Lions’ Matt Patricia: 12-year old in me fired up for season opener

Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia addresses the media at the team’s football training facility in Allen Park, Mich. . (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

Matt Patricia got the jones to coach early in life.

As an adolescent, when he played electric football with friends, Patricia was so enamored with the strategic side of the game that he spent hours diagramming plays and “thrived” on trying to outwit his buddies in contests that would last weeks at a time.

But now, as he prepares for his first NFL game as a head coach Monday night when the Detroit Lions host the New York Jets at Ford Field, Patricia has Honolulu blue and silver blinders on with no time to reflect on the personal milestone he’s about to accomplish.

“I’m sure, like I said a long time ago, my 12-year-old self is probably freaking out somewhere,” Patricia said Wednesday. “But I’ve got to just really try and do a good job of focusing on what I’ve got to do today.”

That, by and large, is prepare for the Lions for a Jets team that’s won just five games each of the last two seasons but has renewed hope this fall with rookie Sam Darnold at quarterback.

While Darnold, the No. 3 overall pick in April’s draft, is something of a mystery, and the Jets have a new offensive coordinator in Jeremy Bates, Patricia knows the organization well from his days in the AFC East as an assistant with the New England Patriots.

The Patriots went 10-2 against the Jets during Patricia’s six seasons as defensive coordinator in 2012-17, and Patricia’s defenses held the Jets to 17 points or fewer in each of their last four meetings.

“I don’t know if it’s really an advantage for me (having played so much against them),” Patricia said. “It’s obviously very familiar, I guess that would be the best way to put it. The teams change. Teams change every year, the coaching staffs change, and the players. So each year is kind of a new year for you to really rediscover what they are.”

The Lions are in the discovery stage, too, after a rocky preseason in which they gave up the most points in the NFL (27.8 ppg) while adjusting to a new defensive scheme and failed to reach the end zone with their first-team offense.

Patricia said as a first-time head coach at any level he’s still trying to find the right balance between coaching and all the administrative work that goes into his job. But when it comes to game-planning for the Jets, he said that’s something he and his staff have been working on since the spring.

“Obviously, when teams change a little bit, you have to try to anticipate maybe what they’ll do and then as it goes through the preseason and through training camp you really try to anticipate or take a look at some of the moves, personnel-wise, that they’ve made and then tie that back into maybe what you studied in the spring,” Patricia said. “You get to this point now, obviously things are a little bit more dialed in from that standpoint so your focus and your attention is really kind of very small at that point.”

On a personal level, Patricia’s focus is narrow, too.

“You guys are fired up, I can tell already,” Patricia said. “Every day, it’s unbelievable.”

Though he wouldn’t share any of the personal emotions he’s dealing with this week before his first game as coach, Patricia was enthusiastic enough in his 10 minutes at the podium that his voice told the story.

“I’m pretty fired up every day,” Patricia said. “I mean, you guys, sometimes I come in here and you guys suck the life out of me, but other than that, I’m pretty good because you guys aren’t really excited when I walk in here. I’m not going to let you guys do that to me today cause we’re going out there and we’re getting ready to go win the best that we can.

“This is a really good team. I’m just telling you, Todd Bowles, I have the utmost respect for him, his staff and what they do week in and week out. Obviously have been going against him for a while and he’s a great coach and he’s a better person. When you go up against somebody like that and you’re not really sure what it’s going to look like Week 1, you’ve just got to be ready to go from the start, so that’s where we’re at.”

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