The Detroit Lions fired head coach Matt Patricia on Saturday, two days after a blowout loss to the Houston Texas on Thanksgiving, and will search for their eighth head coach in the last 25 seasons.
With the loss to the Texans, the Lions dropped to 4-7 this season and 13-29-1 since Patricia was hired in 2018. The former New England Patriots’ defensive coordinator joins Marty Mornhinweg, Steve Mariucci, and other Lions’ fired before completing their third season. General manager Bob Quinn was also fired on Saturday.
With Patricia out, who might the Lions target for their next head coach?
It’s unclear if the organization will hire Quinn’s replacement first and allow that individual to search for a head coach. In his sixth season, President and CEO Rod Wood is expected to return and would presumably lead searches for both positions. Three years ago, Wood finally accepted Quinn’s longtime pitch on Patricia, with whom Quinn worked in New England, and hadn’t previously hired a head coach with the Lions or elsewhere. This is his first position with an NFL team.
Three years ago, the Lions were reportedly interested in then-Texans’ defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel, whom the Tennessee Titans hired as head coach two weeks before the Lions’ tapped Patricia. They were also interested in then-defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, then-Carolina Panthers’ defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, then-Green Bay Packers’ associate head coach Winston Moss, and then-Minnesota Vikings’ offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.
Wilks and Shurmur went a combined 12-36 in three combined seasons with the Arizona Cardinals and New York Giants, respectively, before returning to assistant jobs. Austin is on Mike Tomlin’s staff, while Moss landed in the XFL after Mike McCarthy was fired in Green Bay.
It’s unclear if any of the available four coaches—Austin, Wilks, Moss, and Shurmur—will be considered again. Still, they’re worth monitoring if Wood and the ownership group were interested just three years ago.
Several current NFL coordinators could be in play, most notably Eric Bienemy. Andy Reid’s longtime assistant, whom he promoted to offensive coordinator in 2018, has interviewed for several head-coaching jobs in the last two years but remains in Kansas City. Alongside Reid, he’s built the NFL’s best offense and helped deliver the franchise’s first Super Bowl in 50 years.
“I mean, that’s everybody’s dream to be one of the 32 head coaches. That’s everybody’s dream,” Bienemy told ESPN in January, admitting he covets a head-coaching job. “Someday, possibly, it may happen. But right now, the only thing that matters is making sure our guys, our players and our coaching staff is focused on the goal — and that’s making sure we play to the end of that final echo of the whistle come Sunday.”
Longtime Harbaugh assistant (both Jim and John), Baltimore Ravens’ offensive coordinator Greg Roman could make a shortlist. Like Bienemy, he’s interviewed for jobs in recent years while rebuilding the Ravens’ offense around Lamar Jackson. Other current coordinators to watch: Indianapolis Colts’ defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, Buffalo Bills’ offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Chicago Bears’ defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, and Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinator Arthur Smith.
If the Lions call a current or former college coach, Urban Meyer, Matt Campbell, Lincoln Riley, and Pat Fitzgerald could be on the list. The four coaches have a combined zero years of NFL experience but have been of interest to NFL teams for several years.
Campbell was approached by six teams last year, including the New York Jets, according to the Des Moines Register, but didn’t accept any interview offers. He has deflected NFL questions in the past, including in 2019 in saying he hasn’t really put a lot of thought into it.” Riley and Fitzgerald have also rejected interview requests in recent years and, like Campbell, given no indication they intend to leave their current positions for other college or NFL jobs.
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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor, a college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else. He has written for Sports Illustrated, HERO Sports, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter: @adoughty88