By: Will Burchfield
From a pure football standpoint, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia has the makings of a great head coach in the NFL.
He’s extremely smart, he can adjust on the fly and he’s led one of the league’s best scoring defenses each of the past six seasons. It’s for these reasons that the Lions will interview Patricia for their head coaching vacancy over the weekend.
But does Patricia possess the polish to become the face of a franchise?
On top of his scruffy appearance, highlighted by his bushy beard and backwards ball cap, Patricia stirred up some controversy after the Patriots’ Super Bowl triumph last season when he stepped off the team plane wearing a bright blue T-shirt depicting commissioner Roger Goodell as a clown.
Goodell, of course, had come down hard on the Patriots for Deflategate, infuriating football fans across New England. Patricia seized the opportunity to become something of a folk hero.
It didn’t sit well with Goodell, per multiple reports, and Patricia will have to answer for it a year later. Along with the Lions, he’s reportedly set to interview with the Cardinals and Giants.
Patriots beat writer Jim McBride of the Boston Globe said Patricia’s fashion statement was “shocking.”
“He’s going to have some explaining to do in his interviews about that one,” McBride told 97.1 The Ticket. “Whether that was an emotional moment type of thing…I think it shocked a lot of us that cover this team on a daily basis and talk to Matt once a week. That was kind of a shocking thing to see him emerge from the plane with that on. You would have expected Gronk or someone like that to wear that shirt.”
McBride also isn’t sure how Patricia would handle the press; NFL head coaches typically speak to the media five times per week.
“I wonder about his approach with the media when he’s got a head coaching job because he’s kind of a filibuster. He’ll give you a long answer about something but he never really answers the question. You ask him about one (cornerback)…and Matt ends up talking about every single cornerback on the roster. He never really gives you that straight answer. It’s more of a Jedi mind trick, so I wonder if he’ll adjust his style if he becomes a head coach,” said McBride.
Evasiveness on the part of the Lions’ head coach would be nothing new for the Detroit media, of course. It was Jim Caldwell’s calling card for the better part of four years.
As for the clown tee, McBride believes Patricia can handle whatever questions come his way.
“If there’s a guy who can explain it away, it’s this guy. He’s really smart. They talk about coaches being geniuses, and they use it as a cliché, but this guy actually is a rocket scientist. He majored in aeronautical engineering in college (at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute). Just a really smart guy,” said McBride.
The Patriots’ defense struggled mightily in the early parts of this season as Patricia integrated a host of new players. But it quickly round into form and finished fifth in the NFL in points against per game (18.5).
Asked what makes Patricia such an appealing head coaching candidate, McBride said, “It’s the way he’s able to turn things around pretty quickly. … He was able to find a way to kind of gel those guys and work out the communication issues that they all pointed to as the biggest problem. This defense over the last eight weeks of the season has been one of the best in the NFL.”
McBride added that New England is the only team in the NFL that’s surrendered less than 20 points per game over the last four seasons, all of which came with Patricia as defensive coordinator. His is perennially a bend-don’t-break defense.
Lions general manager Bob Quinn will interview Patricia at the Patriots’ headquarters this weekend.
Yesterday Quinn interviewed Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel, who’s drawn rave reviews, and on Tuesday he interviewed two in-house candidates in offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.
Quinn will sit down with Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and Packers linebacker coach Winston Moss on Thursday.