None of this is new for Matt Patricia anymore. Not the trip down to Indianapolis. Not having to stand at a podium and answer questions for 15 minutes. And not having to talk with reporters more than he ever had with New England.
The Detroit Lions coach had a rough first season -- on and off the field.
On the field, the Lions went 6-10, a three-game drop from the 9-7 record with which Jim Caldwell was fired. The team struggled with consistency and didn’t win in back-to-back weeks all season (the only two-game winning streak the team had was bracketed by the bye). Patricia had multiple off-field issues, from old criminal allegations to how he dealt with the media and even questions about how much his players were buying into what he was trying to do.
But the first year is over and as Patricia stood at the podium at the combine on Wednesday morning, he seemed more comfortable than he ever did during season No. 1 with the Lions. He handled questions with ease while giving away as little as possible. He sounded like someone who had a better handle, as expected, on what his team might have and what they need going into his first full offseason as a head coach.
He recognized that, yeah, there were areas in which he has to get better, too.
“I mean, I have a lot to improve on,” Patricia said. “You know, I think for me, it’s just the second time around with all of this, it’s actually, it’s good. Being in the same exact spot last year, it was kind of a whirlwind. You’re drinking from the firehose there as they say.
“This time, it’s, we’re a little bit ahead of the game. It was kind of a rush last year. We’re in the same spot. That’s what’s great about the NFL. You know, every part of the season, the months, they are all the same, you do the same process. You just try to get better at it each year.”
His entire demeanor looked more relaxed, down to his dress with the Bruce Arians-esque flat cap and a black heavy coat above a blue button-down shirt with a black T-shirt underneath. Yes, it’s tough to glean much from appearance, but after having been in almost every news gathering he had for his first year, there definitely seemed to be a difference. A positive difference.
But comfort goes only so far. Obviously Patricia and his general manager, Bob Quinn, know they need to improve on last year’s record or there will be some serious questions entering the 2020 season. Some of that has to do with improving the top-end talent on the roster, as both Patricia and Quinn have said they need to add more playmakers on both offense and defense.
To do that, they are going to search both the draft, which is why they are in Indianapolis, and free agency -- the discussions that occur at the combine often lay the seeds for where free agents end up. And Quinn understands the value in both venues, and what bringing in established players can do.
“You know, the NFL résumé is huge. Those guys, most of them have been in the league four years plus, right, because they are hitting unrestricted free agency,” Quinn said. “There’s plenty of tape and stuff that you can watch against NFL competition if they are making plays at whatever position they are, that’s a little bit safer bet than drafting anybody from the first round down to the seventh because the draft ... it’s sporadic.
“Sometimes you hit, sometimes you miss. Try to do as much work as possible to kind of mitigate those misses but yeah, the NFL free agency is more of a safe bet.”
Whichever players the Lions acquire, be it through April’s draft or free agency starting next month, they are going to come with a plan of how Patricia wants to utilize them. Because Patricia learned a lot during his first year as a head coach.
And considering the way it went, it’s not the type of season he’d like to repeat.