The Detroit Lions fired Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn on Saturday. Good! There was some inevitability to these firings, but they are no less relieving for it. The Lions are 4–7 on the season, in last place in a pretty bad NFC North, and neither of those data points quite captures the real hopelessness of this year’s team.
After firing Jim Caldwell for posting a winning record in three of his four seasons, the Lions hired Patricia to import the Patriots ethos to Detroit in 2018. While he succeeded in being secretive and belligerent, Patricia neglected the “winning games” part; he leaves Detroit with a 13–29–1 record. Darrell Bevell, Patricia’s offensive coordinator, will take over as interim coach for the season.
The last two games seem to have been the final straws for team owner Sheila Ford Hamp, who appeared visibly embarrassed during the Lions’ Thanksgiving Day loss to the Texans. That game followed a humiliating shutout at the hands of the Panthers, led at the time by a backup quarterback most recently active in the XFL. The season’s wins did not feel much better than the losses. After frittering away a 24–3 fourth quarter lead, the Lions only escaped the Washington Football Team on the back of a 59-yard Matt Prater field goal. In Week 7, they beat the Falcons because Todd Gurley accidentally scored with time left. You might even argue the wins felt worse than the losses, because they only served to keep Patricia hanging around.
Lions fandom, from experience, usually is not as painful as one might presume. For all the current barrenness of the Detroit sports landscape, only the Lions have engendered the understanding that bad is what the team should and always will be. The consistent inferiority, at the very least, makes it much easier to keep them at some emotional remove. Patricia’s incredible accomplishment in Detroit, then, was to produce a team so miserable and upsetting that he curdled a numb fanbase’s practiced indifference into real, boiling resentment. Measured in the terms of hateability, the Patricia era has somehow surpassed the time the Lions lost every game.
At least those Lions were interesting and sort of sympathetic. The current team is simply sad and deadened, and the players themselves would probably agree. The trouble was already apparent in scattered reports of Patricia’s unwarranted hostility to Darius Slay and his also unwarranted practices in the snow, but read for rubbernecking’s sake the feature Kalyn Kahler wrote on the culture of the Patricia Lions for Bleacher Report two weeks ago. It begins, tellingly, with free agents celebrating their freedom from Patricia with locker room mimosas at the 2018 season’s end. A dozen more unpleasant anecdotes follow:
Former players described his style in year one as demeaning. The former offensive player remembers a routine event: He and his teammates would be waiting for a meeting to start and talking amongst themselves when Patricia would walk in—typically late—and yell, All right, everybody shut the f–k up!
It stands to reason Patricia will not be missed by one single person. As further proof of that, see the number of former (and current!) Lions who openly celebrated the news of his firing:
As head coach, Patricia displayed a special talent for blaming his failures on others. “Certainly, I think when I came to Detroit there was a lot of work to do,” he said at a press conference after a loss to the Saints this year. There will actually be a lot of work to do for his successor, who will not inherit the quarterback in his prime and playoff-ready team Patricia did, but a roster purged of alienated talent and a franchise that looks headed for a rebuild.
That successor, somehow, will be Bill O’Brien.