The Lions gave coach Matt Patricia an unofficial ultimatum before the 2020 season — win enough games to make Detroit a playoff contender or expect to be replaced in 2021. With his team now at 4-6 and in last place in the NFC North, it has little chance of making the postseason and Patricia has even less of a chance of keeping his job.
Through Week 11 of the 2020 season, Patricia has a three-year mark of 13-28-1. There have been many low points during his short tenure, but Sunday’s 20-0 loss at the Panthers, another lowly NFC opponent, was the nadir.
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Despite the Panthers starting backup quarterback P.J. Walker, the defense — Patricia’s supposed specialty — was gashed by pass and run alike. The offense showed even less life with Matthew Stafford, who was missing wide receiver Kenny Golladay and running back D’Andre Swift.
After winning back-to-back games following their Week 5 bye to get to 3-3, the Lions have dropped three of their past four games and shown no signs of improving. They will be in the national spotlight on Thanksgiving against Deshaun Watson and the Texans — who just beat Patricia’s former team, Bill Belichick’s Patriots.
Detroit will be parting ways with Patricia, barring an improbable turnaround. It has become more a matter of when, not if. With that in mind, here are six names to watch once the Lions begin their search for a replacement.
Robert Saleh, 49ers defensive coordinator
Saleh, 41, is a Dearborn, Mich., native, which would make the job appealing to him. He has done very well with San Francisco’s defense this season in relation to the team’s rash of major injuries. That’s coming off leading an elite Super Bowl-caliber unit in 2019. He’s a smart, fiery coach who motivates his players well. He also can clean up a lot of the messes created by Patricia and Lions defensive coordinator Cory Undlin and bring up a young group.
Eric Bieniemy, Chiefs offensive coordinator
Bieniemy, 51, is the best choice if the Lions want to go player-friendlier and focus on the other side of the ball with their new coach. He’s a deserving next branch of the Andy Reid coaching tree. He has been key in the development of Patrick Mahomes and would boost the Lions’ offense, whether or not it’s still operated by Stafford. Bieniemy would have a great influence on Swift and give the unit more balance and explosiveness.
Kevin O’Connell, Rams offensive coordinator
O’Connell, 35, is the next young hotshot working under Sean McVay. He was briefly with the Lions as a quarterback in 2009, the year Stafford was drafted No. 1 overall. He has learned fast and been teaching players well. Like the above two potential candidate here, he would be an intelligent get for the Lions.
Kellen Moore, Cowboys offensive coordinator
Moore, 32, spent the first three seasons of his quarterbacking career (2012-14) behind Stafford in Detroit. He joined the Cowboys in 2015 as a backup and has since enjoyed a meteoric rise as an astute offensive mind and play-caller. He’s responsible for helping to turn Dak Prescott into an elite QB. Moore’s mindset is also to be explosive but balanced. He could rejuvenate the Lions’ offense with or without Stafford.
Byron Leftwich, Buccaneers offensive coordinator
File Leftwich, 40, in the same category as the three assistants ahead of him on this list. There are questions, however, as to whether Detroit is the right spot for him and whether this is the right time for him to move. It’s possible he’s being groomed to take over soon for Bucs coach Bruce Arians, 68. He has worked well with Tom Brady and Jameis Winston and has found his groove as a play-caller. As a former notable QB not far removed from playing, he also connects well with everyone.
Joe Brady, Panthers offensive coordinator
Put one more exciting OC on the list. Brady just helped the Panthers rip the Lions, so the other side should be intrigued by what he can do if he is elevated to a head coaching job at only 31. He might not be ready for that leap, but Lions and other hiring teams need to give Brady a call to find out.
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