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NFL Open Thread: Another branch falls off the Belichick coaching tree

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You don’t need to be an RPI rocket scientist to see this coming:

That the Detroit Lions would fire general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia had seemed like a foregone conclusion by the time it happened Saturday afternoon. Patricia had gone 13-29-1 in his three seasons as Quinn’s hand-picked coach, and had overseen consecutive meltdowns, one to Carolina’s backup quarterback and the other with the entire nation watching on Thanksgiving.

Quinn fired Jim Caldwell, who had two playoff appearances and winning records in three of his four seasons, including his final one, in Detroit, to hire his friend, the Patriots’ former defensive coordinator. Patricia proceeded to lead the Lions to the basement of the NFC North and to bottom-10 rankings over three seasons in scoring, total and pass defense. Great job, everybody.

With more than a month left in the regular season, Patricia is already the third head coach to be fired – he follows Atlanta’s Dan Quinn and Houston’s Bill O’Brien — which means, if nothing else, that there are going to be plenty of opportunities for NFL owners to prove they might be capable of changing their ways and conducting comprehensive, inclusive coach searches after all. The Patricia debacle only underscores Caldwell’s skill — his .563 winning percentage was best among full-time Lions coaches in the Super Bowl era — and should make him the target of any intelligent coaching search.

This hiring cycle will be a test for the NFL’s practices, especially considering the recent enhancements to strengthen the Rooney Rule. Those enhancements, which, among other things, mandate multiple diverse candidates get interviews, should boost the profile of candidates like Dearborn, Michigan-native Robert Saleh, the 49ers defensive coordinator who should receive serious consideration from multiple teams.

Firing Caldwell to hire Patricia is one of the most obvious dumb moves made by an NFL teams in the last five years. I’m not making him out to be Tom Landry or anything, but he was the most successful coach in the modern history of the Lions, and had gotten as much out of a limited roster as could reasonably be expected. He also came to the team with an impressive pedigree. Caldwell has never gotten the credit he deserved for leading the Colts to a narrow Super Bowl loss to another immortal QB — yes, he had Peyton Manning, but that was only the second Super Bowl appearance in Manning’s career, and in his last his team won in spite of him rather than because of him, so that doesn’t really count. Caldwell’s Super Bowl appearance also constitutes the only Super Bowl appearance by Drew Brees, and I don’t think anyone thinks that Sean Peyton can’t coach. Dan Marino went to one Super Bowl, ditto Aaron Rodgers, Dan Fouts had none, etc. Having an elite QB is the most important thing an NFL team can have but it’s not like Super Bowl appearances follow from acquiring one like night follows day. And, in addition, as an OC Caldwell got a nearly flawless championship run out of Joe Flacco, a fact that seems more amazing every passing year. Firing him after a winning season was a bad idea to begin with.

Then there’s Patricia. Not only does he come from a program that his been famously unsuccessful at producing quality head coaches, and not only does he have the same kind of personality that has caused previous Belichick proteges to fail, he wasn’t even an effective coordinator. His last year in New England the Pats finished 31st in defensive DVOA and were scored on at will by a replacement-level journeyman in the Super Bowl (and probably would have lost to Blake Bortles in the conference championship game had the opposition coach not turtled in the fourth quarter.) Heckuva job!

But the Lions may be in luck! Via Will Brinson on Barnwell’s podcast, the following coach from Pete Prisco’s 2017 coaching rankings is likely to be available in the post-season:

He is a star in the making. [Coach X] took over [Team Y] last season and got a team hardly stacked with talent to 10-6 and into the playoffs. He has great give-and-take with his players, knowing when to push and when to pull back. He is also a great offensive mind, which you need in this league today. One more thing: He is a maniac when it comes to working, which can be seen in his preparation. A few years from now, he might top this list when Belichick retires if he can keep it going forward.

And I hear Peyton Manning will write him a strong letter of recommendation! Seems like the obvious choice.

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