Detroit Lions to bring back coach Matt Patricia, GM Bob Quinn for 2020 season

Matt Patricia, Bob Quinn's only head coaching hire, is 9-20-1 overall with Detroit Lions after consecutive 9-7 seasons under coach Jim Caldwell

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press

Matt Patricia will get one more season to try and turn the Detroit Lions around.

Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford met with Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn on Tuesday morning and informed them that they will return for the 2020 season, when they're expected to compete for a playoff berth.

Ford, her daughter, Sheila Ford Hamp, and team president Rod Wood met with a small group of reporters Tuesday to share the decision, which they spent the past few weeks contemplating as the Lions stumbled to a 3-10-1 record amid a slew of injuries. 

The Lions have lost seven straight games and 10 of 11 after a 2-0-1 start and are guaranteed to finish in last place in the NFC North for a second straight season, but the Fords saw enough progress in the first half of the season to believe Patricia's efforts to bring the organization its first Super Bowl are on the right track.

"We expect to be a playoff contender (in 2020) and those are our expectations, which we’ve expressed to both Bob and to Matt," Ford said. 

Patricia, 9-20-1 as Lions coach, has as many total wins as his predecessor Jim Caldwell did in each of his last two seasons in Detroit. His .317 winning percentage is only slightly better than the mark Darryl Rogers had (.310) when he was fired as Lions coach by Ford's husband, William Clay Ford, in 1988.

But 23 months after Caldwell was relieved of his job, the Lions are preaching patience with Patricia, who was hand-picked by his close friend and former New England Patriots colleague, Quinn, to author a turnaround.

Nov 24, 2019; Landover, MD, USA; Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia stands on the sidelines against the Washington Redskins in the third quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Lions are holding most ticket prices firm for 2020, and lowering others, as they deal with fan unrest. Thousands of fans were no-shows for last week's loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Lions have been serenaded by boos in recent home games.

"(Changing coaches) would have been the popular choice, the popular decision, and we knew that," Ford Hamp said. "But as I say, we’re doing what is right for the organization."

Patricia has talked frequently in recent weeks about the challenges that come with building a winner in the NFL. And while he's stopped short of calling this a rebuild, he has gone about his business as if his job was never in jeopardy.

He spent about 15 minutes talking with the Fords on the field before Sunday’s loss to the Buccaneers, and he ended that conversation by hugging both women and kissing both on the cheek.

At his weekly news conference Monday, Patricia insisted, “I just expect to be here every day until they tell me not to. Hopefully, that’ll be a long time.”

“We’ve talked about this maybe through the course of the year,” Patricia said. “I think we just look at, ‘OK, what are we building, what have we started and where is our foundation right now?’ I think having a foundation of a team that is tough, a foundation of a team that is competitive, from a standpoint that they’re going to come to work every day and try to get better, and then show up on Sunday and really try to do everything they can to compete. I think that’s where you need to start, and I would say that’s where we’re at right now.”

The Lions have been competitive against most teams they've played this year, something that weighed heavily in the decision to bring Patricia and Ford back.

The Lions lead in each of their first 12 games this season, and they came within a whisker of beating playoff-bound teams the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers early in the year.

They blew fourth-quarter leads in both those games, and in a Week 1 tie with the Arizona Cardinals, and they’ve struggled to keep pace with middling teams like the Buccaneers, Chicago Bears and Washington as injuries have mounted in recent weeks.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford has missed six straight games with fractured bones in his back and is not expected to play again this season. His replacements, Jeff Driskel and David Blough, are both 0-3 as starters. And the Lions have 14 players on injured reserve, including linebacker Jarrad Davis, defensive lineman Mike Daniels and offensive linemen Joe Dahl and Kenny Wiggins, all of whom were added to the list in the last week.

“We obviously need to add some pieces, and we need to get better, and we need to improve, and hopefully stay a little bit more healthy than where we’re at right now,” Patricia said Monday. “And I think those things will build on top of each other from there. But certainly, from a standpoint of trying to put a good foundation, a solid foundation down of being about something from a team, I would say that we’ve shown at least a foundation of being a tough team, being a competitive team, being a team that won’t quit. A team that’s going to go out and compete, and really care about each other. I think that’s the start.”

Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford, center, speaks with coach Matt Patricia before the game against Buccaneers on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019, at Ford Field.

With three years left on their contracts, both Patricia and Quinn will be on the hot seat entering 2020.

While there is no playoff-or-bust mandate, no Lions coach has survived three straight losing seasons since Rogers, who was fired 11 games into his fourth season with an 18-40 record. And Quinn has an unappealing 27-34-1 record as GM.

The Lions should have a top-five draft pick and more than $50 million in cap space to upgrade their roster next year, and they expect Stafford back healthy. Patricia also will make one or more changes to his coaching staff, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

Last year, Patricia fired Jim Bob Cooter as offensive coordinator and hired Darrell Bevell as his replacement, and the change paid big dividends for the Lions while Stafford was healthy.

Defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni could be in similar trouble after this season, though Patricia is largely in charge of the defense.

Wood said he hopes keeping ticket prices stable will encourage "fans to continue to support the team and we want Ford Field to be full and be the home-field advantage that it can be," though it's clear ownership knows winning is the only way for that happen.

The Lions, who rank 31st in the NFL in total defense and 26th in points allowed, play the Denver Broncos in their final road game Sunday and close the season at home next week against the Green Bay Packers.