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O'HARA: Cooter as OC maintains continuity on offense

The seeds of Jim Bob Cooter returning as offensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions were planted before Matt Patricia was hired as head coach.

The man who planted those seeds: Matt Patricia, who hopes to reap the benefits of retaining Cooter and maintaining continuity on offense.

Before Patricia's first interview with the Lions' hierarchy about becoming their head coach, he undertook an interview and research process of his own. Patricia talked to people who either had direction connections to the franchise, or knew people who did.

One of those people he contacted was Cooter. Patricia liked enough of what he heard from Cooter – and about him from others in his personal scouting mission of the franchise – that he decided he would retain him if he was hired by the Lions.

"There were all those connections," Patricia said Thursday morning. "Everybody signs off on this guy. He's vetted. He's smart.  I've gone against him a bunch of times. I know he's a really good coach.

"I talked to him about the organization before I got into any sort of, 'Do I want to be here?" At that point, you're like, 'If this works out, of course I want this guy.'"

Patricia left no doubt about Cooter's status in a lengthy interview session Thursday morning. He has been offensive coordinator since Game 8 of the 2015 season. He took over when Joe Lombardi was fired.

The way Patricia spoke Thursday, Cooter's role as coordinator and play-caller will have some input from Patricia's overall philosophy for his team.

That obviously includes beefing up a running game that has steadily degraded from bad to worse to worst in the league. In 2017 the running game was last in the league in yards per game (76.3) and tied for last in average per carry (3.4 yards).

Whatever the Lions' offense has accomplished in recent seasons has been on the strength of Matthew Stafford's golden right arm and a corps of pass catchers that may lack a single star but ranks above average as a unit.

Patricia was animated Thursday as he talked football. He spoke with the passion that has become familiar to fans who've seen him on the sideline as defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots.

It was clear that he does not need morning coffee to jump start his day and get the competitive juices flowing. And it's just as clear that he has definite standards on what it takes to have a winning football team.

"In order to win a football game, you have to control the game," Patricia said. "And that's three phases. It's not one phase. It's not one aspect of it. It's three phases.

"The run game is a huge part of that. Covering kicks is a huge part of that. If you want to control the game offensively, you'd better be able to run the ball. Defensively, you'd better be able to stop the run. Special teams-wise, you'd better be able to cover kicks.

"That's where you've got to start. You may not be able to do that all the time. You may look at a defense one week as an offensive coordinator and say, 'We can't run the ball this week. We've got to spread them out. We've got to get this thing out fast. We've got to design a passing game to take advantage of what they do. We're just going to be pounding our head against the wall here.'

"But for the most part, we are going to run our offense."

View photos from Matt Patricia's introductory press conference.

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