Who are the best candidates to replace Matt Patricia as the Lions’ next head coach?

Mark Schofield
·6 min read

It seemed like a long time in the making, but in the wake of the Detroit Lions’ loss to the Houston Texans on Thanksgiving Day, both general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia were fired on Saturday.

While finding a new general manager could be the first order of business for Lions ownership, finding the right head coach will be critical to the team’s success going forward. There certainly are building pieces in place, including quarterback Matthew Stafford, but the organization does need to get this decision right. Do they go with an offensive-minded head coach after a defensive hire in Patricia? Or do they double down on the defensive side of the football and look to build the offensive with their offensive coordinator hire?

Here are some names to watch for the next head coaching job.

Eric Bieniemy, offensive coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs

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If the goal within ownership is to maximize offensive potential and build around Matthew Stafford, then Eric Bieniemy should be at the top of the list. This likely comes as no surprise, given that his name is at the top of every list built surrounding potential head coaches in 2021. During his time as Andy Reid's right-hand man, they have transformed the Kansas City offense into something that is quite possibly out-of-this-world. Reid's traditional West Coast system has been rejuvenated with vertical concepts, screen designs and all sorts of ways to attack a defense. Now yes, Patrick Mahomes has something to do with that, but Bieniemy's influence - such as dusting off 1948 Rose Bowl film for a play that the Chiefs used in the Super Bowl - cannot be understated.

Brian Daboll, offensive coordinator, Buffalo Bills

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Try this exercise for a moment. Transport yourself back to the 2018 NFL Draft, revisit what people were saying about Josh Allen's chances in the NFL, and soak that in for a moment. Even those who were fans of Allen, or those who envisioned the best path for success from the Wyoming product, though he would be best suited in a pure downfield passing attack, making Allen the modern version of Daryle Lamonica, the "Mad Bomber." But what has Allen become under Daboll? A timing and rhythm passer who does perhaps his best work in the intermediate area of the field. Daboll has unlocked the passer inside Allen, instead of relying on his prowess as a pure thrower. The result? The Bills are in first place in the AFC East, Allen is playing like and MVP and yes, Daboll is a head coach candidate for sure.

Arthur Smith, offensive coordinator, Tennessee Titans

(AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Another candidate to perhaps unlock the quarterback inside Watson is coming off a season where he turned around the fortunes of Ryan Tannehill. Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith crafted a play-action based offense to turn Tannehill into one of the NFL's most efficient passers in 2019, and through just three games into this season he still has Tannehill playing at a high level. Smith's offense is genius in that it combines a power running game with layered route concepts to all levels of the field, giving defenses something to think about while structuring concepts that make life a bit easier for Tannehill. After all, isn't that the job of a coach, to make life easier for your players and put them in position to be successful? You could envision a similar turnaround for Stafford under Smith as we saw from Tannehill in 2019. A heavy play-action offense could be the perfect foundation for a third act of Stafford's career.

Robert Saleh, defensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers

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Given how hires in sports tend to come in cycles, it might not make sense for the Lions to double-down on the defensive side of the ball given what led to the hiring of Matt Patricia in the first place. However, Robert Saleh's name should not be overlooked when it comes to Detroit's coaching search. Why? Their defense is not good right now. Perhaps an injection of defensive wisdom is needed - despite Patricia's guiding hand the past few seasons - and that is where Saleh comes in. He guided one of the league's best defenses in 2019, a unit that was minutes, or just one play, away from doing enough to stop Patrick Mahomes and company in the Super Bowl. Pair him with the right offensive coordinator (say Shane Day, currently the quarterbacks coach in San Francisco, or Pep Hamilton, currently the quarterbacks coach in Los Angeles who has worked magic with Justin Herbert) and finally fix the defense.

Joe Brady, offensive coordinator, Carolina Panthers

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It was just a matter of time before Joe Brady's name became a hot commodity in head coaching circles. His rise to the NFL after helping the LSU Tigers win a national championship has made this possible. In just his first season as an NFL offensive coordinator, he has crafted an offense in Carolina led by Teddy Bridgewater - and P.J. Walker last week - that has been modern, multiple and effective. Even without running back Christian McCaffrey. Hiring Brady could allow Detroit to maximize the end of Stafford's time in Motor City while paving the way to the quarterback of the future. Say a Trey Lance or a Kyle Trask or dare we dream Zach Wilson? Then pair Brady with a smart, veteran presence to handle the defensive side of the football. Wade Phillips anyone?

Matt Eberflus, defensive coordinator, Indianapolis Colts

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Beyond Robert Saleh, if the Detroit Lions want to go down a defensive path, Matt Eberflus is anoter great name to add to the list. He has built two different top-flight defenses during his time in Indianapolis. A few years ago when the Indianapolis Colts made it to the playoffs and upset the Houston Texans on Wild Card Weekend, the Colts were more of a base Cover 2 team. This season, the Colts are more multiple on that side of the football, but the success speaks for itself. Right now Indianapolis is ranked fifth in Defensive DVOA at Football Outsiders, behind the Steelers, the Buccaneers, the Saints and the Bears. On the strength of their defense the Colts are currently leading the AFC South, and have a chance to take a big step towards solidifying that lead by beating the Tennessee Titans again this weekend. Pairing Eberflus with the right offensive coordinator - paging Pep Hamilton yet again - could work in Detroit.