Why the Lions Couldn't Replicate The Patriot Way

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During Thursday’s Lions-Texans game, color commentator Tony Romo began traveling down the Matt Patricia wormhole. He noted, as the head coach sometimes did during his tenure, that the Lions’ current situation wasn’t really that bad. By spouting that fed-to talking point, he was, of course, unwittingly accusing the previous winning tenure of Jim Caldwell was maybe worse than we’d all assumed.

They had to bring in Matt’s guys. They had to get younger. They had to change the culture. They needed time, don’t you see? It was utterly eyeroll inducing, especially while watching the Lions get flogged by an inferior Texans team, but this is not an indictment of Romo. So many people have fallen for this line over the past three years and passed it along as if it were legitimate information. It was merely symptomatic of how bad the problem had become.

Hiring a Patriots assistant can so often feel like your organization bringing in a high-powered consultant group. Their new team is so enamored by the mystique that they are easily blinded by the false assurance that the grown-ups are in charge that they fail to think critically: What if this is not Bill Belichick reincarnate, but rather a blindly overconfident greenhorn who is planning on utilizing our valuable resources to figure it out on the fly? What if all the things that seem wrong right away are, in fact, wrong and not just foreign to us because we’re unaware of how Good Football is made?

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The Lions paid a dear price for this oversight. They rushed to the altar with Patricia so quickly that they were unable to even secure the $12.99 online background check, which caused a slew of issues on its own (especially insane considering that Patricia's former co-worker, Bob Quinn, was installed as the general manager the year before and had been plotting this maneuver for a calendar year). They entrusted Patricia with the athletic prime of their franchise quarterback and a playoff-ready roster and watched as the entire thing was torched over the course of 43 games (13 wins, 29 losses and a tie). Over those three years, Detroit was 28th in wins, 24th in point differential, 26th in yardage differential and 28th in records when the game was within one score.

But, in light of his and general manager Bob Quinn’s firing on Saturday, there could be a silver lining in all of this, something that franchises can take from the entire situation and move forward.

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In the past few months, we’ve seen the Texans rid themselves of Bill O’Brien and the Lions get rid of Patricia, desperate to escape calamitous storms that had swelled beyond control. What it doesn’t mean is that all Patriots assistants are unfit to be head coaches. What it does mean is that organizations should do their due diligence first and understand the person who they are bringing in as an individual completely separate of the organization from which he came. Miami did that with Brian Flores, whose relationship with general manager Chris Grier was more than skin deep. Grier knew what kind of man Flores was. The Titans did that with Mike Vrabel. The Giants, who were fed Joe Judge’s name organically and whose character was a primary reason they pivoted in his direction after looking hard at Matt Rhule, did that.

The Lions, like the Jets, Browns, Texans, Broncos and Colts, simply purchased the trusted brand name on the package and didn’t realize its contents were stale.

It did not take long for Lions players to begin subtweeting the news in a celebratory fashion on Saturday, which is often the final score in the opera of a tyrant. From the outside, Patricia strutted around like the self-styled coach everyone envisioned while it was clear he was merely following the playbook of a smug aspirant who was in too far over their heads. The locker room recoiled. Embarrassing stories about his own punctuality and personal responsibility leaked out. He was terse, sarcastic and at times blatantly disrespectful to the press. The desperate free agency grab at former Patriots should have been interpreted as a massive flare shot up at ownership, declaring that this train was indeed off the tracks.

But instead, it took a loss so hapless and deflating like Thursday’s to bring on any consequences.

The Detroit Free Press on Saturday reported that the Lions have already grasped for a search firm to aid them in the process of righting this ship, which is typically owner-speak for I don’t have time to deal with this nonsense—you pick someone. And maybe this time it will all work out. Sometimes there is an element of luck to the coach-hiring game.

Oftentimes, though, it comes down to an ability to deeply and fully understand someone in a short period of time. The Lions, unfortunately, couldn’t even get a good defense out of their choice.