Detroit Lions mercifully abandon their Patriot Way experiment

by | Nov 29, 2020 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

Thanksgiving arrived two days late in Detroit. Today, Lions fans give thanks that the Bob Quinn/Matt Patricia era is, mercifully, over.

Farewell, Patriot Way. Quinn and Patricia were going nowhere with this franchise. In truth, they were given a year longer than they likely deserved. Their dismissal Saturday by new owner Sheila Ford Hamp, after two stink-up-the-joint losses erased any dreams of a postseason, was the right thing to do, the way knocking down a burned house is the right thing to do. You don’t just stand around looking at ruins.

Now, those old enough to remember names like Rogers, Mornhinweg and Marinelli already know this feeling; a broom hitting the Lions’ floor long after the dirt had reached absurdly high levels. But at least it happened now and not in January. At least it suggests the football we are watching and the football the Fords are watching is, in fact, the same game.

Farewell, Patriot Way. In three-plus decades of writing about sports, I have never called for a coach to be fired. I don’t believe it’s my place to clamor for any man’s unemployment. Coaches are human beings, they have families and friends, and, anyhow, owners will do what they’re going to do regardless.

But once the deal is done, I have no qualms endorsing it. And despite both Quinn and Patricia being intelligent men, they had no businesses being in their positions this long.

Remember, Quinn had never been a sole GM before, and Patricia had never been a head coach. That’s a dangerous combination. They also both came from the same previous organization, New England, which has a curious history of sending overrated second-level people into other team’s first-level jobs, only to learn what any student of pro football could have told you:

There’s only one Bill Belichick.

Quinn was not a Belichick in any sense of talent evaluation, and Patricia was not Belichick in any sense at all, except saying pretty much nothing of weight to the media.

Patricia may be a genius who attended RPI. But I watched him loss after loss begin his press conferences with the word “Obviously” — as in, obviously that wasn’t a good game, obviously we’re not happy with our results, obviously we’re not executing well enough, obviously we all have to work harder.

So he can’t be surprised by Hamp showing him the door after 13 wins, 29 losses and one tie.

It’s obvious.

Farewell, Patriot Way.

‘It wasn’t working’

This team just wasn’t working. None of it. Not the system. Not the talent. It all felt like childish finger painting, moving a lot of goop around to ultimately wind up with the same-looking mess.

In hindsight, you might ask why the Lions waited this long. Patricia couldn’t perform in his own division. In two-plus seasons, he was winless against Chicago and Minnesota. And they’re not even the toughest team in the NFC North! 

Along the way, he had an 11-game losing streak and his teams blew double-digit leads in more than 20% of the games he coached. He was hired as a defensive genius (can we please retire that term?) but his defense was consistently the weakest part of the team, and this year ranked near the bottom against the run.

No matter who they ran out there, no matter who they drafted, the Lions mastered the art of making other teams’ backups and first-timers look like superstars. They cured other teams’ losing streaks. They solved their woes. But that’s what prayer is for, not a pro football team.

“We had hoped that this year, the third year, things would jell,” said Hamp in a video conference call, “and Matt’s process and his coaching ability and everything would come together in a good way. And then it just became clear that it wasn’t working.”

It was probably clear in the first two games, division losses to the Bears and the Packers. Detroit came back and squeaked past Arizona on a last-second field goal. Then they gave up five straight touchdowns to New Orleans and fell to 1-3.

Many believed the season was done. But management hung on, and saw two wins against losing teams falsely boost hope. That’s what happens in Detroit. We are so downtrodden when it comes to pro football, that we think beating Jacksonville and Atlanta is cause for celebration.

The truth is, there was nothing to celebrate then — and there’s nothing to celebrate now. Another season is wasted. Another year of Matthew Stafford’s considerable talent and toughness has been wasted. Another top draft pick looks like a long work in progress, if not regress. Cornerback Jeff Okudah was, by most people’s standards, a solid pick at No. 3 in the draft, even though his position doesn’t usually go that high. But so far this season, he looks about as comfortable out there as Tom Hanks on the raft in “Cast Away.”

Meanwhile, other rookies like Chase Young (Washington), Justin Herbert (Los Angeles) Tristan Wirfs (Tampa Bay) and CeeDee Lamb (Dallas) are making impacts. Does that mean the Lions picked the wrong guy? Or they don’t know how to coach him?

Either way, it’s a problem.

And now both of the men behind those problems are history.

‘Mistakes have been made’

So today you feel relief. But it’s hardly time for rejoicing. The Lions still have a game to play next Sunday — and four more after that. They still have huge decisions to make with the roster. And of course, they now have to find two new men for the premier jobs in their organization.

“Mistakes have been made,” Hamp said. “I’ll be the first one to admit when I’m making mistakes, too. I’ll look at that, but I really would rather look forward and try to really dig into what’s in front of me and make this hopefully a home run for us.”

The home run would be hiring a coach who can make something of this pile of talent — some of which is promising, some of which is overrated — and a GM who can have a real vision.

But good luck attracting them to Detroit. It’s a great city, and the Fords will pay OK, but word does get around, and the word is that there’s a heavy cloud over this franchise, the fan base expects the worst, and the ownership has consistently delivered it to them.

It’s not that coaches won’t want to come here. Some will. But great ones never have. Why is that? Ask yourself that. Hamp should ask herself that as well. The only thing consistent in the Lions’ last half-century of futility are the fans who stick around, and the ownership.

And fans don’t do the hiring.

Meanwhile, on goes the adventure in Lion Land. The saddest thing is, of all the major Detroit sports teams, we thought this franchise had the best chance of winning the soonest. Does that sum up the slump in Motown sports or what?

Meanwhile, you can’t build a new house until the old house is knocked down. So long, Patriot Way. Quinn and Patricia tried, but their tenure will be remembered as a failed experiment in stealing another franchise’s glory. Let’s hope the Lions don’t make that mistake again. 2020 has been hard enough. Give us some hope for 2021. Please?

Contact Mitch Albom: Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.



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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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