It was 16 years ago that Paul Pasqualoni, then the head football coach at Syracuse, gave a young defensive line coach from Amherst College – Matt Patricia – an opportunity to be an offensive graduate assistant on his staff.
The two spent three years together at Syracuse before going their separate ways after Pasqualoni was relieved of coaching duties at the university after the 2004 season.
Pasqualoni made various stops in the NFL after he left Syracuse. He was defensive coordinator of the Dolphins for two years, the Cowboys for another, and most recently the defensive line coach at Boston College.
View the best photos from 2018 Detroit Lions voluntary minicamp.
Patricia went from Syracuse to the New England Patriots, where he climbed the ranks to defensive coordinator before accepting the Detroit Lions’ head-coaching position in February.
When it was time for Patricia to hire a defensive coordinator for his new staff, Pasqualoni ended up being a natural fit.
“He was kind of enough to kind of give me my start in the Division-1 level,” Patricia said of Pasqualoni at his introductory press conference. “He really mentored me a lot and taught me a lot as far as how the game should be looked at, how to game plan, how to strategize and how to really get the most out of young players. Kind of a natural fit.
“There’s a lot of common ground from what we believe in, how a defense should be played, how it should be run, the fundamentals behind it. The core teaching of what should be accomplished first and foremost. There’s a huge comfort level for me to have him on board and to be able to entrust him to handle that.”
Pasqualoni spoke for the first time publicly since taking over as Detroit’s defensive coordinator at the team’s Miller Lite Draft Party last week. He too talked about the comfort level that exists between he and coach Patricia.
“We can agree to disagree and have conversations on a lot of different areas and a lot of different things and still be aligned,” Pasqualoni said. “I think the important thing is that we are aligned correctly here.
“It’s just a lot of fun. He’s my boss. At one time, I was his boss and he helped me. I’m here to help him and to do everything we can do to bring great success to the Detroit Lions.”
Pasqualoni will call the defensive plays in Detroit, and is expected to work very closely with Patricia on a week-to-week basis on defensive strategy and game planning.
The first order of business for both coaches when they arrived in Detroit was figuring out what they had to work with on defense. Detroit has some talented players on that side of the ball. Ziggy Ansah, Darius Slay and Glover Quin have all made the Pro Bowl, but the Lions did finish 27th in overall defense last year and 21st in scoring.
“We’ve spent countless hours evaluating last year’s film and there are a lot of things on that defensive side of the ball we’re impressed with,” Pasqualoni said. “It was a team that played and ran after the ball really hard.
View photos from the Miller Lite Draft Party at the Detroit Lions training facility.
“We just got through with a minicamp, so we got a chance to work with these guys and we’re very, very impressed with the passion they have for football and how badly they want to be good and how badly they want to bring a championship to Detroit.”
The Lions re-signed or added a number of important pieces on defense this offseason, starting with Ansah signing his franchise tag. They also brought in defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, cornerback DeShawn Shead and linebackers Devon Kennard, Christian Jones and Jonathan Freeny via free agency. Detroit used a third-round and fourth-round selection in last weekend’s NFL Draft to bring in safety Tracy Walker and defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand.
How all those pieces come together, where they line up, and how they fit into the defensive puzzle will be interesting to watch during open OTAs and the June minicamp.
One thing that's already known, however, is that Pasqualoni and Patricia see football the same way, and agree on what the principle elements on defense should look like.
“It’s going to be a fundamentally very sound football team,” Pasqualoni said. “We want to play smart, we want to play tough and we want to be the best conditioned team on the field every week. We don’t want to beat ourselves.”