After the Detroit Lions were handed their latest loss of the season—their third in four games and 14th of the last 16th, head coach Matt Patricia approached the post-game podium and was asked a simple question: Why should anyone still believe that you’re the coach to turn this franchise around.
While Patricia first tried to evade the question, focusing more on Sunday’s loss to the Saints and giving New Orleans credit for a hard-fought game, he eventually slipped. As consistent with his message since first stepping into the halls of Allen Park, Patricia pushed the narrative that the team he inherited was far from where they needed to be.
“Certainly I think when I came to Detroit there was a lot of work to do,” Patricia said on Sunday. “And that’s what we’re trying to do.”
As everyone knows, the team Patricia inherited was coming off back-to-back 9-7 seasons with playoff appearances in two of the four years under head coach Jim Caldwell. Patricia, on the other hand, has won a total of 10 games in 36 attempts, currently holds third-worst winning percentage in Lions history (minimum 10 games), and is responsible for one of the worst defenses in the league.
It’s a bad look, for sure, and analysts and players alike are blasting him for it. A few former Lions took offense to the comments. Here’s Dan Orlovsky:
Coach Caldwell had a winning record 3 out of his 4 years. The QB was playing as well and consistent as he ever had. The expectation was to be a team with a chance to win every single week-and we were. The culture was FANTASTIC. It was built to grow not regress— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) October 5, 2020
And, again, on television:
“To come in and say that you had a lot of work to do is completely false. It’s a bunch of trash!”— Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin (@KeyJayandZ) October 5, 2020
Former Lions QB @danorlovsky7 RIPPED head coach Matt Patricia for his post-game comments about what the team was like that he inherited from Jim Caldwell. #KJZ pic.twitter.com/TigGSjI2WY
And Josh Bynes:
Facts Dan-O!— Josh Bynes (@bynestime56) October 5, 2020
And Glover Quin:
But it wasn’t just former players holding a grudge against Patricia. National analysts criticized him too. Here’s former NFL offensive lineman Damien Woody (Note: Caldwell did have a losing record of 7-9 one season):
A lot of work to do?! Jim Caldwell never had a losing record b4 you ♂️ https://t.co/AwL9m7ufOV— Damien Woody (@damienwoody) October 4, 2020
National columnist J.A. Adande:
There was a lot of work to??? The Lions won 9 games in Jim Caldwell's last year. Matt Patricia won 9 games total in his first two years. If anything he UNDID the work Caldwell put in. https://t.co/BWY0O4fEWP— J.A. Adande (@jadande) October 5, 2020
You get the point.
The criticism is well deserved for Patricia. While there is a bit of whitewashing Caldwell’s time in Detroit, there’s no denying that Patricia was taking over a team that was, at worst, average.
Instead of building upon that, Patricia—and general manager Bob Quinn—sold this as a turning point in the franchise. This was a franchise that needed to have its roots torn out, its foundation restructure and its culture exhumed. No more accepting mediocrity. This team was not going to be the laughing stock anymore, and that required a fair amount of work to be done.
At the time, we bought it. We were sick of the lack of postseason success. We were sick of seeing players like Calvin Johnson become “Lionized.” Sick of treating wild card berths like they were banner-worthy. The Lions may not have been embarrassingly bad, but there was a warranted belief that they had plateaued under Caldwell. So full-scale changes, even if not completely necessary, seemed like a reasonable course of action.
But now on the other side of it, it’s clear that wasn’t the best decision. Guys like Darius Slay, Glover Quin and Quandre Diggs did not have to be sacrificed in the name of improving a culture that was never poisoned to begin with. The cupboard of talent that we were told was bare has only gotten worse over the past three years. And now, even the reliable franchise quarterback isn’t looking like himself anymore.
Maybe Detroit simply got the architect wrong for the reclamation project, or maybe, just maybe, they should have been considering minor changes instead of full-scale ones.