ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Marquis Flowers came back to him again. Cut from New England earlier this month, the linebacker knew where he wanted to go, who he wanted to play for. He sought out the man he praised for helping push his career forward: Matt Patricia.
Now that Flowers was out of New England, he sought the familiarity of what he had with the Patriots. He found that in Detroit, where the former Patriots coordinator is now running the Lions.
And he sees the same Patricia now -- for the most part -- that he did then.
“He’s passionate. That’s how he was as a coordinator,” Flowers said. “He’s passionate. He’s going to get the best out of the players. He’s going to work you hard. The only difference is that he’s up there more, he’s addressing the team more.
“But obviously, he’s passionate, the same as he was. He’s not going to let you slack. There’s a reason I said what I said about him last year and why I came back to play for him again. Nothing but respect for Coach Patricia. I know what he’s going to do and how he’s going to get the best out of me as a player, all that.”
Being worked hard -- that’s a trait carried from New England to Detroit. The outward passion, something Patricia hasn’t yet shown much of during game days, is a departure from his mentor Bill Belichick. And so far, not much has been changed -- at least outwardly -- from how Belichick does things in New England.
That's why when Patricia stares across the sideline on Sunday night at Ford Field, there will be obvious comparisons. He’ll see Belichick and the Patriots, the only NFL team he ever worked for prior to February, on the other side. The Lions and Patriots-influenced general manager Bob Quinn hired Patricia in February and started bringing the Patriot mindset to Detroit.
“You definitely see it,” said cornerback Sterling Moore, who was with the Lions in training camp and New England at other times during his career. “But I think that’s just something the greats do. You’re going to emulate. Kobe emulates MJ. You know what I’m saying? That’s just the way things go. So Bill is arguably the best coach to ever coach. So obviously he’s going to follow under his tutelage; he’s going to carry that here.”
Practices during training camp ran similarly to those in New England, including an intense focus on conditioning. Former coach Jim Caldwell didn’t run a lax environment, but it was much more easygoing in the Detroit locker room than the way it is now. At least one Jets player, Kelvin Beachum, said the defense the Lions run is similar to the Patriots' defense.
Even some of the media components -- coordinators on conference calls instead of news conferences; Patricia doing teleconferences at times instead of in-person news conferences -- come directly from New England and are a departure from prior regimes in Detroit.
“I think guys knew coming in that things were going to be different,” said safety Tavon Wilson, who played for both Patricia and Belichick. “And I think guys are taking it, kind of rolling with the punches.”
Wilson, though, hasn’t seen much of a change in Patricia. He’s still the same fiery guy with a high level of intelligence. What he has noticed, though, is one striking similarity between Belichick and Patricia: their ability to adapt.
“The only similarity I would say is that they do what they think the team needs at the time,” Wilson said. “Every team is different. Every team has their own needs and their own whatever. The ability to adapt is important.
“I think Bill did a great job of that, and Matt does a great job of that now. Wherever we are in that part of the year, season, whatever, he tries to do the best to prepare our team to win games, and that’s what’s most important.”
Even their beginnings have some commonality. Both took over for coaches who had average seasons the year before and had been, for the most part, successful. Pete Carroll went 8-8 in 1999 with the Patriots and didn’t have a losing season in three years as New England’s head coach. Caldwell went 9-7 in 2017 with the Lions and had three winning seasons in his four-year tenure. Both Patricia and Belichick had to implement large cultural shifts because their way of doing things was drastically different than that of their predecessors, who were considered players’ coaches.
Both struggled early on. Patricia lost his first two games as Detroit’s head coach by a combined 34 points, including a 31-point blowout in his debut against the New York Jets. Belichick lost his first four games in New England and finished his first season 5-11, one game worse than his debut season with the Browns in 1991, when he went 6-10.
In preparation, both care greatly about the minutiae. Both believe the little things are important to make sure the big picture works out. For emphasis -- and to be fair, players weren’t sure where this came from, so it might not have been Patricia -- cards were in their lockers last week with the saying “If you’re too BIG for the little things, you’ll be too LITTLE for the big things.” Essentially, that was to emphasize how important the little things are to what Detroit is trying to accomplish.
Both Belichick and Patricia also encourage questions -- if you don’t know something, ask. They’d rather answer in a meeting room or privately than have it answered publicly in front of thousands on a field Sunday. If that happens, usually that answer is going to be wrong.
“If I have a question, I can go to him,” Flowers said of Patricia. “I can go up to him. That’s one of the best things. I can ask him a question about something and get a response. You know, he loves it. He wants them to keep coming. If you have something, ask, you know.
“I think Coach Bill is the same way. They love to coach. I know players can be kind of scared to ask a question sometimes to a coach because they don’t want them to think they don’t know it. I know for a fact Coach Patricia is a guy who says, ‘Ask, ask. If you don’t know, ask.’ He encourages it.”
There is a danger in being too much like Belichick, though. Most Belichick disciples have failed as head coaches, from Charlie Weis to Romeo Crennel to Eric Mangini to Josh McDaniels. And there is this word of caution from Patricia’s boss, Quinn: “Don’t try to be Bill.”
It’s a message Quinn has known since he took the Lions GM job in 2016. The message is be yourself and don’t try to emulate everything your old boss does.
While a lot of things might be the same from New England to Detroit, from Patricia to Belichick, Quinn doesn’t believe he’ll have to worry about his friend veering too far into being like Belichick.
“I think personality-wise, they are very, very different, so I don’t think that’s ever going to come. They are very, very different,” Quinn told ESPN in February. “Things that Matt is going to want to implement in terms of the football program are probably going to be very New England-centric, OK. Am I going to have to step in and say, ‘OK, Matt, are we going a little overboard with the New England thing, or do you really, truly believe this is the way we should do it?’ I think those conversations will be very few and far between.”
It isn't clear whether any of those conversations have taken place -- Quinn hasn’t spoken with the media since the NFL draft -- but there is one thing the Lions still hope Patricia can emulate in Detroit: winning. It’s why Quinn and Patricia are here.
And it’s what Belichick has done better than anybody else in the NFL since the turn of the century.