TROY – When Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from RPI in 1996, he did so without the fanfare that greeted him when he walked into the East Campus Athletic Village gymnasium for the first time on Friday.
Patricia, a four-year letterman as a center and guard for the Engineers football team, spoke to about 100 students, followed by the media in advance of his appearance a few hours later as the keynote speaker for the Rensselaer Joint Service ROTC Military Ball.
“I haven’t been on campus in about 10 years, so this is all new to me,” Patricia said. “A lot has changed. They were just building this gym when I was here last time. What was really cool was going back into the lab and see what they’re doing. The technology here is amazing. All I see is progress around here. It’s more fascinating for me to see the labs than maybe seeing the new football stadium. I see a lot of stadiums.
“Coming from a place like RPI is special. I think the part that we learned here was that we were taught how to succeed, how to problem solve, and how to find a situation that needs an answer and turn that into success for yourself or for your team or company.”
Patricia returned to Troy after experiencing a challenging second season as head coach in Detroit. The Lions finished 3-12-1 and are 9-22-1 during Patricia’s 32-game tenure. He did receive a vote of confidence in December, when team owner Martha Ford announced that Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn will return for the 2020 season. The two former New England Patriots employees will enter their third season to build the program. During his tenure with the Patriots, Patricia won three Super Bowls, two as defensive coordinator, and presided over a defense in 2016 that led the NFL in fewest points allowed.
“There’s a lot of pressure in this league to win now,” said Patricia, who brought two of his Super Bowl rings with him to the RPI campus. “As head coach, you can’t always just compartmentalize pressure because no one is going to put more pressure on me than myself. I’m trying to do all I can to make us a better football team.”
Patricia conducted a major shakeup in his coaching staff two days after the franchise ended its worst season in a decade with the firing of six staff members.
“You can’t underestimate how difficult it is to find a coaching staff that sees the game the way that you see it,” Patricia said. “I think getting the right staff is critical. I have some great coaches in Detroit, and we’ll make changes because change is part of the game. It’s something we do every year, and it’s an unfortunate part of the business, but we’re just trying to make everything better.”
A big piece of the Lions' success in 2020 will be the production of 32-year-old quarterback Matthew Stafford. Patricia would not comment on reports late Wednesday night that Stafford is on the trading block. Quinn refuted the report on Thursday. Stafford missed the second half of the 2019 season because of a back injury. The Lions went 3-4-1 with Stafford as their starting quarterback.
“I addressed all that stuff about Matt at the end of the year, so I’m not going to dive into anything other than he’s doing great,” Patricia said.
Also in attendance was RPI football head coach Ralph Isernia, who admits to being a name-dropper when talking to a potential recruit.
“Absolutely, I mention Matt’s name to recruits,” Isernia said. “Everyone knows who Matt is, so I mention his success to our recruits. The thing is that it resonates with our student-athletes and recruits because he was an Aeronautical Engineering major and that’s not an easy major to go through. It’s demanding and very time-consuming and he was able to play football as well. They know the beard and they know his presence on the sidelines. They also know the winning attitude he’s had and what he said he’s going to bring to Detroit. From a student-athlete standpoint, it’s so special to have one of their own who’s been successful and has gone through the same things they’ve gone through in the classroom.”
As Patricia looks ahead to 2020, he is hoping to follow in the footsteps of his close friend, Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, who won his first Super Bowl earlier this month.
“I’m super excited for him and his organization,” Patricia said. “That’s what we’re looking to do. I know he said he’ll celebrate by eating the biggest cheeseburger he can find, but I can’t compete with that. I think the only thing we compete in is wearing Tommy Bahama shirts at the owners meetings. We’ll both talk about winning football games. That’s what we all strive to do.”