PHOENIX – The 360-degree evaluation Matt Patricia has said he would make of his first season as head coach of the Detroit Lions covered many areas, and none may have been more important than his relationships with his players that appear to have been strengthened.
The 2018 season was a tough one for Patricia. It ended with a 6-10 won-loss record, and with the Lions never being in serious contention in the NFC North. It was a dramatic comedown for a man who'd been used to contending for Super Bowls, and winning them, in his 14 seasons with the New England Patriots before coming to Detroit
And it was a trying season for the veteran players Patricia inherited. The Lions had winning records in three of the previous four seasons under head coach Jim Caldwell, including 9-7 records the last two seasons.
More than that was a different coaching style and personality than the players had been used to under Caldwell, who was almost a father figure to many of them.
The 2018 season was a learning experience in many ways for Patricia, as it would be for any long-time assistant in his first year as head coach.
Patricia seemed more comfortable and self-assured as he spoke to the media Tuesday morning at the NFL's annual meeting at the Arizona Biltmore.
If the last season was a blur, he can see the fine details as he prepares for his second season.
"One year from where I was, I don't want to say the pace is slower, but it's obviously very different," he said. "It's been good to just get down to have a plan of attack from the end of the season to now -- what we need to do, take a good look at the team.
"Evaluate the team from the standpoint of the players. Evaluate the coaches. Evaluate things in the building that we want to improve on to make it better for the players. Just a lot more, I think, of the flow of the things."
Patricia talked about constructive interactions he had with players this offseason and their comments back and forth – player-to-coach – on plays and concepts they'd seen in playoff games that were teaching points.
One play Patricia stressed was a key penalty against the Kansas City Chiefs in their loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship.
"We've been in those games before, those situations," Patricia said. "The emotional part of the game, through the playoffs, into the bigger games – it's very different, and you have to be ready for that.
"You have to build it through the course of time."
In relating to players, Patricia referred to his parents being teachers, and a saying that first-year teachers "shouldn't smile before Thanksgiving Day" to strengthen their leadership position.
"I probably didn't do enough of that (smiling) last year," said Patricia, who was known to have a strong relationship with his players in New England. "There's a lot coming at you. I think the defense saw a little more of me. I was in those (meeting) rooms a little more."
An important meeting he had was a one-on-one soon after the season with quarterback Matthew Stafford, whom Patricia has continually praised for his ability, work ethic and toughness. It became known after the season that Stafford started all 16 games while playing with injuries that were more severe than had been made public.
The 2018 season was not one of Stafford's better seasons. Stafford had 21 touchdown passes, his second fewest in the last eight seasons, and 11 interceptions. He had some untimely fumbles, and the fourth-quarter comebacks he engineered in previous seasons were missing.
Although Stafford maintained the same work ethic, which has never been questioned, there were some indications that he was having difficulty adapting to Patricia's coaching methods.
His meeting with his quarterback – which is routine – was productive, Patricia said Tuesday.
"One hundred percent," Patricia said. "What's great about Stafford and I is, we talk a lot. We have a lot of great conversations. I always want to know what he's thinking -- how he feels about what the team is doing, where he thinks the team is at – how he thinks I'm doing, where I'm at with it.
"That's just an open working relationship you want to have with all your players, especially him at his position. He's the quarterback. He's out front. That comes with the territory. It always good that he and I are on the same page.
"He's been great. He's a great player. He works hard – a guy I really enjoy being around. He has a toughness about him that I'm really drawn to. He comes with the same mentality I have.
"From that standpoint, it's an easy conversation. How can we get better? What are we looking at from all aspects of what we do?"
When it was mentioned that last season was not one of Stafford's best, Patricia replied:
"The thing about it, it wasn't one of my best years, either. I haven't been in that situation in a long time, either. For both of us, we're trying to get better next year."