Pop quizzes and preparation: Matt Patricia's journey to Lions head coach

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How will Patricia fit with Lions? (0:58)

Field Yates explains the attributes former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is bringing as Detroit's new head coach. (0:58)

They'd better be ready to learn -- and Matt Patricia is going to make sure of it. He did that as defensive coordinator New England, and it is reasonable to assume that of the many things to make their way from Massachusetts to Michigan, that message will be high on the list.

It's part of the "Patriot Way," or at least it's how Patricia's old boss in New England, Bill Belichick, tried to make sure information got through to players and coaches. So Jarrad Davis? Darius Slay? They'd better be ready to feel like they're in college again.

See, one of the ways Patricia worked his players -- borrowed from Belichick -- is testing. And while Patricia hasn't necessarily taken the tests himself, it would be easy to say almost everything he has done from 2004 in New England until Monday, when he was named the Detroit Lions head coach, has been one giant exam.

Belichick requires Patriots players to be prepared when he asks questions. And they had better know the answer. Patricia, New England's linebackers coach from 2006 to 2010, was the same. Once or twice a week, he tested his players -- sometimes in an actual printed-out quiz -- on topics from defensive schemes to where a particular opponent attended school or grew up.

"There was the game plan, but there was also finding out other little, like, 'All right, what college did this guy go to? What class did he take? What was his major? Is this guy married?'" former Patriots linebacker Tully Banta-Cain said. "Things like that so you would look deeper than into the game plan; you'd look into the actual players' personal lives sometimes so you got a feel for who they were as people."

There was a purpose. If players knew there'd be a quiz about everything from macro to minutiae, they'd prepare harder to know as much as they could. In return, Patricia would make sure his linebackers were in the right spots on Sundays.

"They would ask me some crazy questions that they knew I didn't know the answer," former Patriots safety Sergio Brown said. "They just wanted to put fear in people's hearts to know extra stuff. Just colleges and what positions they played.

"It was more intentional. If he did something crazy, it always had some type of intention behind it. When he was with us, it was more so basic intentions."

It isn't clear how much Patricia intends to import from Belichick and the Patriots. There's a good chance the pop quizzes will come. Patricia used them as a preparation staple. And for him, preparation has always been key. This is his first chance as a head coach, but it will help that his new boss, general manager Bob Quinn, understands that trying to be too much like Belichick is one of the things that's caused others who have left New England to fail.

Though Patricia has the intelligence and mindset to potentially replicate New England's model, Quinn has been building his own system for two years in Detroit. Patricia is the latest part of that, one complete with Patriots flavor. Quinn has brought in front-office personnel who worked with him in New England, including Kyle O'Brien and Kevin Anderson, along with strength coach Harold Nash. The scouting system the Lions use is similar to the Patriots'. Hiring a nutritionist and posting video boards showing the daily schedule were also ideas Quinn implemented from New England.

What Patricia takes from New England will show once he becomes comfortable in his role. One thing that will definitely go with him: Those who have played for him say he'll be the type of head coach always willing to help and explain -- the same guy they call "Matty P" and still stay in touch with years later.


Patricia was in his first two seasons as an NFL coach -- as an offensive assistant and then assistant offensive line coach for Dante Scarnecchia, who had been with the Patriots in varying roles since 1991.

His had to learn how to be in the NFL, how to deal with NFL players and how to coach at an NFL level. The title might have been larger with actual nominal pay involved, but the former offensive lineman at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was essentially the intern.

"He was pretty close to the age of a lot of us at the time when he came in," former Patriots offensive lineman Brandon Gorin said. "So it was kind of a natural connection from a coaching perspective as someone that is similar in age to you that he kind of became one of us it felt like.

"He was obviously an assistant offensive line coach, and he'd probably tell you he had a bunch of other duties, as people in that role usually do. He was kind of there and first impression was a guy that was a good guy. Easy to like. Easy to get along with. Really felt that he cared about you and about your well-being."

Patricia helped motivate Gorin through practices, trying to pick him up if he was having a rough day or just showing that he cared. There were times, Gorin remembered, Patricia would sit by a lineman on the plane or eat meals with them. Other assistants, Gorin said, just didn't do that.

It helped Patricia relate to players. He had no problem -- as a position coach or as a coordinator -- helping players with extra film study or explaining something again privately to make sure they had it correct. Back then the linemen and linebackers knew Patricia's history. They knew his love of statistics and ability to break things down -- qualities that made him a valuable commodity to the Patriots for more than a decade.

He created personal connections, too, listening to Banta-Cain's self-made music and offering critiques, and staying in touch with Gorin -- including a big hug the last time he saw him, before a Patriots-Colts game in Indianapolis, where Gorin now lives.

"It makes you feel like -- and it's not something he's doing intentionally, it's just who he is," Gorin said. "He makes you feel like he's invested in you as a human being. Not just as a player. That's important. That's how you get that extra effort out of people, that intangible effort out of people. That's where it comes from."

Patricia put in his own extra effort, stealing some rare sleep on buses and airplanes while the Patriots traveled. Players saw compassion, intelligence and potential. They saw a coach who could thrive after gaining experience and confidence -- and maybe a little more sleep. The entire first year, former Patriots offensive lineman Steve Neal said, he saw Patricia constantly exhausted.

This hasn't changed as Patricia's role has grown. At the Super Bowl last week, he told reporters that four hours of sleep was a "luxury" as he prepared for the Philadelphia Eagles and that he had a Tempur-Pedic mattress in his office -- an upgrade after sleeping on the floor about a decade ago.

Yet he always did it with a smile on his face -- even if it was a weary one. Players sensed he wanted to be there from the beginning, when they learned Patricia came not just from football but also aeronautical engineering -- his major at RPI. He also held an engineering job at an East Syracuse, New York, air and filtration firm before going into coaching full time.

After spending time at small colleges and at Syracuse University, he went to the Patriots, another bright, young coach working through Belichick's ranks.

"If you have the desire and the skill set, they will -- in New England -- they will teach you," Neal said. "It all comes down to how much determination you have and how bad you want it. Right from the get-go, I knew Matt Patricia, he had a lot of those tools, and he's a brilliant, brilliant guy.

"I'm like, 'What are you thinking? You're coming over here, not sleeping at all and you got a job, brilliant guy.' It was unusual for someone with that kind of intellect to come and put themselves in that position. But you know, it was a dream he had and it's paid off."


That dream blossomed in New England, where he eventually became defensive coordinator in 2012.

He ran the Patriots' defense for six years, culminating in Sunday's Super Bowl LII -- his third championship game coordinating New England's defense. By the time he reached the Super Bowl, Patricia had figured out the tenets of his coaching style -- one that's always adapting.

"Every year you try to grow, you try to learn as a coach, and I think you do that every day, every week," Patricia told reporters during a Jan. 1 conference call. "You certainly deal with different players every year, and those dynamics and those relationships are different. You learn how to deal with some different situations, a lot of things that come up maybe one year that didn't come up the next, how to handle those or work within different parameters.

"Then certainly we're always trying to learn and gain an advantage of knowledge in the scheme of everything, but just kind of the overall of how we do stuff. I mean, I've been very, very lucky to be at such a great place for a long time and work for Coach Belichick -- a great coach to follow and try to learn from and try to expand my knowledge."

That expansion, at least from his mentor, is over. Patricia has control of his own team for the first time. How he'll really do as a first-time head coach is unknown.

Neal says he thinks Patricia will "demand accountability" as he did as an assistant, always willing to help. Personality-wise, it could be a combination of the laid-back guy and the fiery coach with the potentially intimidating beard -- which Patricia said he has because it tells his friends deployed overseas he's thinking about them.

Banta-Cain said he thinks Patricia's success will come -- as it does for many coaches -- from the staff surrounding him. That, combined with his same sleep-deprived work ethic, would allow him to focus on areas he wants to pinpoint weekly, similar to Belichick.

"He was a straightforward guy," Banta-Cain said. "He would say, 'These are the things we are looking for.' He would ask certain questions to make sure that you knew what to look for, that you weren't just pressing play. That you could study the film and that you could find things that could actually give you tip-offs and find tendencies."

Those are qualities many good coordinators have. So, too, do good head coaches -- even though Patricia figures to evolve as a head coach just as he did as a coordinator.

How much he accomplishes, and whether he'll have success, will be Patricia's biggest test of all.