Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

Matt Patricia’s bond with his players is one of a kind

Ryan Hannable
December 10, 2017 - 11:13 pm

On a Sunday afternoon in late July, Rob Ninkovich stepped to the Gillette Stadium podium to announce his retirement after eight seasons with the Patriots.

With almost the entire team and coaching staff present, the defensive end/linebacker discussed how he earned everything he got following stints with the Saints and Dolphins. He saluted his friends and family, and then began to choke up. 

He was about to thank Matt Patricia, his defensive coordinator since 2012.

"I really appreciate the time you have given me away from your family, and I love you," Ninkovich said, holding back tears.

The moment crystallized Patricia's impact as a coach. Players want to go to war for him and respect that sometimes he'll get on them when they screw up, because they know he'll be their biggest cheerleader when they make a play.

Patricia cares about his players like family. That's what drew him to coaching after receiving a degree in aeronautical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

"I really found more enjoyment out of watching individuals achieve their goals and succeed," Patricia said recently. "I actually found more enjoyment out of that than I did playing. I remember the moment that that happened to me and that transition where I just fell in love with coaching. My dad was a coach and I grew up with two parents that were teachers and that ability to help people and grow. The one thing I remember from college was our college coaches, especially at that point of a young man's life where it's a critical learning, critical developmental stage that you're leaning on coaches and people that are influential in your life like that. 

"I just thought if I could be in that situation, I really wanted to do anything I could to help them through life. So I think I've always taken that approach in my coaching career and obviously we coach at a very competitive high production level, but to me it's still about the personal relationship. It's still about getting to know them as individuals and caring about them as people first and foremost and their families and really honestly whatever I can do to help them from the standpoint of to be successful, whether it's on or off the field, is probably my number one priority."

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The way Patricia coaches traces back to his days as a defensive line coach at Amherst College from 1999-2000, and then as an offensive graduate assistant at Syracuse University from 2001-03.

"He is probably the nicest, most humble man I have ever been around," said Billy McBride, who was on the Amherst coaching staff with Patricia. "He's a loyal guy. If you're part of his circle, you are in. He's authentic and he's genuine."

Patricia spent endless hours at the Amherst facility breaking down film. He also told it like it was.

"Firm, but flexible," McBride said. "I see that sometimes when I watch him with the Patriots. He had that quiet, stoic demeanor, but you know he expected his players to have that same confidence on the field that they knew what had to be done."

Before long, Patricia wanted to advance his coaching career and that is when he turned to an old friend, a fellow upstate New Yorker, Dennis Goldman, who was coaching the Syracuse wideouts.

"'Are you sure this is something you want to do because I can tell you right now, the taste you're going to get as a graduate assistant is not going to taste great,'" Goldman recalled telling Patricia. "You're going to spend endless hours in the office and be asked to do things you don't have to do right now — get coffee for coaches, etc. After a year or two of doing this, you might be back where you are now.

"That didn't matter to him. He was bound and determined to be a football coach."

Patricia joined the staff in 2001 as an offensive graduate assistant and immediately made a strong impression. He created a spreadsheet with the receivers' catches, drops, grades and missed assignments -- cutting edge analysis at the time, but no sweat for a computer-savvy science grad like Patricia.

"If you asked Matt to do something, it was done perfectly," Goldman said. "It was never given to you unless he was satisfied with it. If there was something a coach wanted different, 10 minutes later it would be back on your desk the way you wanted it. Attention to detail. Matt was the kind of guy that would put something on your desk and say, 'What's next? What can I do now?' There was never enough work for him."

Patricia also had a way of connecting with the players, even as a graduate assistant. Goldman suspected he'd be going places.

"He has tremendous knowledge of the game, but players love playing for that guy," he said. "I know one thing about Matt, he's such a personable guy. You feel good when you are around him."

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Patricia's college experience prepared him to lead the Patriots defense.

"I just love how much he cares about the game and cares about putting us in the best position to be successful," safety Jordan Richards said. "Obviously, this is the only place I have ever been, but I know how much it means to him and how hard he's pushed himself to be the best coach he can be and it's easier to be a player under that when you know your coaches are trying to improve and find the best ways to put our guys in the best positions on the field."

That said, the season started horribly. Through four games, the Patriots had allowed more points than all but one team. But Patricia believed in his defense, and soon the players did, too.

"He coaches us hard, but he loves on us hard too at the end of the day," Richards said. "We know we're all going to be held accountable and he is going to be the first guy jumping up and down on the sidelines when we cause turnovers and he will be the first guy in our ears when we mess up. It's consistent across the board with all of us. You can definitely respect that as a player looking at your coach."

Multiple players echoed that point.

"You can tell that coach Patricia really cares and he really believes in his players," said rookie Adam Butler. "Obviously he believes in himself and his system, he is somebody that is really easy to rally around, and I think something that makes players better is when they have chemistry with the coach. He's somebody who has chemistry with all of his players, not just a few."

No one on the defense knows Patricia better than Devin McCourty, who has been on the team since 2010.

"Matty is just himself," he said. "You're not always going to be happy to be around him. He's not always going to come in there if it is going bad, like he is going to wear that emotion. He's not a guy that is going to come in and if we're not playing well try and hide it with the hoo-rah, he is going to be just real. He's down to earth. When he's pissed, everyone knows, and when he's happy, everyone sees that, too. That is what has been good as a player when you get that from a coach. It's not always like that. Guys are really able to relate to that."

That authenticity has allowed Patricia to thrive with the Patriots, and it shouldn't be a surprise if one day soon it earns him a head coaching job of his own.

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