Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Cory Undlin: Matt Patricia didn’t hold me back

Detroit Free Press

Carlos Monarrez
 
| Detroit Free Press

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Detroit Lions first-year defensive coordinator Cory Undlin has called the plays on defense this season, even though Matt Patricia was the architect of the defense. Now that Patricia is gone and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has been elevated to interim coach, Undlin should have more freedom to implement changes.

But Undlin was unequivocal that Patricia never stopped him from doing anything he wanted to do even as the Lions’ 29th-ranked defensive struggled across the board.

“No, I wasn’t held back from anything,” Undlin said Tuesday during a conference call.

As for how different the defense could start to look, Undlin divulged very little.

“You can’t change an entire defense in three days,” he said. “We’ll see what it looks like after the five weeks. We’ve got a lot of work, a lot of effort into the stuff that we’ve been doing.

“Obviously we haven’t been doing great all the time. … So we’ll try to just tighten some of that stuff up and see if we can execute better than we have.”

Undlin stressed that he wanted to remain consistent in his approach and also wanted to collaborate with his assistants to put together game plans.

“I rely on the assistant coaches like I have since the first day we got here — Weeks 1 through whatever week we’re in right now,” Undlin said. “So that part’s not going to change.”

“Obviously the one piece that is changing is obvious as well. But I’m not going to walk in there and start telling everyone what to do. It’ll be all of us working together, putting together the best plan for the players.”

Coombs: Patricia selfless

After eight years of working his way up the coaching ladder, Brayden Coombs finally got his big break this year when Patricia hired him as the Lions’ special teams coordinator.

It was a job, Coombs said Tuesday, that he felt he had been ready for maybe at least two years. But it was Patricia who saw the potential in Coombs and hired him away from the Cincinnati Bengals.

Coombs rewarded Patricia’s faith in him by turning the Lions’ special teams, with rookie punter Jack Fox leading the way, into an elite unit. So it wasn’t much of a surprise that Coombs went out of his way Tuesday to thank Patricia, whom the Lions fired Saturday along with general manager Bob Quinn.

“Just really, really grateful for Matt and really kind of painful and frustrating to see him have to go out this way because whatever public perception has been or whatnot, Matt Patricia’s probably one of the most selfless people that I’ve ever been around,” Coombs said in a conference call. “All he cared about from the time I got here was the Detroit Lions and doing everything he could to bring as much success to this team as he could.

“Obviously it didn’t work out that way, but I have a lot respect for the way that he believed in doing things the way that we did and he stuck to it to the very end. Never flinched, never wavered.”

Patricia, who had a 13-29-1 record with the Lions, was known for the long hours he put into preparing the team. Coombs said Patricia’s work ethic and his focus on the team will always stick with him.

“It just didn’t work out but it doesn’t really change the way that I feel about him,” he said. “One of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen.

“But really what I think the No. 1 thing that it comes back to is just selflessness. It was always about the team. It just sucks and just personally I’m really, really grateful to him for the opportunity that I’m here.”

It’s likely most, if not all, Lions assistant coaches will be fired if the team hires a coach from outside the organization. Coombs, 34, would probably have the best chance of keeping his job or landing another coordinator job elsewhere. He said he’s concerned about the future, but won’t let it be a distraction as the Lions prepare to play the Chicago Bears.

“I’ve got a family,” Coombs said. “It’s not like I’m going to tell you I don’t think about it. But I really try to just stay in the moment be where my feet are. And for the rest of the season that just means trying to go win games. And that’s what drives us all. It’s not an issue for me to get motivated to go compete.

“We’re going to go keep score on Sunday and the Bears, frankly, don’t really give a (expletive) what’s going on with us for the last five days. They’re going to come try to win the game, so we’re going to go try to win the game. And winning games in the NFL is hard enough.”

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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