ALLEN PARK — Whether they like it or not, much of the focus leading into Sunday night’s Lions home game against the New England Patriots will be focused on the coaches.
Bill Belichick hired Patricia in 2004 as an offensive assistant and kept him around until the Lions hired him as their 27th head coach in February.
Neither one wants to talk much about the past. In typical coach-speak, they’re focused on the matchup between the Lions (0-2) and Patriots (1-1). Kickoff is 8:20 p.m. on Sunday at Ford Field.
Belichick is 4-1 against the Lions since his first year as head coach in New England. The only loss was on Thanksgiving in his first season (2000) when the Lions won, 34-9. Drew Bledsoe was the quarterback for the Patriots who went 5-11 that season. Charlie Batch led the Lions who finished 9-7 in 2000.
“This is about the Patriots and the Lions. And each of us has a part in the game obviously, and I have all the respect in the world for Matt, Bob (Quinn), Mrs. (Martha Firestone) Ford, who I worked for. Great people in the Lions organization,’’ Belichick said in a conference call on Wednesday. “But in the end, it’s about the two teams competing and that’s what the game is about. Hopefully we can go out there and do a good job. So, that’s what we’re going to try and do.”
Belichick, who has won five Super Bowl rings in New England, coached with the Lions early in his career as assistant special teams coach in 1976 and receivers coach in 1977. (By the way, the Lions were 6-8 both of those seasons.)
Patricia, who won three Super Bowl rings as the Patriots’ defensive coordinator, would also rather focus on the Lions instead of his New England ties.
“New England is New England. We’re trying to build Detroit here. We’re trying to do the best thing we can for the Lions with this team and the players that we have,’’ Patricia said. “There’s certain philosophies that I think carry over as me as a coach and what I believe in. Whether that’s New England or Syracuse or wherever I was before, college or whatever the case may be, just things that I believe in.’’
The comparison has been made for three years since the Lions hired general manager Bob Quinn from the Patriots where he had spent 16 seasons in a variety of roles. The talk intensified when he hired Patricia to replace Jim Caldwell who was fired after posting a 9-7 record in 2017.
Belichick didn’t want to get into too many details about his relationship with Patricia. He wouldn’t say if he saw some of himself in Patricia 14 years ago when he first hired him.
“I try not to evaluate those kinds of things. Look, every player and every person is different and every coach is different. No two of us are the same, even identical twins. So, everything is different, I really don’t worry about that,’’ Belichick said. “I just try to do the best job that I can in the role that I have.”
Belichick said there was no magic when he first hired Patricia. He makes it sound like it was a just another hire.
“We had openings, he was recommended, we talked to a number of people and we thought he was the best fit. And he did a great job and continued to expand his role,’’ Belichick said. “He did a number of things in the organization. He started off as an offensive assistant on the offensive line and ended up as the defensive coordinator—and there were a lot of things in between.”
Patricia is growing and learning at his first stint at any level as a head coach. Of course, he’s taking some of what he learned from New England and trying to transform the culture at the Lions’ organization. He’s figured out at least one thing about Belichick since he’s been a head coach.
“I would say the only thing that you can’t really get a perspective on until you sit in this seat would be, and I think I’ve mentioned this before, is just how much time that (Belichick) would give me in particular and the other coaches. You walk in his office and he might be doing a thousand things. You have no idea. And your question is the most important question in the entire world, so you have to get it answered right away,’’ Patricia said. “And he would just stop and explain it, teach it, coach it. And I’d move on, I’d go handle my situation. And I’m sure that he just got stockpiled with everything else that was walking through his door, I slowed him down a little bit, I’m sure, at that point. Which you think you kind of realize, but you really don’t realize just how much is coming at you.”