It was the last day of 2018 and the NFL regular season was finished. A group of 10 to 15 Detroit Lions players broke out the mimosas.
Except this wasn’t a celebration of playoffs. The Lions disappointingly went 6-10 that season. It was, rather, a “cheers” to being away from head coach Matt Patricia at least temporarily.
The anecdote is detailed by the Bleacher Report’s Kalyn Kahler in a piece about Patricia’s attempt to bring “The Patriot Way” to Detroit. The Lions (3-5) hired Patricia ahead of the 2018 season and have gone 12-27-1 since then.
The mimosas, a culminating moment to various player stories of how Patricia made them unhappy or uncomfortable, were definitely not for winning.
Lions’ mimosa party about leaving Patricia
An unnamed player had a bottle of Champagne in his locker gifted to him by an agent for Christmas. He had been waiting for the right time to open it, and saying goodbye to Patricia warranted the pop.
Before the final team meeting on clean-out day, the 10-15 players made mimosas. Via Bleacher Report:
They chilled and sipped out of Solo cups, finally relaxing after a season of long practices, tough conditioning and routinely getting cussed at by their head coach, who had a long list of rules that a former player described as taking the fun out of the game. “It was a free-for-all,” he says. The stifling Patriot Way experience had been a culture shock many veteran players were elated to be done with.
“Didn't nobody care at that point,” says a former offensive player. “Everybody was glad to be out of the building and done.”
It wasn’t about another single-digit win season for the Lions players. Patricia, a disciple of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, had a communication style that didn’t sit well with players. Part of the issue was the transition from a “player’s-coach type” in Jim Caldwell to more of a strict, micromanaged approach.
Cam Newton dancing video used in wrong manner
Players reportedly felt they couldn’t connect with the coach, who is now 46 years old, because of rules like no jewelry, no jersey swaps and no music in the locker room.
That’s likely why that mimosa party was preceded by players blaring music the final week of the 2018 season. One incident in particular put the divide into focus.
Via Bleacher Report, citing an unnamed former player:
The player remembers the week preparing to play Carolina. He says Patricia played a video of Cam Newton dancing on the field and showed it to players, with the hopes of getting them riled up by his showboating. Instead, many players reacted positively, with then-safety Quandre Diggs shouting, ‘No, we like that, Coach! Keep that running!’
“Lo and behold, we're watching the video like, that's lit!” the player says. “You are showing us what we like. Cam dancing, that's cool to us. But you don't see it as that.”
It’s difficult to find what video the players might be talking about since dancing — and fashion — are kind of Newton’s “thing.” Whether it be Cam or any other player, there’s a clear divide on dancing and celebrations between younger and older fans. That’s fans, though. A good coach should know what would hype up his players and what would not.
Players also spoke of issues with communication, Patricia constantly cursing at players and calling them out in front of each other and conditioning issues they felt went too far. The coach even installed an artificial hill for conditioning after his first year there, just like in New England.
Did Patricia need to overhaul Lions completely?
This all comes with a big question: Did the Lions need an overhaul in 2018? They consistently were in the middle of the pack in the NFC North and posted a 9-7 record in the two seasons before Patricia’s arrival. They were far from abysmal.
Former Lions running back Zach Zenner played for Caldwell and Patricia before his release in 2019 and pushed back on that, per Bleacher Report.
“We really weren't that bad!” Zenner said. “We had a good thing going. We had … made the playoffs [in 2016]. It wasn't like he was starting from scratch.”
Patricia, both in public and in team settings, has consistently said “we have a lot of work to do.” He said it when he took over. And he said it as recently as last month following a 35-29 loss to the New Orleans Saints in which the Lions allowed 35 unanswered points.
“It was like everything in Detroit, what we were doing, how things work, everything was just not good, was wrong, was bad,” said Glover Quin, then a safety with the Lions in his 10th NFL season. "We felt like we had started changing the culture and changing the way that Detroit was viewed. And then for you to come in and just be like, 'I am going to tear everything down’—I don't know if we need it to be all torn down, we just need you to get us over the hump.”
Players told Bleacher Report they believe Patricia has grown since that initial season. Zenner said he loved that Patricia was always “making adjustments” and his second year was different, more “comfortable.”
But the results haven’t shown and time is running out for Patricia to get there before he’s shown the door. It’s likely if there’s another year-end mimosa party, it once again won’t be for the playoffs.
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