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RPI grad Patricia is a heady coach ... but is he a head coach?

RPI grad Patricia is a heady coach ... but is he a head coach?

New England Patriots assistant has been interviewed by New York Giants, Detroit Lions
RPI grad Patricia is a heady coach ... but is he a head coach?
Matt Patricia, second from left, as a graduate assistant coach for Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1996.
Photographer: RPI ATHLETICS

Is there an NFL head coach in there?

Gruff, burly exterior, backward ballcap, beard so dark and dense you could lose a football in there, big headphones, the pencil sticking out like a submarine periscope ...

For an assistant coach, Matt Patricia (who actually was offered a job maintaining nuclear subs once, it's been reported) has gotten more than his share of face time on the New England Patriots sideline over the years.

LATEST: Patriots' Matt Patricia reportedly will take Lions coaching job, not Giants

He grew up in Sherrill, near where the Turning Stone Casino now sits, played some football at Division III Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and nearly spent the rest of his life applying his aeronautical engineering degree to what most aeronautical engineers do.

Instead, Patricia, the defensive coordinator with the beard and the pencil, has become the third-most recognizable face at Patriots games, behind Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, working at a stadium named, ironically enough, for a razor blade company. He's done so well for himself that the Detroit Lions and (be still, the beating hearts of Big Blue fans) New York Giants have interviewed him for their vacant head coaching jobs. The New York Daily News believes he's the favorite to be hired by the Giants.

The question remains, though: Is he head coach material?

It's not a frivolous concern, since the head coach is a profoundly different animal from an assistant or a position coach, who can bury his nose all week in his singular pursuit and let somebody else worry about the big picture. The trail of failed NFL head coaches is littered with young stud coordinators who for whatever reason couldn't make that last, big step upward.

So I asked somebody with some insight into Patricia and his particular brand of football genius, and retired RPI head coach Joe King's resounding answer was: Hire this guy already.

King was the RPI head coach from 1989 to 2011, during which Patricia went from an offensive lineman on the bench for two seasons and gradually became a starter by the time he was a senior, before serving the 1996 season as a graduate assistant coach. This, while working his way through one of the most rigorous academic programs the school offers and also tutoring "a couple other guys on the team who weren't as academically blessed  as he was," King said.

That teaching quality is something Patricia has brought to the NFL, along with an insatiable desire to study opponents, which are valuable attributes in an assistant coach. But Patricia brings much more than that to the table, his former head coach said, which is why he could be a success as a head coach.

"I've told people that until you've been a head coach, you don't realize what it entails," King said. "You see a lot of long-time good coordinators who all of a sudden are not successful. What happened there? You've got to have some specific leadership qualities and get people to all be pulling in the same direction.

"He's learned from Belichick. As time went on, I think Matt was given a lot more responsibility. And he's a good teacher. That's one thing that gets overlooked in the pros. Players want to play for him, because he's a decent human being who's not going to treat a player like a piece of meat. I've heard that from a few of his players."

Patricia is a winner, too. He has won three Super Bowls with the Patriots (and also lost two), in 2005, 2015 and last season. They're one of the favorites to do it again this year.

He played on the offensive line for the Engineers, but has coached just about every position on the field and has been on the cutting edge as NFL coaching has shifted into a digitalized mode of scouting and game planning.

It's been well documented how he gave up a six-figure engineering job to work for peanuts as a college grad assistant coach, and his workaholic hours make any question about his commitment to his profession ludicrous.

I interviewed Patricia before the 2012 Super Bowl, when he coached the Patriots' safeties, and he laughed about the reaction of his schoolteacher parents when he told them he was going to give up his high-paying job to be a football coach.

“They were a little bit apprehensive. I’m just out of school, I’ve got a good position, I was financially secure, but I was able to explain it to them. When you’re taking a 95 percent pay cut and working three times as hard, it’s a hard sell."

That math eventually added up. He's one of the most sought-after assistants in the NFL.

King described Patricia as "obsessed with not losing, and he'll put in endless hours."

"He came in with a great work ethic, and it was just very obvious that he was going to do whatever he wanted to do," King said. "He gave up a lot of money ... well, I'm sure he has a lot of money now. And he might get a lot wealthier.

"I can remember he was here for four years, got his master's and was our intern coach. Then he worked for a couple years, and I remember getting a phone call asking for advice on getting into coaching.

"'Do you realize what you're getting into?' What a racket it is? You've got to know what you're getting into.' And he paid his dues."

King also believes Patricia can handle the firmament that is the New York media, should the Giants come knocking.

After all, he's been witness to Spygate and Deflategate in New England, and put a certain saltiness on display last February when he got off the plane back from the Super Bowl wearing a T-shirt depicting commissioner Roger Goodell in a red clown nose, a popular item among Patriots fans.

"I've been reading the last couple weeks; both would be good jobs," King said. "The Giants job is as prestigious as any, but I don't think the Lions would be a bad situation. You've got a quarterback you can win with. You've got some players to work with. 

"New York is New York; it's not an easy place to coach. But he's a level-headed young man, and he works well with people and has had a lot of experience with the Patriots and going to the Super Bowl and everything."

King stays in contact with Patricia, who comes back to RPI for the annual golf fund-raiser, and texted "Enjoy this" before the Super Bowl last year.

Despite the Patriots' seemingly bottomless well of success, he knows Patricia won't take any opportunity for granted.

That includes making that last big step.

"I don't think he'll be devastated if he doesn't get one of those jobs," King said. "And you damn well better take it, because you could be yesterday's news in a hurry."

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or mikemac@dailygazette.com. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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