Ranking Matt Patricia in the pantheon of terrible coaching hires

USA Today

The good folks over at Pro Football Network recently ranked their top 10 worst coaching hires in NFL history. As expected, Matt Patricia represented the Detroit Lions on the list.

Patricia checked in at No. 7 overall on the list. He was the only Detroit coach in the top 10, though Rod Marinelli did manage an honorable mention. Here’s what they said about Patricia,

Many of Bill Belichick’s former underlings have attempted to instill the New England Patriots’ way of doing things with other organizations, and it typically hasn’t gone well.


Matt Patricia was no exception. The ex-Patriots DC’s reign as the Lions’ head coach featured one disaster after another. Patricia’s domineering approach backfired, leading to a toxic relationship with the Lions’ locker room.

This started the wheels turning in my mind…

I thought back to the aftermath of Jim Caldwell being fired for not being able to break through with a very talented, albeit thin and defensively challenged roster. In the process of hiring Patricia, he was widely heralded as a very solid choice — and not just by Lions sympathizers. His résumé as the architect of the great Patriots defenses under Bill Belichick was well-established.

Also well-established at that time was the fact PFN smartly led with: Bill Belichick proteges have made for spectacularly bad head coaches. There was some very real skepticism from many voices that the rocket scientist who nobody had ever heard talk before wouldn’t be an exception, even before he was hired. Some of us wanted Mike Vrabel, or a more experienced coach who had tasted some postseason success, to guide a Lions team that was poised to compete in 2017 but needed a lift.

But the fact remains that Patricia did have a strong enough track record and buzz in the NFL to merit a choice. On the surface, back when Martha Ford hired him, there wasn’t a lot of consternation that he was a bad choice. An iffy choice, maybe, but even the most hardened skeptics didn’t envision just how truly awful Patricia would be as a head coach and leader of men. Hindsight trumps the foresight after such a traumatic experience, but it truly was impossible to know just how terrible Patricia’s people-management skills and dictatorial style would turn out back in 2017.

And because of that, I don’t rank him nearly as bad of a coaching hire as many others, sone of whom made the list. The Jets hiring Adam Gase for a second go-around immediately after he napalmed the Dolphins organization stands out as a much worse hiring decision. The Brown hiring wildly inexperienced Freddie Kitchens to take over for a disastrous retread hiring of Hue Jackson–which I’d also rank worse than Patricia’s hiring in Detroit–is also much worse at the time of hiring than what Detroit tried. Those are No. 10 and No. 9 on PFN’s list, but I would elevate both of them above Detroit and Patricia both then and now. Jackson to Cleveland was No. 4 on PFN’s list and deservedly so.

I thought back to Rod Marinelli when he was hired in 2006. He had been a very successful and universally lauded defensive line coach for over 20 years. Marinelli had also been the assistant head coach for four seasons with the very successful Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was a likable, cantankerous personality. That he turned out to be a truly awful head coach owed more to his aversion to caring about the offensive side of the ball as well as Matt Millen’s unspeakably bad player personnel decisions. Honorable mention seems right for Marinelli.

I would argue that the Lions decision to hire Marty Mornhinweg back in 2001 was worse than either of them. Matt Millen got a little too far ahead of the curve in hiring a 38-year-old coordinator with just six NFL seasons of experience. All of that experience came from organizations (Green Bay and then San Francisco) that had Hall of Fame quarterbacks and well-established systems largely on autopilot. When Steve Young left Mornhinweg’s 49ers offense in 1999, so did any evidence of success. That should have been a sign for Millen and the Lions that maybe the truculent Mornhinweg wasn’t all he was hyped to be.

This is not a defense of Patricia. He was probably a worse head coaching entity than any other person the Lions have hired in the Super Bowl era. Don McCafferty was one-and-done in 1973, but I was born in 1972 and even legendary Lions reporter Mike O’Hara could barely recall him when I asked O’Hara about that time a few years ago.

So Patricia gets the nod as the worst Lions coach, but not necessarily the worst Detroit coaching hire. He was more of a well-intentioned decision and thought process that simply failed spectacularly.

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