With Matt Patricia all but wrapped up as the next Detroit Lions head coach, our attention turns to the team’s next biggest coaching vacancy: defensive coordinator. Considering defense is Patricia’s background, there’s no doubt he is going to take this hiring very seriously.
Now that we’ve learned that defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, as well as defensive line assistant Matt Raich are headed elsewhere in 2018, it seems unlikely that Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn decide on promoting from within. So here are five potential candidates that could be coordinating the Detroit Lions defense next season.
Brian Flores – Patriots linebacker coach
I’m going to warn you now, this list is going to be predominantly coaches from the New England Patriots tree. It’s not because I’m lazy, it’s because this makes absolute sense. Since joining the NFL in 2004 Patricia has never coached outside of New England. As a defensive guy himself, he knows what he wants to create on that side of the ball, and he knows the exact people who share that vision. Part of your job as head coach is to build a staff you trust in.
[Editor’s note: It should also be mentioned that the Lions would have to earn permission from the Patriots to interview or hire a positional coach to a coordinator position. They cannot simply poach them.]
There may not be a coach on Earth that Patricia trusts more than Brian Flores. Flores joined the Patriots the same year as Patricia, back in 2004. However, Flores worked he way up through the scouting department, while Patricia was always in the coaching field. In 2008, he finally broke into coaching as a basic assistant, but in 2012—the same year Patricia became defensive coordinator—Flores became the safeties coach. He has worked under Patricia for six straight years now (was moved to linebackers coach in 2017) and clearly knows how he works.
The problem with Flores, however, is that he may be too in demand. He’s currently being eyed by the Arizona Cardinals for their head coaching position and just may be their top candidate:
Steelers’ OL coach Mike Munchak has turned down the chance for a second HC interviews with the Arizona Cardinals, per @mortreport. Munchak our and Patriots’ LB coach Brian Flores now in play.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 17, 2018
Even if Flores doesn’t land that job, he’s considered to be on the short list of candidates to replace Matt Patricia as the Patriots’ next defensive coordinator. It’s hard to imagine Flores wanting to leave an opportunity for an in-house promotion to go coach for Detroit.
Josh Boyer – Patriots defensive backs coach
Boyer has been a part of the Patriots family since 2006, starting as a coaching assistant and working his way up to defensive backs coach, and remaining the cornerbacks coach for the past six years.
Patricia and Boyer couldn’t have been closer in 2011, when Patricia was the safeties coach while Boyer coached “defensive backs.” Though Patricia was promoted to defensive coordinator the following year, it’s clear they have a working relationship.
There may be concern that Boyer has stuck around for so long and not seen much movement in his career, but it’s not all that uncommon for a cornerback or safety coach to make a jump to defensive coordinator. And Boyer’s resume fits the bill.
Boyer is a relatively fresh mind—only 40 years old—and New England’s defense has been defined by the play of its secondary. Devin McCourty, Aqib Talib, Kyle Arrington, Stephon Gilmore, Logan Ryan are just a few players that have become household names thanks, in part, to Boyer.
Brendan Daly – DL coach
By Patriots standards, Brendan Daly is still a fresh face. He joined the team in 2014 as a defensive assistant coach, but was quickly promoted to defensive line coach in 2016—the position he currently holds.
But just because Daly is new to the Patriots doesn’t mean he’s new to the league. In fact, Daly is far from a new face in the NFL. Daly’s first NFL job was assistant defensive line coach for the Vikings from 2006-2008. He also spent three years with the Rams, helping players such as Chris Long develop into a solid starter.
Though he isn’t a typical branch off the Belichick tree, he quickly won over the Patriots head coach in his first year with the team. “I think his fundamental teaching background on the defensive line is outstanding,” Belichick told the Providence Journal back in 2014. “I think he really has a great understanding of technique, hand placement and fundamental teaching. I would say the way he does it is exactly the way I learned it and we taught it at the Giants.”
Considering the Lions just lost a key defensive line voice in Kris Kocurek, Daly could be the guy to step in and fill that void.
Pepper Johnson – Former Patriots DL/LB coach (didn’t coach in 2017)
Johnson is the coach that Daly filled in for in 2014. Johnson is one of the most tenured coaches under the Belichick tree, having been a part of the Patriots organization since 2000—the year Belichick took over. But after the 2013 season, Johnson jumped to Buffalo to take an identical role with the division rival Bills. He quickly jumped again to another division rival—the New York Jets—the following year until 2017, when the team uprooted most of their coaching staff.
It’s hard to know if Johnson left the Patriots organization on a sour note, but the fact that he didn’t return to the organization after being dismissed from the Jets in 2017 could be a telling sign. Additionally, there was an odd sequence in 2016 while with the Jets in which Johnson, during a scheduled conference with the media, told reporters “There’s no Pepper Johnson questions,” and refused to take any questions. The incident took place in the wake of two Jets defensive linemen—Sheldon Richards and Muhammad Wilkerson—being reprimanded for missing team activities during the week of practice.
Johnson is one of the more qualified candidates on the list, but considering how things have gone for him after he left Foxborough, there may be a reason he went 2017 without a coaching job.
Kris Richard — Former Seahawks defensive coordinator
The Seahawks made it official on Tuesday, parting ways with defensive coordinator Kris Richard.
Richard has been best known as the architect for the Legion of Boom in Seattle. Working as a coach in the teams secondary from 2010-2014, Richard saw his group of defensive backs become one of the most feared in the league. This culminated in a Super Bowl victory over the Denver Broncos in 2014.
Of all these candidates, Richard is the only one with defensive coordinator experience, but he’s also the only one outside of the Patriots coaching tree. It would be a little surprising to see Patricia go outside his comfort zone in hiring his first ever defensive coordinator, but Richard has the resume. Take it from Richard Sherman himself (via the Indy Star):
“Kris does a great job understanding who everyone is and not coaching everyone the same, understanding how people react to different things differently,” Sherman told Sports Illustrated. ”But his attention to detail and the preparation of game planning is meticulous. He goes over basically every scenario you can be put in in a game and he prepares us for that. You’re rarely ever surprised going into a ballgame by a formation or a play that they’re going to run.”
That sort of tireless preparation sounds exactly like how former players and coaches describe Patricia. If their philosophies and personalities mix well, Richard could certainly find his way to Detroit this year.