Written by JT Bowen
It doesn’t take a genius to see that Matt Patricia’s tenure as head coach the past two seasons has been unsuccessful. Though he’ll likely last through the rest of this season and probably into next, the jury’s still out on his future and he hasn’t made tangible progress in his time.
After the 2017 season, the writing on the wall was there for Jim Caldwell. Unlike many teams, though, the Lions had their guy throughout the whole hiring process. Patricia was viewed as the favorite and most likely candidate for the vacancy in spite of many other interviews and rumors of other coaches coming in.
The crop of coaches that found teams during the 2018 offseason have found varying results, and I’m going to compare Patricia’s success (or lack thereof) to the other six coaches who were hired.
1. Steve Wilks, Arizona Cardinals
For those of you who don’t remember, Wilks had an incredibly unsuccessful 2018 campaign, going 3-13, and ultimately getting fired after just one season. Wilks’ tenure will mar the Cardinals’ future for the foreseeable future, with a wasted first-rounder on Josh Rosen who was moved on from after just one year in favor of Kyler Murray. Wilks fielded an awful offense despite talented players like Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson, and though he might not have deserved his fate, saw his tenure end as a rare one-and-done year.
Verdict: Less successful than Patricia (for obvious reasons)
2. Jon Gruden, Oakland Raiders
The first hiring of the 2018 offseason, Oakland brought in former head coach Jon Gruden to revitalize the team after Jack Del Rio’s disappointing collapse. Oakland went 12-4 in 2016, securing a wild card spot but ultimately losing in the first round and further failing in 2017 to seal his demise. Gruden had a rough first year, going 4-12, but in fairness had an awful roster after trading away Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper. Armed with three first-rounders and a young quarterback, though, Oakland has somewhat turned things around this year. They have acquired a franchise running back, are rebuilding their defense, and get a fresh start next year in Las Vegas. The Raiders currently sit at 6-8 after a tough loss to Jacksonville in the last minute, but have shown improvement from last year, something that can’t be said for the Lions. Gruden will likely remain head coach as Oakland embarks on a franchise relocation to Las Vegas, and Gruden has the ideal personality for the job. The future is uncertain with Derek Carr playing inconsistent, but Gruden has done an admirable job reconstructing the team and navigating through the Antonio Brown fiasco.
Verdict: More successful
3. Frank Reich, Indianapolis Colts
The Colts have had some bad luck of late. It begins with Josh McDaniels, current offensive coordinator in New England, being announced as the Colts’ head coach after Chuck Pagano but spurning Indianapolis to remain in Foxborough. However, Indianapolis still made a good hire, bringing in former Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich to lead their team. Reich saw success in season one, going 10-6 and beating the AFC South-winning Texans to garner a playoff victory. Things seemed to be looking up for Indianapolis, with Andrew Luck bouncing back from a slew of injuries and a great draft class, but the NFL was rocked by Luck’s sudden retirement weeks before the 2019 season started. As expected, the Jacoby Brissett-led Colts have been worse than last year, but Reich has done well to mitigate a franchise-altering departure and lead an injury-riddled team to 6-7. Indianapolis will miss the playoffs, and questions linger at the quarterback position, but Reich has shown competence and composure to demonstrate that he’s the coach of the future.
Verdict: More successful
4. Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears
Replacing the much-maligned John Fox and with a second-year quarterback at the helm, Nagy came into Chicago with low expectations. However, Nagy immediately went all-in, acquiring talented weapons in Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton to boost the pass-catching corps. However, the story of the Bears’ 2018 season was the fearsome defense. Vic Fangio captained a star-studded defense spearheaded by Khalil Mack, which greatly aided the team in attaining a 12-4 record that won Chicago the NFC North in a landslide. Trubisky showed a major leap in his second year, and after a tough playoff loss, the team looked to be a top contender in 2019. The Bears have not fared as well this year, though. Eliminated from playoff contention, the defense and offense have both taken steps back, which can be attributed to the departure of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and regression of Trubisky. The North Carolina product has improved down the stretch, but his horrid start to the season proved too bad for the Bears to recover from, and raised questions about his future. Nagy still has the personnel, especially on defense, to make a postseason run, but it ultimately comes down to Trubisky turning a corner if the Bears look to bounce back next year.
Verdict: More successful
5. Pat Shurmur, New York Giants
In a somehow more inept organization, Pat Shurmur was hired by general manager Dave Gettleman to coach Big Blue to success. And the duo’s tenure has been nothing short of baffling, with a growing list of gaffes that come back to haunt the team. A few of the decisions in the past two years that raise eyebrows include but aren’t limited to: Trading Odell Beckham Jr. for next to nothing, trading Damon Harrison for next to nothing, letting Landon Collins walk, taking a running back 2nd overall, taking Daniel Jones 6th overall with another first-rounder, eating $15 million in cap by trading Jason Pierre-Paul for next to nothing, trading big-money signing Olivier Vernon, and recently cutting Janoris Jenkins after a social media outburst. In just two years, Gettleman has completely ripped apart the roster at its seams. Shurmur, though not entirely at fault for the organizational failures orchestrated by Gettleman, has not done well at mitigating the roster bleed, currently battling with Washington to see who can finish last in the NFC East. They have a young, talented offense, but the defense is awful. Shurmur’s job is very much in question with another top-5 draft selection on the horizon, and for good reason. Patricia has been bad, but not this bad.
Verdict: Less successful
6. Mike Vrabel, Tennessee Titans
In a bit of a surprise, Tennessee parted ways with Mike Mularkey after a playoff-yielding 2017 season, ultimately done with toiling in mediocrity in a move that mirrors the Jim Caldwell firing. Tennessee chose to bring in former Houston defensive coordinator and star linebacker Mike Vrabel, who has thus far seen success through nearly two years. Tennessee went 9-7 in Vrabel’s first year, despite renewed struggles from Marcus Mariota. Vrabel opted to roll with Mariota in his final season under contract, but was ultimately benched after an awful start, and chalked up as a first-round bust. The team chose to move forward with former Dolphin Ryan Tannehill, playoff hopes out the window, and in one of the season’s great stories, he has seen a complete career revival. Tannehill has played stellar as the quarterback, leading the team to a 6-2 record, and potentially positioning himself as the team’s future at quarterback. Tennessee dropped a crushing loss Sunday against Houston in a game with major playoff implications, but is still very much in the race. Vrabel has built a staunch defense, helped Derrick Henry become a franchise workhorse, and positioned Tennessee to continue to compete in the AFC South going forward.
Verdict: More successful
According to my assessments, four coaches have done better than Matt Patricia, and two have done worse. Not great, and not horrible — perfectly mediocre, the most apt word to describe both his tenure and the Lions’ history.