Looking backward might help Detroit Lions fans see the future more clearly – and calmly.
What a week. It seems like Detroit Lions fans have been screaming to fire coach Matt Patricia since the loss to the Chicago Bears. In the decades that I’ve followed this team, I can’t remember this kind of fan reaction to a single game, better put, “over-reaction.”
There seems to be a massive uprising of frustration, and even hatred from fans and it is largely pointed at Detroit Lions coach, Matt Patricia. People screaming and one-upping one another with punishments for Patricia. “He should be fired today!” “No, they should have canned him Sunday night!” “Are you kidding me, I said he should have been fired last year!” While I understand fans’ reactions to the loss, I’m here to say that many of those reactions are pretty far over the top. I’ve seen some of the most caustic tweets pointed at players, coaches, and even other fans. What’s wrong with us?
We’re mad, and we want change is the most honest answer. No one knows what the final standings will be, we’ve only played a single game, but I’m going to go through a few realities that might help ease the pain of today and let you know what will happen later. You’ll know most of these things, but it feels like many people are ignoring them.
I want to preface this article with the fact that none of this is predicated on the idea that I think fans shouldn’t be frustrated. It also isn’t written as a defense of the current coach, Matt Patricia. Its an attempt to look at the reality of the world, the life of a Detroit Lions fan, and the fact that you have a clear part in this. As humans, we have choices in how we act and react – as adults we are accountable for those things. When we consider our frustrations and disagreements, its best to remember that there is a human being on the other side of our comments, and we should treat them appropriately.
Now that the preachy part is over, let’s move on to the Detroit Lions current situation with their coach, players, and what the next move should be.
The Detroit Lions And “Meaningful Football In December”
The Detroit Lions organization announced on December 17, 2019 that they were keeping head coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn for the 2020 NFL season. It wasn’t a secret. This news was widely reported after being announced to a select group of media members (many of whom seem to have forgotten). If you didn’t know, franchise owner and chairman Martha Firestone Ford was flanked by her daughter Sheila Ford Hamp and Team President Rod Wood when announcing the decision. This is the very crux of the situation. Matt Patricia is likely (and rightfully) going to be employed by the Detroit Lions until at least December. Everyone was put on notice last December. How people can have the idea that he should or would be fired after a single game literally goes against everything we’ve been told. Why are people so fluent in stats, schemes, and PFF ratings, having so much difficulty with English? We literally know what the stakes and performance standards are. Now we need to measure against them. That can’t be done in a single game.
I constantly hear the argument, “but its not a single game, its 33 games!” Of course it is, but those 33 games weren’t the standard given for continued employment, were they? I don’t see the employment status of Coach Patricia changing prior to November 1st, and that’s only if the Detroit Lions lose out until then. That’s the standard, we all know it, screaming for the coach’s head at this point is literally the definition of throwing a temper tantrum. I’ll add that many in the media want and need fans in that state of mind because without it, there’s not a whole lot of interest and ratings/clicks/revenue will all take a dive – right along with the Lions win/loss record. They have a stake in the game, and ensuring you are engaged and enraged is for their direct benefit – definitely not yours.
One part that makes it maddeningly difficult to assess the performance of coach Patricia is the sheer volume of injuries the team has had to deal with, including Matthew Stafford for the majority of the 2019 season. Key players seem to hit IR consistently for this team. Jinx? Nature of the game? Poor conditioning program? Who knows, but it certainly hasn’t helped. On the Chicago Bears last drive of the game, the Detroit Lions had 3 of 11 defenders that could be considered NFL starters on the field due to injuries. That’s no way to defend against an offense that has suddenly found its pace.
Coach Patricia isn’t going anywhere. We can talk about losing the first game of 1991 45-0 and still making the playoffs and winning a game, or any other of a number of situations, statistics, or historical events where one misstep has or hasn’t cost a team its chances. Fans can scream at and insult one another until they’re blue in the face, yet one truth still remains. The coach isn’t going anywhere until its determined that the Detroit Lions aren’t playing meaningful games in December.
We Should Fire Matt Patricia Anyway!
No. We really shouldn’t. I’m sure the sentiment generates callers on your favorite sports radio show and drives clicks to your (second) favorite Detroit Lions websites. Unfortunately, it would be a monumentally stupid move. Trust me, there’s a reason (likely a number of them) that you and I aren’t a GM in the NFL. The moment that you hear that the person you solely blame for the Detroit Lions inability to win games was fired would surely feel good, but you have to ask yourself the inevitable question, “what’s next?” It’s like demoing an ugly bathroom and the realizing you don’t have another toilet in the house. Things are going to start stinking real fast, and you might not get the stink out for a long time. You might need to cut the joists out and… well, that’s an inside joke for our Patreon donor Slack folks. You should really join, its the most intelligent Lions chat on the internet, but back to my point. Things would be far worse for the Detroit Lions for a longer time if you fire coach Matt Patricia prematurely.
Let me provide a few points against firing Lions coach Matt Patricia right now, you might notice none of them are a “defense” of the coach. To be fair, I have met him personally, at the Senior Bowl, and he was absolutely wonderful to speak with. A person you can genuinely like and would want to spend time and have a beer with. That’s not what this is about though. This is about organizational reputation, and that question, “what’s next?”, because it is the most important question.
The keystone point here is that the Detroit Lions organization issued a mandate – meaningful football in December. That’s much different than when a player guarantees a win, or says, “I’m going to do better next time.” The credibility of any organization is paramount, especially a billion dollar organization. You’ll find that often players speak in absolutes, some (like Matthew Stafford) in leadership roles tend to be more pragmatic, but at this level they have more freedom to make an error. As you work your way up to Coach, and GM, you’ll find that commitments are made differently and people’s word means more. The standards are higher. When you get to the top of an organization, you’ll find that commitments are made to move an organization in a particular direction, but which always allows them to maintain credibility if things go wrong. When you have an organization in trouble, losing credibility is always the last nail in the coffin. While the Ford family hasn’t brought Detroit Lions fans a winner, it isn’t from a lack of trying – there is no lack of commitment from ownership.
All of that is to reiterate the importance behind why firing coach Patricia too early could, and would, be devastating for the Lions organization. Let’s get into some of the reasons that fall under that umbrella:
- What message does firing coach Patricia now send to the Detroit Lions players? We’ve given up on the season? Fans complain about how Quandre Diggs and Darius Slay were treated. When players see the coach (that by all reports they really like) treated this way, they’re going to believe its not a coach or GM thing, its the organization. How excited will players be to know that they are throwing a year of a short career away because the people at the top have thrown in the towel on the team? This does not bode will for keeping key talent, and I’d expect a lot of players asking for trades (which means bad trade deals for the Detroit Lions).
- If we fire now, its presumably because we’ll have someone better lined up as coach. End result, we win 2 more games this year. The immediate fan lament will be that we screwed ourselves on draft position and we’ll have an ocean of people just as angry with a worse case scenario for the team.
- Generally the consensus pick to replace coach Patricia for the 2021 season is Eric Bieniemy. A bright star on a winning team who just happens to share my birthday. The reality is that he will be coveted by a number of teams and will likely have the luxury of picking where he ends up among his suitors. How likely do you think he will be to pick the Detroit Lions with all the warts that this team has, but with the added baggage of having liars at the top of the organization? How could he ever feel safe in his job when organizational leadership can’t be trusted? Why not choose a place where you will be given everything you need and can trust who you work for?
- When you are hiring talent, you want to be an employer of choice, a place that people *want* to work. Firing coach Patricia earlier than promised only adds to the negatives.
- Lastly, what do we really gain by firing coach Patricia early other than a smug sense of “he’s gone” – the real result is that we’re in that house with no toilet I described earlier. We’ve literally only made things worse for the Detroit Lions
Taking the longer view on when to retain and release talent is a key part of running an effective organization. With so many things having been done wrong over the years, adding another huge mistake to that list is not in the Detroit Lions best interest.
This is when fans should come together
Fans have more visibility into the future of the Detroit Lions plans than ever before. We know the coach’s employment status is based on the team’s results, and we have almost perfect clarity as to what those results must be. The 2020 season was bound to be a roller coaster, with Covid, lock-downs, the rising awareness of social justice issues in the country, and so much more going on – how could you expect anything different than what we are seeing today. Lions fans have every right to be frustrated with the results on the field. I highly doubt that more than 1% of the people reading this have experienced a Lions championship, and probably less than 10% remember the experience if a Detroit Lions playoff win. We knew what we were getting into both as fans of this team overall, and as fans this year. The organization told us. The Lions organization will execute their plan, and Matt Patricia will have a job or not as a result. In the meantime, be happy that we have football at all, it wasn’t so long ago that we weren’t sure we’d even have that.
Its not worth your health or friendships to buy into the anger being generated, especially given the circumstances. Its not even rational, really. Treat your fellow fans with respect, expect more from the team and organization, but do it in a way that makes you and the people that love you proud. With all the talk of making the world a better place, why can’t that start with us? We’re Lions fans, we never do the easy thing.
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