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7 defensive coordinator candidates for the Detroit Lions

A look at who could replace Paul Pasqualoni.

New England Patriots v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Now that Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni has stepped down, the team must make perhaps its biggest offseason decision. The Lions defense has not made any strides since head coach Matt Patricia took over the team in 2018, and the unit was particularly bad in 2019.

This will be the second straight offseason the Lions will be selecting a new coordinator, as Patricia selected Darrell Bevell to take over the offense last year.

However, given that defense is his specialty, it seems unlikely that Patricia will go outside his comfort zone for the defensive hire. So here are seven defensive coordinator candidates for the Lions, with the first five having ties to Patricia.

Bret Bielema, Patriots defensive line coach

Though Bielema has never coached beside Patricia, he has spent the last two seasons under the Foxborough tree. Known mostly for his seven-year coaching stint with the Wisconsin Badgers, where he went 68-24, Bielema has a history of leading strong defenses.

Jerod Mayo, Patriots inside linebacker coach

“I have a long, great history with Jerod. He’s like a son to me, I’m just excited for him and his family. I know he’s working really hard. He’s extremely smart. He was a great player when I had him and I know he’s going to be a great coach.”

That’s Matt Patricia talking about Jerod Mayo earlier this year.

Making the jump from ILB coach to defensive coordinator is a huge leap, especially for someone who has only spent a single year in the coaching realm. Still, it’s clear Patricia respects the hell out of Mayo.

John Pagano, Texans defensive assistant/OLB coach

This isn’t a direct link to Matt Patricia, but Pagano currently works under former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien and former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. The Texans have made a living off of pressuring the quarterback over the past few years, so a guy like Pagano should be welcome in Detroit after yet another year of minimal-to-no pass rush.

Josh Boyer, Dolphins defensive pass game coordinator

While Patricia was the defensive coordinator for the Patriots, Boyer served as the team’s cornerbacks coach. Though the Lions currently have a vacancy at defensive backs coach, Boyer would not likely jump Brian Flores’ staff to take a step down.

Defensive coordinator would be a significant step up for Boyer, and it’s not like he’ll be coming off a successful first year in Miami. The Dolphins ranked last in pass defense DVOA and 29th in passer rating allowed (101.9).

Phil Parker, Iowa defensive coordinator

Parker has enjoyed an impressive seven-year stint with the Hawkeyes and has recently helped with the transition from a traditional 4-3 defense to a 4-2-5 defense that is similar to what the Lions run. We know Matt Patricia is very close with Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz and Alabama coach Nick Saban, both of whom have employed Parker as part of their respective staffs. Perhaps the biggest question with Parker is whether he’d leave his comfy job in Iowa for a shot at the big leagues.

Kris Richard, Cowboys defensive backs coach/pass game coordinator

For these last two, we’ll go outside the Patricia tree, in case the Lions decide to surprise everyone. The Lions already snagged on former Seahawks coordinator, so why not another. Many attribute the Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” to Richard, who served on the team’s defensive backs staff from 2010-2014. From there, he was promoted to defensive coordinator for three years. He was fired in 2018, and spent the following years at his current position with the Cowboys. Given the current situation in Dallas, there’s a good chance he’ll be looking for employment in 2020.

Perry Fewell, Panthers interim head coach

It seems unlikely that the Panthers retain Fewell as they continue their search for a new head coach. Patricia may be familiar with Fewell as he was the defensive coordinator for the 2011 New York Giants that bested his New England Patriots in Super Bowl 46. Although, Fewell was fired after the Giants’ defense fell from sixth in DVOA in 2013 to 24th.

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After winning their first NFC North title in 30 years, the Lions have unfinished business this offseason. Stay updated with Jeremy Reisman through Pride of Detroit Direct, our newsletter offering up exclusive analysis. Sign up with NFCNORTH30 to get 30% off after your free trial.