Top candidates to replace Matt Patricia as Detroit Lions head coach

By Matt Johnson
Nov 10, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; A detailed view of the Detroit Lions helmet during the first quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn were fired on Saturday, creating two new NFL vacancies in an offseason loaded with coaching candidates.

The Lions fired Jim Caldwell following consecutive 9-7 seasons in 2016 and ’17, hoping Patricia would be the guy to push this team to the next level. Instead, after going 36-28 in four seasons with Caldwell, Detroit posted a 13-29-1 record in two-plus years with Patrica.

While ownership will likely begin its search by seeking a general manager, everyone will be watching closely to see who is chosen to replace Patricia. Let’s take a look at five top candidates who could become the Detroit Lions head coach.

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Detroit Lions head coach candidate: Joe Brady, Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator

Plenty of the national spotlight for head coaching candidates centers on Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. He is certainly the most coveted target for teams this offseason. With so much focus on him, Joe Brady is flying under the radar.

Brady, who served as an offensive assistant under Sean Payton (2017-’18), played a vital role in the LSU Tigers winning the national championship last season. As LSU’s passing game coordinator, Joe Burrow went from unrecognized starter to a Heisman Trophy winner and the No.1. overall pick after setting the FBS single-season record for passing touchdowns (60).

Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule recognized Brady’s brilliant offensive mind and hired him as the team’s offensive coordinator this offseason. Entering Week 12, despite having Christian McCaffrey for only three games, Carolina’s offense has looked sharp.

Brady has proven himself more than capable of designing offenses capable of big things at both the college and pro levels. While some teams might be iffy about hiring him after just one season as an NFL offensive coordinator, he is worth the gamble. We could be talking about the next Matt LaFleur or Sean McVay.

Detroit Lions head coach candidate: Matt Campbell, Iowa State Cyclones head coach

For NFL teams seeking a head coach to snag from the collegiate ranks, Campbell should be the top target. Iowa State’s football program might not receive much recognition in the Big 12 Conference, but Campbell has built something special.

After going 35-12 from 2011-’15 with Toledo, Campbell joined the Cyclones in 2016. Before he took over, Iowa State hadn’t won more than seven games in a year since 2000. During that stretch from 2000-’16, the Cyclones had only six seven-win seasons.

Iowa State went 3-9 in his first year, but things turned around immediately after that. Campbell’s team went 8-5 in each of the next two years, making it inside the top-20 rankings. Following Friday’s victory over Texas, the Cyclones are 7-2 and on the verge of playing in the Big 12 Championship game.

Campbell’s resume is very similar to Matt Rhule, coaches who built strong teams at unheralded programs. He has proven himself as a coach and given Rhule’s success, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Campbell is hired this offseason.

Detroit Lions head coach candidate: Todd Bowles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator

Detroit Lions head coach
Jul 26, 2019; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles during training camp at AdventHealth Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Todd Bowles first experience as an NFL head coach didn’t go particularly well. After a 10-6 season in his first year with the New York Jets, the team crashed in the following three years with a combined 14-34 record. As we’ve seen with Adam Gase, though, it could have been far worse for the Jets.

The 57-year-old coach reunited with Bruce Arians in 2019. Just as we saw during his time as defensive coordinator with the Arizona Cardinals, Bowles knows how to put a great defense together.

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Tampa Bay’s defense was inexperienced in 2019. With a full season learning from Bowles, the Buccaneers now boast one of the league’s best defenses this season. It’s a credit to Bowles, who has overseen the development of several impact players in Tampa Bay.

Hiring Bowles would mean Detroit went with defensive-minded coaches in consecutive hires. However, Bowles is beloved by his players and likely wouldn’t make the same mistakes Patricia did upon his arrival.

Detroit Lions head coach candidate: Arthur Smith, Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator

The Green Bay Packers took a chance on a Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator in 2019. Of course, that’s not the reason we’re suggesting Smith could become the next Detroit Lions head coach.

Since taking over for LaFleur, Smith has overseen one of the league’s best offenses in the past two years. After averaging 362.8 total yards and 25.1 points per game in 2019, the Titans average 380 total yards and 28 points per game this year.

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Smith has been vital to Derrick Henry being one of the league’s most dominant running backs during that stretch. The 38-year-old coordinator also deserves credit for Ryan Tannehill having 5,129 passing yards, a 44/10 TD/INT ratio and a 111.8 quarterback rating in 22 games for the Titans.

While Henry and D’Andre Swift are very different running backs, Smith would love the talent on Detroit’s offense. Matthew Stafford, Kenny Golladay and Swift would be the core of an offense that needs some new life.

Detroit Lions head coach candidate: Brian Daboll, Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator

As we looked at candidates to become the new Detroit Lions head coach, the focus was on an offensive-minded hire. Not only would it be going in the opposite direction of Patricia, but it would take notice of a troubling trend in Detroit.

Of the past three Detroit Lions head coaches, two were from the defensive side of the ball. Patricia (13-29-1) and Jim Schwartz (29-51) are responsible for some miserable years of football. Jim Caldwell, an offensive-minded coach, delivered three winning seasons and two playoff appearances in four years.

Daboll is another great candidate. He does come from the Bill Belichick coaching tree, but he has also worked for Nick Saban. There’s plenty to love about a coach with five Super Bowl rings and a national championship, but Daboll’s work with Josh Allen really stands out.

After completing just 56.3% of his passes and posting a 78.2 quarterback rating in his first two years, Allen looks like a different player in 2020. The third year in Daboll’s system, paired with Stefon Diggs’ arrival, has led to Allen posting a 21/7 TD/INT ratio this year with a 130.2 quarterback rating, and he has completed 68.% of his pass attempts. Detroit will face competition for Daboll, but he could be an outstanding hire.