| Detroit Free Press
Detroit Lions poised for regime-change win against Chicago Bears
Free Press sports writers Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez preview Sunday’s Detroit Lions game against the Chicago Bears.
It’s time to come clean.
Over the past two seasons, the most common emails I’ve gotten from readers have been some form of these missives:
What happened to you?
Why did you go from being so hard on the Lions to being so easy on them?
Bring back Drew Sharp Jr.!
The answer might surprise you. And it’s really not that complicated.
It came down to two things: Patricia decided to stop and listen. And so did I.
To understand this better, let’s start at the beginning.
You might remember back in June 2018 that I wrote Patricia was “in danger of losing his players” following a three-day minicamp. It was the first look reporters had gotten of Patricia running practices and I was stunned by the way he treated players, mainly by making them run as a form of punishment.
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The tactic is commonplace in high school and even in college, but not in the NFL, where you’re paying players millions and every second of practice is precious.
I’ve covered the Lions since 2006 and I had gotten to know several players fairly well. I had a pretty good sense — judging by some players’ tacit disdain — of how unpopular the running punishment was and, in general, how they were being treated under Patricia.
It was a very difficult first year for Patricia. News broke in May about him being charged and indicted on one count of aggravated sexual assault when he was 21. Players struggled to adjust to Patricia’s style throughout the season and some were soon shipped out. Patricia didn’t like how he was being covered and he had a strained relationship with reporters that season. Remember Slouchgate?
The Lions went 6-10 in 2018. Then things changed. In May 2019, Patricia invited more than a dozen reporters to a film session. It was a private and casual meeting, ostensibly to explain his coaching philosophy. Rod Marinelli also did this.
It was Patricia’s way of reaching out and trying to mend a rocky relationship the media. The meeting lasted close to three hours. About 30 minutes into the meeting, I raised my hand and asked Patricia this question: “This is kind of a (jerk) question,” I said, “but why didn’t you do this last year?”
That did it. He stopped the film and the flood gates opened. My question gave Patricia license to talk about what he really wanted to discuss, which was all the negativity he perceived from us. You could almost see the weight being lifted. Sometimes people need to vent, especially when they’re in a difficult relationship they’re struggling to manage. It felt cathartic.
From then on, Patricia spoke with reporters differently. He was less guarded in news conferences and joked with us more. He and I sometimes chatted after practice. We’re both former high school wrestlers, so we’d geek out about Cael Sanderson and Stephen Neal. We’d exchange ideas and perspectives on football.
We had a lot in common. We both had a parent who was a teacher. We both valued education. We both had a lot of respect for the military. My dad’s an Army vet, and his grandfathers and my father-in-law served in World War II.
Patricia and I connected because of our commonality. But what I appreciated most about him was his effort to connect more with everyone. Maybe he was humbled by his first year in Detroit. Maybe he realized he couldn’t go against the grain in so many facets of his job and needed more buy-in across the board. What I saw was a person who was willing to change and adapt.
I’m not saying I agreed with all of Patricia’s methods. Far from it. But he was trying to change and make himself a better coach. He toned down his caustic critique of players in meetings. He became more punctual.
When Patricia was hired, one of the first things he did was lower the team’s temperature on the anthem-kneeling issue by flying the team to Arlington National Cemetery. By August of this year, he gave his players the respect and space to peacefully protest by skipping practice to talk about Jacob Blake and racial injustice. He listened more and met people halfway. That kind of effort resonated with me.
Above everything, I could see what Patricia was trying to do with the team. He wanted a versatile defense and a dependable run game. He didn’t want stars. But more than that, he wanted to turn the Lions into a selfless, team-first organization by building a culture that would endure for years. He wasn’t putting together a team. He was creating a world.
Unfortunately, the NFL doesn’t afford most coaches that kind of time. The standard is win now or else. That means settling for what you have and finding a way to work with players who don’t share your vision. But when you’re a coach who was incubated inside one of the best franchises in NFL history, it’s not easy to settle.
Patricia had a plan and a vision. He wanted to lift up this franchise and deliver it to heights it hadn’t seen in more than 60 years. But Patricia’s pursuit of that plan and that vision was so rigorous and so intense, he ultimately became a football Ahab pinioned to his obsession.
It’s hard to fault someone for having the guts to go after such a big fish and doing it in his own way. So maybe I was too hard on Patricia in the beginning. And maybe I was too easy on him at the end. I think I just wanted to see it all work out finally for this farkakte franchise. I still hope it does at some point.
Contact Carlos Monarrez at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.