No team goes into a season hoping to coach in the Senior Bowl, because it signifies the record wasn't a particularly good one for the organization or the coaching staff. The Senior Bowl coaching duties are offered to teams that finished at the bottom of the previous year's standings, and who retain their coaching staff.
But, if a team gets the opportunity to coach it, they might as well make the most of it, which is what the Lions and head coach Matt Patricia hope to do this week in Mobile, Ala.
The Lions will be coaching the North Team in this week's annual all-star event that showcases some of the best college talent with no more college eligibility remaining.
The Lions last coached the Senior Bowl in 2013 with Jim Schwartz and his staff. That year, the Lions ended up drafting two players who took part in Senior Bowl week – defensive end Ziggy Ansah and guard Larry Warford.
In the subsequent Senior Bowls since, the Lions have drafted a total of 16 players who took part in the Senior Bowl. Some of those names include: Kyle Van Noy, Quandre Diggs, Laken Tomlinson, Graham Glasgow, Joe Dahl, Da’Shawn Hand and most recently the trio of Will Harris, Amani Oruwariye and Travis Fulgham last offseason.
"My staff and I welcome the opportunity to coach many of the nation's best college players at the Senior Bowl ... ," Patricia said earlier this month. "Most of us got our start in coaching at the collegiate level and we look forward to a great week in Mobile. This event has always been well-organized and provides great access that is helpful in our pre-draft evaluations."
The access part is key for Patricia, his coaching staff and Detroit's front office. They'll have the kind of access to these players for a whole week that's invaluable in the pre-draft process. In addition to coaching the players up on the practice field and in the game, Patricia and his staff will run the meetings, film sessions and be around these guys all week off the field.
How does a player handle the meeting room? How do they retain information? What kind of men are they off the field? Who's there to work? Who really loves football? Those are all things teams spend months ahead of the draft trying to figure out.
Both the North and South teams will hold hour-and-a-half long practice sessions Tuesday-Thursday. The game is at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.
The most recent model of success coaching in the Senior Bowl the Lions wouldn't mid following is that of San Francisco's coaching staff, who coached in the game last season.
Like Detroit, the 49ers lost quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to injury last season and were forced to play 13 games with quarterbacks Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard, who were a combined 3-10 as starters. The 49ers dealt with other injuries up and down their roster a year ago. The loss of Garoppolo and all the injuries resulted in a 4-12 record and the No. 2 pick in last year's NFL Draft.
Kyle Shanahan and his staff coached the South Team at last year's Senior Bowl and got a up-close look at wide receiver Deebo Samuel and outside linebacker Dre Greenlaw. The two were drafted by the 49ers and have become important rookie players in the 49ers' resurgence in 2019.
San Francisco used the No. 2 pick last year on edge rusher Nick Bosa, the favorite to win Defensive Rookie of the Year. They got Garoppolo back for an entire season and they've stayed relatively healthy throughout the season.
The 49ers are now headed to the Super Bowl.
It just goes to show how some clever drafting, combined with relatively good health and consistent play, can turn things around rather quickly in the NFL. That certainly has to be the model for the Lions as they begin a similar offseason process this year starting with this week's Senior Bowl.
While it's not ideal to be in a situation where a team is asked to coach the Senior Bowl, the Lions are treating it as an opportunity to find out as much about these players as possible leading up to draft time in April.