When Matt Patricia stepped to the podium for his first press conference as head coach of the Detroit Lions, he made one thing very clear: He's not Bill Belichick, and he's not trying to be Bill Belichick.
"There's only one coach Belichick," said Patricia. "He's in New England. I'm Matt Patricia. I'm my own guy. I have my own style, but I'll take all those lessons about how to teach and coach that we had in New England that I think are strong."
We're not yet three full weeks into the 2018 season, and reportedly some of those lessons have already rubbed players the wrong way. After Week 1, Patricia had unnamed players going to the media, saying they're unhappy with how hard they're being worked by their new coach.
Belichick has said many times that he's not an easy coach to play for. Players who have come from other programs and tried to stick in New England haven't always lasted when they've been taken aback by the amount of work, the amount of pressure, they've found at their new job.
For Patricia, it must be hard to juggle it all.
He's someone who has spent the majority of his professional career in New England under Belichick. He's also seen Belichick's methods work.
How do you try to use what you know, use what you've succeeded with, and still come across to your players as someone who isn't trying to be like his old boss?
"I’ve really always appreciated how much time that coach Belichick spent with me individually and taught me as a coach and taught me a lot about the importance of trying to coach a team and coach a defense, which I think has been really phenomenal from that standpoint," Patricia said. "But I think even through the progression of my coaching career before the Patriots – Syracuse, Amherst, whatever it is – I do feel like I am kind of my own person, my own personality with the players. It’s still me, like, I don’t think that you would ever change that as a coach.
"I think the guys that I had in New England, as a young linebackers coach, there was no other way to coach those guys. And I learned more from those guys than anyone. Great players, the Mike Vrabels, and Tedy Bruschis and Junior Seaus and Willie McGinests, Rosevelt Colvin and just the list goes on, Larry Izzo. I mean, just how to be yourself but also teach and coach the importance of what needs to be taught for everyone to be successful. I think that’s really the biggest thing."
It makes sense. You can still teach many of the Patriots methods without acting like the boss in New England. But when you spend many of your pre-head coaching years in a certain place, that place can't help but rub off on you. Especially when it's the Patriots. The pull to experience even a sliver of the level of success they've achieved has to be Herculean.
What Patricia has said he's done in establishing a culture in Detroit is try an amalgamation of what he knows and what he's learning from others on the Lions staff. The culture is one that will focus on "collective" achievement, he said, and will utilize lessons learned from others brought up in other systems.
But that pull is forever there. It's on the sidelines. It's in the front office, where former Patriots director of pro scouting Bob Quinn has resided for more than two years. It's on the field.
Patricia has five former Patriots on the roster: LeGarrette Blount, Matt Cassel, Tavon Wilson, Marquis Flowers and Ricky Jean Francois.
"The good thing is when I got here, there was obviously a tremendous amount of good players and great leadership here already so that was pretty easy for me from that standpoint," Patricia said. "A lot of it has just been building those relationships and getting everyone to understand a little bit more about our big goal and how we need to play and some of the certain things that we need to do.
"Obviously bringing in guys that are familiar with me I think helps that situation from the standpoint to translate or relate to those players from a player-to-player standpoint which sometimes is easier than a coach-to-player standpoint. But I think it’s all been consistent. I think those guys that were able to come in that know me, I obviously brought in because those are guys I think can help us win and play for us and do a good job of contributing."
How Patricia strikes that balance, of making sure he's doing things differently than his old boss yet implementing the things that made his old boss' teams successful, will be fodder for a national media landscape that has long fascinated by anything Patriots-related.
Now 0-2, Patricia isn't starting with much in terms of leeway. But he has a chance to make a statement -- that not only is he not his old coach, but he has the chops to compete with him -- Sunday night at home.