Burke: How will the Lions measure ‘progress’ in a season flipped upside down? (2024)

There isn’t a universal code for how head coaches must be built. Pete Carroll is like your rec league bowling captain who just wants to buy everyone a round; Bill Belichick might burn down your house if you take the last bagel.

Still, it’s been interesting to watch Matt Patricia — and his GM, Bob Quinn — from a distance this offseason. Conventional wisdom suggests there might not be a hotter coaching seat in the NFL right now, that the 2020 season (should it happen) is make-or-break for both Patricia and Quinn. If ever there was a time for Patricia to be tense or buttoned-up, this is it.


And he hasn’t been. At all.

In phone conversations, Zoom news conferences, national radio appearances, even team meetings so far as the Lions provide any glimpses, Patricia has been as relaxed as we’ve seen him since perhaps the day the organization introduced him as its head coach. It could be the circ*mstances, certainly, with football an afterthought for many and the state of the world putting sports, as a whole, in perspective. (Patricia also doesn’t have to see us, the media, quite as much. Merely a coincidence that he seems so at ease, I’m sure.)

But the answer also might be that Patricia finally has found a comfort level in his role and his roster. Just in the nick of time, too, given he’ll be under the microscope this year.

That was the plan, at least, as of the Martha Ford-Sheila Ford Hamp-Rod Wood meeting with the local media in late December, and again as of Hamp’s introduction as principal owner last month: Patricia and Quinn would be expected to deliver tangible improvement over 2019’s 3-12-1 finish — “meaningful games in December,” however vague that phrasing was.

However, in her June news conference, even as she confirmed the “expectations for our team are the same as we discussed at the end of last season,” Hamp reeled in the line a bit.

Well, this is going to be a weird year, for sure,” she said. “Nobody knows what to expect because everything changes minute by minute. We’re planning on a season, we’re planning on training camp, we’re planning on starting on time … but who knows? It’s a pandemic. It’s unprecedented and crazy, and things change all the time.

“I do feel like that we’ve made some progress in the offseason. I have not seen any of the players because all the meetings have been virtual, and obviously, no one has been on the field yet. But on paper, I am very pleased with our draft and free agency. … Yes, we plan and expect an improved team. I think we’re going to get that.”


The initial sit-down with the media in December, to explain the decision to bring back Quinn and Patricia, might as well have been a decade ago. How much have things changed? How much are they still changing, day by day? As of Friday morning, there still wasn’t clarity about when the Lions might report for training camp, and they’re scheduled to do so July 28.

On the surface, this is simple: Either the Lions win enough to be playoff contenders or Quinn and Patricia are out.

In reality, how Sheila Ford Hamp opts to evaluate this team’s progress, in her first year as principal owner, in the midst of a pandemic stands as a colossal unknown. Perhaps thebiggest mystery surrounding the 2020 Lions, non-COVID category.

She’s not wrong about free agency and the draft. The Lions connected on several swings in the former and, by most accounts, crushed the latter. As a result, Patricia’s depth chart appears more capable than ever of playing the style he wants.

On offense, the additions of right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai and rookie guards Jonah Jackson and Logan Stenberg inched the Lions closer to Patricia’s vision up front, as well. “It’s been a couple-yearproject for us to get the offensive line to where we want it to be,” he said during a SiriusXM interview in May. “… We’ve gotta keep Matthew Stafford protected and we’ve got to be able to run the ball. Those guys up front, they’re big and they’re strong and they’re nasty and I’m excited about that group.”

Of course, this is all part of the rub. The Lions could roll out as many as seven new starters on defense, and they’ve remade at least the right side of their O-line, all without having the benefit of OTAs or minicamps or in-person meetings. What if they can’t make up the time during camp, or a handful of those key pieces are delayed even further by a positive COVID test? What if it takes until October or November for everything to click, too late for 2020 but early enough to show marked improvement from 2019?


Where, in those scenarios, would Hamp draw the line? These are rhetorical, for now, but Hamp should have all these questions in the back of her mind as she begins putting her imprint on the organization. Daunting, for sure.

Say this for Hamp:

1. Though new to her role, she played a central role in the Lions’ 2015 housecleaning that removed GM Martin Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand, and she, without question, had a say in the GM/coaching call at the end of last season.

2. The media’s session with Ford, Wood and Hamp remained mostly off the record, by team request, but Hamp did not hide her frustration with the Lions’ miserable 2019 performance. Stafford injury or not, ownership anticipated 2018 serving as the building block for a run, which never materialized.

A repeat of that letdown won’t cut it. How much gray area there is between the ’19 implosion and an unacceptable ’20 performance remains to be seen.

If there is a sense of security of Patricia and Quinn, it’s not coming from any guarantees that they’ll be back for 2021, hell or high water. It’s from their belief — whether you buy it — that they’ve stuck to their vision and can see a light at the end of the tunnel.

But it’s hard to say what “progress” might look like in this most unusual of years. And it’s impossible to know how Wood, Hamp and the rest of Detroit’s higher-ups will go about making that call.

(Photo of Matt Patricia: Ron Chenoy / USA Today)

Burke: How will the Lions measure ‘progress’ in a season flipped upside down? (1)Burke: How will the Lions measure ‘progress’ in a season flipped upside down? (2)

Chris Burke is an NFL staff editor for The Athletic and can be heard on the "One of These Years" podcast. Previously, he worked as The Athletic's Detroit Lions beat writer. Before coming to The Athletic, he covered the NFL for Sports Illustrated and was an NFL editor at AOL FanHouse. A native of Grand Rapids, Mich., Burke graduated from the University of Michigan. Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisBurkeNFL

Burke: How will the Lions measure ‘progress’ in a season flipped upside down? (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Errol Quitzon

Last Updated:

Views: 5697

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (59 voted)

Reviews: 90% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Errol Quitzon

Birthday: 1993-04-02

Address: 70604 Haley Lane, Port Weldonside, TN 99233-0942

Phone: +9665282866296

Job: Product Retail Agent

Hobby: Computer programming, Horseback riding, Hooping, Dance, Ice skating, Backpacking, Rafting

Introduction: My name is Errol Quitzon, I am a fair, cute, fancy, clean, attractive, sparkling, kind person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.