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How an Aeronautical Engineer Came to Run the Patriots’ Defense

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FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 14: Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia of the New England Patriots reacts after the Patriots 34-16 victory over the Houston Texas in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 14, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia of the New England Patriots celebrates the Patriots 34-16 victory over the Houston Texas in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game on January 14, 2017. (Elsa/Getty Images)

 

Bill Belichick is not like other football coaches. For one, he wins more: He’s already reached seven Super Bowls as a head coach, with four titles and counting. For another, he isn’t afraid to do things no one else would do. This ranges from dressing up as a pirate and going rollerskating at a Halloween party (really—yes, he is a weirdly good skater) to taking chances on people other organizations wouldn’t even notice. That’s how the New England Patriots came to make sixth-round pick Tom Brady their quarterback and aeronautical engineering major Matt Patricia their defensive coordinator.

You may not know Patricia by name, but you’ve noticed him on the sidelines. Indeed, you’ve likely said, “Hey, who the hell is that guy with the massive beard talking to Belichick?” (And yes, Patricia does take pride in his beard, boasting that he oils it up to produce that “lumberjack smell.”) At a glance, you’d expect him to have an unlikely story. It turns out to be even more surreal than expected.

Patricia is a graduate of noted football powerhouse, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, located in Troy, New York. He played center for the team, but mostly he studied math and science. Which made sense: RPI tends to produce people recruited by companies like Boeing, not teams like the Pats. Indeed, Patricia’s background includes two years working at Hoffman Air & Filtration, helping sales reps supply wastewater plants with industrial blowers. (Yes: Exactly like Tom Landry!)

Still, his love of football led him back to the game. Patricia became a defensive line coach for Amherst, earning under $10,000 a year. He wound up interviewing in 2004 for a coaching assistant position with the Patriots. Belichick personally conducted the interview. Ironically, Patricia’s unusual background helped his chances: Belichick values intelligence over experience, preferring assistants who have a “clean mind,” so they can be programmed to fit his system.

Even this took a bizarre turn. Patricia was offered the job but said he needed to talk to his wife before accepting, at which point the Pats withdrew the offer. A panicked Patricia managed to reach out to Belichick through a friend of a friend, eventually reclaiming the position.

Since then, Patricia has worked as a Pats offensive coaching assistant, assistant offensive line coach, linebackers coach, safeties coach, and finally defensive coordinator. He is credited with getting the Pats to switch fully over to a digitized film system, which Patricia has estimated saves Belichick up to three hours a day.

Only 42, Patricia’s time with New England may be limited. Belichick himself has said Patricia should be a head coach. Of course, New England assistants have an unfortunate tendency to flop on their own. Charlie Weis was a disaster at both Notre Dame and Kansas, to the point that each program was paying him over $2 million a year just to stay the hell away from them.

Happily, Patricia has other options, as Jim Ward from Hoffman Air & Filtration notes he remains “one of my favorite employees of all time.”

—Sean Cunningham for RealClearLife