coach’s vision, and had a couple golden opportunities to dig out of funks and into contention.

It didn’t happen, and all that would get most coaches and GMs fired, which is where Quinn and Patricia wound up after a bad final week. The Lions entered it at 4-5, set to play two teams that came in with five wins combined. They got beat soundly twice. A 20–0 loss to Carolina would’ve been enough, were Detroit not on a short week ahead of Thanksgiving. Accordingly, the only question after the Houston loss was if Quinn would go with Patricia.

Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia walks off the field after the 41-25 loss to the Houston Texans at Ford Field, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020.

Matt Patricia walks off the field after his last game coaching the Detroit Lions, a 41-25 loss to the Houston Texans at Ford Field, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020.

He did, and that allows for Hamp, who took over for her mother Martha Ford in June, time to answer a question that’s extended back in Detroit well before she or team president Rod Wood—the other big figure in making a decision that was finalized in a meeting around 2 p.m. with Quinn and Patricia—were involved with the team.

Can the Lions align their operation?

To the credit of Hamp, Ford and Wood, they did try this year. They gave Patricia and Quinn room to deepen the team’s identity. They signed off on the trade of three-time Pro Bowl corner Darius Slay, and acquisitions of Patriot-connected players Jamie Collins, Danny Shelton and Duron Harmon. They stayed the course longer than much of their fan base would’ve liked.

The concept wasn’t wrong, and I’d even extend that to the firing of Jim Caldwell, a good coach and a good man—the idea there being that the program a scouting department is working to build should mirror the ways of the guys prowling the sideline. (Caldwell wasn’t the first, and he won’t be the last, coach or GM type to lose his job in such a transition.)

The problem, really, was that Patricia struggled to get buy-in early, and after he finally found it, having worked with Quinn to reshape the roster, the team wasn’t good enough to keep advancing what those guys were trying to build. At the end, any investment gained from the locker room eroded as the results did, putting final nails in the program’s coffin.

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A lot, of course, will have to change in the aftermath of all this. But the idea that everyone needs to be on the same page? The Lions need to double down on that part of it. They need to find a coach and a GM that share a vision. They need to meld the business and football operations—which has been a challenge in the past, with those people in different buildings (business downtown, football in the suburbs)—so everyone is a resource to everyone else. To get there, they need to be honest about the team’s macro problems.

Doing that won’t guarantee winning thereafter. But it’s a good starting point. And bringing in someone like Dearborn native/49ers DC Robert Saleh and pairing him with a prospective GM he’s familiar with (like Indy’s Ed Dodds or San Francisco’s Adam Peters) would just be where the work would begin on that.

Based on the last year, I’d guess Lions upper management would agree with me on all this.

Which I think, going into an important six weeks for the franchise, gives them a chance.