Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia faced a simple question after his team finished yet another ugly preseason game on Thursday night against the Browns: Why should fans be optimistic about this team after looking outmatched in all four preseason games?
Patricia, as he tends to be, was long-winded with his answer.
“I mean, look we’re going to come in and we’re going to work hard every single day. You know, we’re going to get better every day and we’re going to try and do the best we can. You know, those guys are out there working real hard and that’s a positive from my standpoint. You know, they’re trying to do it the right way. They’re trying to improve. They understand that this is a long journey. This isn’t a sprint that’s going to take place overnight. This is something that’s going to take a long time to do. This is something that’s a change in the way we’re doing things to try to make it a sustainable situation. You know, we’re not trying to do something that’s just going to happen for one day and then not the next. We’re trying to do it consistently over a long period of time. That I have seen progress with and we’ve got a long way to go and we’ll continue to do that.”
The tl;dr gist of it: This is going to take a long time. Be patient, trust the process, and know that we’re building for long-term success, not flash-in-the-pan seasons.
That’s going to be a very hard sell to this fanbase. Telling a city that has waited over 60 years for a championship to wait just a little longer is going to rub a lot of people the wrong way, especially when you consider this isn’t a team that necessarily needed a long rebuild. They’re coming off back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in over two decades. They have a franchise quarterback with a built-in rapport with his offensive coordinator. Fans were promised by general manager Bob Quinn that 9-7 wasn’t good enough for this franchise, so telling them “we’ve got a long way to go” isn’t exactly matching that message.
But Patricia has clearly already sold this idea to management and his players.
Team president Rod Wood was selling the exact same product during his appearance in the booth during Thursday’s game.
“Well I know what Matt is trying to do. He’s got a very detailed plan for the whole season. This is just the first part of it,” Wood said per Lions Wire. “He’s said it many times publicly. We’re going to learn what kind of team we have in September, and then we’re going to get better in October, and get better in November.”
And backup quarterback Matt Cassel, who has obviously worked alongside Patricia before in New England, was also preaching patience.
“Yeah, obviously we would’ve liked to have played better at times, but it’s a growing experience, every preseason is,” Cassel said. “Teams come together and you learn a lot about your ballclub. At the same time, a lot of things change as you get ready for season.”
None of this is really new for Patricia. As soon as he landed in Detroit, he refused to call this a win-now team.
“Look, we’re going to have to take it one game at a time,” Patricia said during his introductory press conference in February. “This is a building process. This is definitely something that takes a course of, a length of a period of time to do.”
Normally, you’d think a first-time head coach inheriting a winning team with a franchise quarterback on the wrong side of 30 would get a pretty short leash. This team’s window for winning may be getting smaller by the day. However, considering general manager Bob Quinn already has a working relationship with Patricia, and they both now have matching five-year contracts, there’s a good chance he’ll be afforded the time he already seems to be pleading for—especially since he’s already got the front office singing his tune.
But the fans may not be as forgiving. It’s hard not to look around the league and see teams like the Jaguars and Rams, who seemed to turn their franchises around on a dime. Of course, time will only tell if the Jaguars and Rams are still hanging around the top of the league in a couple years or if they will be the latest team to come close just to fall back in irrelevancy.
Of course, many Lions fans would take just a single year of a Super Bowl run, but how long will they be able to continue to delay their gratification, allowing Matt Patricia to build his culture? How long is that supposed to take anyways? And how long will fans and management allow Patricia to struggle before running out of patience?
Only time will tell, but Patricia certainly seems to be preparing fans for some tough waters ahead.