Obviously, the higher the draft pick a team has, the better the opportunity to grab a great player for the future. But being at the top of the draft order comes with an additional benefit, too: the ability to coach some of the best draft prospects at the Senior Bowl in January.
The two teams with the lowest winning percentage get the option of coaching one of the squads for the entire week of practices and the game. However, there’s a catch. If a team is going through a coaching staff change, they will not get an invitation to coach at the Senior Bowl. From the official Senior Bowl website:
The teams with the lowest winning percentage that season usually get the first opportunity to coach in the game, but only if a majority of their staff - and head coach - are intact.
Right now, the Detroit Lions have the third-lowest winning percentage, behind the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington. Although no coaching changes are necessarily expected for Cincinnati, Washington has already fired Jay Gruden as their head coach. Interim coach Bill Callahan could potentially keep his job into 2020, but full-scale changes are certainly possible, and a head-coaching search is expected.
That leaves the Lions in prime position to coach the Senior Bowl this year. While there is expected to be some significant overhaul on the coaching staff on defense, head coach Matt Patricia’s job is officially safe.
Interestingly, Jim Nagy, the Executive Direct of the Senior Bowl, already had his eyes on Detroit as a potential candidate to coach the game, even before the Lions’ loss to the Broncos on Sunday:
If you need a reminder of just how valuable coaching the Senior Bowl can be to a franchise, let’s travel back to 2013 when Lions head coach Jim Schwartz was given that opportunity. The Lions ended up using their fifth overall pick on Ezekiel Ansah, who had a breakout performance that week.
“He had never played (wide) nine before our game,” Schwartz said shortly after the 2013 NFL Draft. “It was an adjustment period for him. I mean, he didn’t know very much at all in the beginning of the week. But every practice you saw him get better, and then the game came and he dominated the game. It wasn’t just his playing ability during the week. You saw what a serious guy he was. You saw how important it was for him to do well, how he wanted to please the coaches. That was all an important part of the evaluation. It was a week well spent in Mobile.”
Coaching the Senior Bowl isn’t just an opportunity to get to know each player better, it’s a chance to put them in specific situations relevant to your team. See how they react to your scheme and how they respond from your style of coaching.
Patricia, who knows the guy that runs the Senior Bowl, knows of the benefits being a part of that coaching staff.
“I know the Senior Bowl actually has a lot of great benefits to it (for) the coaches that have coached it before, from that aspect of it,” Patricia said this week. “Obviously, having an opportunity to spend time with those guys kind of in those settings is great.”
Of course, first things first. The Lions can clinch a spot among the bottom three teams with a loss to the Packers this week. If they manage to do that, it seems certain that Detroit will head down to Mobile, Alabama in January as one of the coaching staffs for the Senior Bowl.