Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia was in the midst of his second full-team meeting of the offseason Monday when the reality of distance learning showed up and sent him into a mini-panic.
“We actually had a technology little mishap, I’ll call it,” Patricia said. “The call dropped and people lost Wi-Fi, and you instantly go into panic mode, like, ‘Now what? How do we get 100 people back on a call?’
“Within two minutes, everyone was back on. So I thought that was pretty awesome.”
It’s just part of the overall changes the Lions — like many teams around the NFL — have had to make this offseason. During his first full-team meeting, he swiped through four pages of faces just to see all his players for the first time in months. For their allotted daily hours, Patricia chose classroom work because he has two new coordinators — defensive coordinator Cory Undlin and special-teams coordinator Brayden Coombs — and in a time that is usually about learning and installation anyway, this gave them a chance to really teach.
The decision to go with classroom learning also forced a change in the team’s plan for strength and conditioning. Instead of keeping players on similar plans and schedules, the Lions have had to go with individualized plans for each player put together by new strength and conditioning coach Josh Schuler.
They started by surveying each player to see what he did and did not have available, which proved to be a challenge.
“Some of our guys were stuck in apartments in the middle of New York City, Manhattan, and they couldn’t go anywhere,” Patricia said. “That’s a completely different situation than someone who might be in the middle of Arizona and he has a lot of space or a situation where he has a gym down the street he can go into at 6 a.m. when no one is there and have all of the equipment available.
“So we tried to go through and take a gauge of what’s everybody’s situation and also just mark what do you need. ‘Is there something you need that we can help you with from that standpoint to get you going?'”
In some cases, that meant shipping kettlebells, benches and dumbbells across the country. Other players said they were all set and had full gyms available to them. It’s been a constant adjustment.
For instance, Patricia saw a video of running back Ty Johnson pulling a Jeep last weekend and cracked, “I’m just glad he had a helmet on.”
It’s also changed what some players focus on when they are training. If they have limited equipment, maybe they focus more on one body part and try to make sure the rest are worked on more in terms of stability. The Lions also created workouts through apps they can track to see which players are doing which workouts and then suggest a different workout on a different day.
“Very individual-based,” Patricia said. “I don’t want to say personal-trainer-based, but almost in a sense that everybody’s situation is different, so that’s been the biggest challenge — the weight-training part of it.”
As with many coaches and players, though, the situation has given Patricia a chance to spend more time with his children. Patricia said Monday that the thing he struggles most with in his career is being away from his family, calling it “the hardest thing on me.”
It’s something he has appreciated more, because this time of year he wouldn’t be home as much as he has been. Now he sees his family daily and can work while they are across the room on iPads.
When he has been able to take time away from work, the Michael Jordan fan is saving the ESPN documentary “The Last Dance” for one giant binge-watch. He has also started playing the ukulele.
Patricia wouldn’t play the instrument during the session with the media and made a joke describing how many songs he knows — “I may call them songs, you may call them noise.”
When he hasn’t been doing that, he is spending time playing Barbies with his daughter, Giamina.
“When my 4-year-old daughter asks me to play,” Patricia said, “it’s really hard to turn that down.”