ATLANTA – When Matt Patricia took over head coaching duties of the Detroit Lions last February, he knew one of the first things he’d be tasked with was changing the culture in Detroit. He was used to winning in New England, going to AFC Championship Games and playing in Super Bowls. The Lions haven’t been to an NFC Championship Game since 1991.
Patricia has his idea of what winning football looks like. He saw it firsthand in New England. Winning takes the right kind of players buying into a system that fits them. Former Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest says sometimes that can take time for an organization like the Lions, who aren’t used to winning consistently.
“Did you expect them to be in the Super Bowl the first year?” McGinest asked at the Super Bowl. “NFC Championship? What was Bill’s (Belichick) record his first year (in New England)? 5-11. You have to understand that to change a culture and to get the right guys to buy in in that locker room, it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not going to happen overnight.”
McGinest would know a little something about that. He was a staple on those early New England Patriots Super Bowl winning teams in 2001, 2003 and 2004.
“You can’t do it through the draft,” McGinest said. “You can’t just do it through free agency. You have to identify a core group of men in the locker room that you’re going to build your team around.
“Patricia coached with the Patriots 14 or 15 years, I think he knows what he’s doing. I think he understands how to win football games. You don’t have to come in, I don’t think, the first year. It takes time to build teams.”
The Lions have 21 free agents on their current roster, but they do return most of their core players like Matthew Stafford, Darius Slay, Damon Harrison, Jarrad Davis, Kenny Golladay and Kerryon Johnson.
“That franchise hasn’t won in years,” McGinest said of the Lions. “A lot of those guys in the locker room weren’t even around (the last time the Lions played in the NFC Championship). So, to be able to install that and be able to understand that, it takes time.
“Patricia is a great coach. I like the fact that he’s doing it his way. He’s not trying to be Belichick or all those other coaches. I like the fact that he’s taken everything he’s learned and he’s doing it his way, but it takes time. You have to break things down before you build it up.”
Lions fans are hoping the foundation was laid in a disappointing 6-10 first season in Detroit for Patricia, and the building of a franchise that can consistently be a winner is in the works starting this offseason.