Is New England's Rebel Coordinator the Next Great Head Coach?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because some folks do it differently, even in the NFL.
By Matt Foley
When Matt Patricia is tired (often) and has a few hours to spare (almost never), he needn’t venture far from 1 Patriot Place to catch some zzz’s. In fact, New England’s renowned defensive coordinator doesn’t even have to step foot outside. For that, he thanks his wife. “Four hours of sleep is a luxury,” said Patricia, surrounded by a swarm of reporters at Super Bowl LII Opening Night on Monday. “About 10 years ago, my wife bought me a nice Tempur-Pedic mattress [for the office] because I was sleeping on the floor.”
Tales of restless all-nighters are not uncommon in football, but that may be where the predictable ends with Patricia. From his seemingly disheveled, yet calculated, appearance to his background in aeronautical engineering and a rare in-game ability to adapt at a moment’s notice, Patricia, 43, is full of surprises. Unless, of course, you know him. His players swear by their coach, many crediting the man who began his NFL career 14 years ago as an offensive quality control assistant for New England, for saving theirs. And come Sunday night, after his final game with the only professional organization that he’s ever known, Patricia might finally address what his next challenge will be.
“For me, I went through that [interview process] with New York and Detroit, which was great,” says Patricia. “But all I’m thinking about right now is Philadelphia. We’ve got a big challenge ahead of us.”
Having worked for Patriots head coach Bill Belichick since 2004, Patricia has learned precisely what not to tell the media. But while Belichick delivers stony nonanswers, Patricia is warm and approachable. Deflecting repeated questions about the Detroit Lions, who have reportedly agreed to make him their next head coach, Patricia flashes a smirk, as if to say, “Yes, we both know what’s going on here, but mum’s the word until we beat the Eagles.”
But one man who’s known Patricia since his early days in New England, former Patriots-safety-turned-NBC-analyst Rodney Harrison, says it was clear from the start that Patricia would rise up the coaching ranks — despite his rough exterior. “He’s smart, he understands players and he knows how to communicate,” Harrison said from Super Bowl LII Radio Row. “If he doesn’t get a head coaching job somewhere because of public perception, it’s wrong, because the players love him.”
Patricia is largely viewed as a player’s coach, and somewhat of a renegade.
From 2004 to 2011, Patricia was a rarely seen assistant. Sharp-eyed fans may have noticed the large, bearded fella with a No. 2 pencil behind his ear, but no one outside Gillette knew of his blue-collar brilliance. The son of two educators, Patricia played offensive line at Division III Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York. And while he loved football, he graduated with a degree in aeronautical engineering en route to a career in rocket science. But Patricia couldn’t abandon the relationships and teaching opportunities that only a locker room provides. “My parents were teachers, and in college I had coaches that really helped me grow as a young man,” he tells OZY. “That’s what it’s about … reaching as many guys as I can, obviously to help them as a player first and foremost, but also as a person. I’ll do anything I can to help them.”
So, after one year as a graduate assistant at his alma mater and four total seasons at Amherst College and Syracuse University, Patricia got his foot in the door in New England. Nick Carparelli, a former Syracuse coach who was the Patriots director of operations at the time, convinced Belichick to hire the 29-year-old brainiac. But when Patricia hesitated, wanting to consult with his wife before accepting the job, Belichick pulled the offer. Now, 14 years and three Super Bowl wins later, Patricia seems to have worked out fine.
Since taking over as defensive coordinator in 2012, Patricia has established himself as one of the foremost football minds in the NFL. He’s tireless, as demonstrated by his late nights in Gillette Stadium (“Whatever it takes,” he states), and his offensive background provides a schematic advantage. The former O-lineman spent the first two years of his Patriots career as an offensive assistant, breaking down film in minute detail. “The one thing I could offer the defensive guys was an understanding of offensive play and offensive line communications,” says Patricia. “When I switched over to defense, there was a lot of learning to do, but it was a great opportunity for me to pick the brains of amazing coaches.”
But, as Harrison suggested, hiring Patricia is not without risk. He’s largely viewed as a player’s coach, and somewhat of a renegade. At no point did this assertion gain more steam than after last year’s Super Bowl victory. Upon landing back in Boston, Patricia stepped off the plane wearing a T-shirt depicting NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as a clown. The mocking response to Goodell’s “Deflategate” battle with Tom Brady reportedly enraged the commissioner, leaving many to wonder if Patricia was head coach material. In the year since, though, those concerns have been quashed. Just ask his players. “He’s incredibly demanding, expects the best out of us all,” says Patriots linebacker Trey Flowers. “One way or another, he’ll get it out of you. But he knows how to help you be productive while allowing your personality to shine.”
Win or lose on Sunday, Patricia will look to savor the moment and spend time with loved ones. “In everything I’ve done in my life, relationships are the most important thing to me,” he says. “Our lifestyle as coaches makes that really difficult. We kind of disappear for a while, so I’ve got a lot of people to catch up with after the season.”
He also has some assistant coaches to hire.