Jim Young Asked And Ash Thompson Delivered. Here Are A Few Coaches Patricia Might Hire.
Everyone has basically assumed from the beginning that one man would get the Detroit Lions head coaching job. That man is New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. Listener Jim Young asked on Twitter for an article going over some of the possible coaches that might be in line to join the Lions staff if that were to happen. I always do reader requests when I see them, so here are a few possibilities. These are based on pure speculation, and Peter King of SI.com has said that Patricia prefers the Giants job over the Lions. Here are some coaches I suspect might find spots on Patricia’s staff.
Generally, first-time head coaches like to surround themselves with a few coaches they are familiar with. Jim Schwartz, for example, brought Gunther Cunningham in as his defensive coordinator for the Lions 2009 staff. The two had worked together in Tennesee from 2001-2003 when Cunningham was the assistant head coach and linebacker coach for Jeff Fisher’s Titans staff.
Schwartz was a newly minted defensive coordinator when the two worked together. Undoubtedly Schwartz was mentored by the veteran coach with decades of experience and hoped to repeat that experience in his new position. Schwartz knew that they could work together and specifically he knew that Cunningham was the right type of man to advise without undermining his younger boss’ authority.
I suspect that Patricia is the sort of coach that will want very specific things from his coaching staff. He will benefit greatly from having a staff that understands exactly what he wants, without having to repeat himself. In my opinion that likely means if he gets the job, we will see some coaches who have worked with the Patriots or at least a head coach that came from the Patriots. There is no shortage of selection to choose from in that regard.
Pepper Johnson was a decorated linebacker for the New York Giants during his playing career. While Lawrence Taylor revolutionized the outside linebacker spot in the 1980s, Johnson quietly made the plays that set Taylor up for so many third and long situations. Johnson also played for the Lions in during the 1996 season, fulfilling his dream to play for his hometown team. Johnson had followed Bill Belichick from the Giants to the Browns before his season in Detroit. He rejoined his coach with the New York Jets until his retirement in 1998.
In 2000 Johnson joined the Patriots coaching staff. He was promoted from assistant linebackers coach to inside linebackers coach in 2001. He moved to defensive line coach in 2004. In 2012 he took over the linebackers again. Patricia was the Patriots linebacker coach from 2006-2010 and the two combined to create the multi-faceted fronts that have become the bread and butter of the Patriots defensive system. From that 2010 season onward, Patricia has been the Patriots defensive play caller. Despite the lack of opportunity for advancement within the Patriots organization, Johnson stayed on staff until 2014 when he left the Patriots with the goal of advancing his career.
Johnson joined the 2014 Bills. This was the Doug Maronne staff that last came closest to getting the Bills to the playoffs. With the addition of Jim Schwartz as defensive coordinator and Johnson as their defensive line coach, the Bills jumped from the number 23 defense in 2013, to number four in 2014. Unfortunately for Bills fans, some contract shenanigans allowed Marrone to void his contract when Ralph Wilson died. Johnson was reportedly promised a spot on Rex Ryan’s bills staff, but when the 2015 Bills staff were announced Johnson’s name was absent and he was jobless.
Johnson returned to New York, this time with the Jets under new head coach Todd Bowles, again as the defensive line coach, after interviewing for the Giants defensive coordinator job. He was fired after the 2016 season, The Jets defensive line was loaded with highly drafted talent, but low on character. According to sources, Sheldon Richardson and Muhammed Wilkerson were not fans of Pepper Johnson. I would suggest that the Jets problems along the line existed well before Johnson got there, and he is a likely candidate to join the Lions staff if Patricia is interested in changing the defensive staff up. The Lions linebackers have not performed particularly well since 2014. Johnson might be the man to fix that.
Patrick Graham is a Yale graduate who worked his way up the coaching ladder from the bottom. Between 2002 and 2009 he coached for Wagner, Richmond (defensive line and tight ends), Notre Dame, and Toledo. In 2009 he joined the Patriots staff as a defensive coaching assistant. He went from making photocopies and getting coffee to the Patriots linebackers coach in two seasons. Between 2011 and 2015 Graham flipped back and forth between the linebacker and defensive line groups under Matt Patricia in New England. He left the Patriots in 2016 and was reportedly looking for more growth opportunities.
He found an opportunity with the Giants staff. The 2015 Giants defense had allowed more yards than any other team. They allowed the third most points, in the NFL. In 2016 the Giants improved to tenth in yards and second in points. The Giants spent what seemed like a billion dollars on free agents, but that doesn’t usually net great results. The defensive staff did a spectacular job of keeping their defensive talent on track. The Giants could not keep riding that wave of success as a team, but Graham kept the defensive line going. Only one of the Giants seven d-linemen who logged enough snaps to be officially ranked by profootballfocus.com received a poor grade.
If the Giants new head coach wants to go in a different direction, Graham would make a spectacular addition to the Lions defensive staff under Patricia. I believe that Graham is likely one of the reasons that Patricia might prefer that job over the Lions. The combination of Patricia, Johnson, and Graham would all but guarantee the Lions a solid front seven in short order if they came to Detroit.
If Matt Patricia were looking to bring in a secondary coach, he could do worse than reaching way back in his experience to pluck Cory Undlin out of Philadelphia. The Eagles defensive backs coach was in New England in 2004 but left with Romeo Crennel to Cleveland. By the end of that regime in 2008, Uldlin had become the defensive backs coach. Like many coaches, he has jumped into the end of a few different head coaches last season or two with an organization. He jumped in on the Jack Del Rio era in Jacksonville.
He followed Del Rio to the John Fox era in Denver. That was the secondary with David Bruton, Champ Bailey, Chris Harris Jr. and Rahim Moore. Bruton and Moore developed well enough in Denver to earn large free agent contracts elsewhere. He Joined the Eagles in 2015 and survived the coaching change in 2016. With Jim Schwartz as a potential head coaching candidate, Undlin may be in search of another landing spot.
Undlin is a teacher, literally. After graduating he taught fourth grade until he took an unpaid internship with Fresno State. He is a “technique and effort” over talent person. His few run-ins with players have been with those who believed incorrectly that their natural talent was enough to be successful in the NFL. He believes in two things: “to teach, and to demand.”
Those are the coaches I thing Matt Patricia might tap for jobs with whatever team he ends up coaching. Between when I started writing this and when I finished, King’s peice dropped the level of enthusiasm for this information. Jim asked, and I will not have it said that I didn’t deliver. I have some Patreon donor content to finish up now.
Feel free to hit me up on twitter @a5hcrack, and ask for an article, or on the Lions’ subreddit to do the same.