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The Lions have regrouped after Matt Patricia, but not everyone thought he was a bad coach there

Matt Patricia was hired as Lions coach in 2018 and was fired after 11 games in 2020.Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Sunday’s game in Foxborough marks the first time that the Lions will face the Patriots since Matt Patricia was fired as their coach in 2020, and many of the old stories are coming up again, particularly in Detroit.

How Patricia went 13-29-1 in three seasons, with a team that had gone 9-7 in each of the two previous years under Jim Caldwell. How Patricia was late for his own meetings. How Patricia wouldn’t let players swap jerseys with opponents after games. How Patricia embarrassed players in team meetings and chastised reporters for slouching.

T.J. Lang, a former Lions offensive lineman who now is part of their radio team, remembers Patricia’s three years in Detroit a little differently.

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“I think a lot of the things with Patricia were overblown,” said Lang, a 10-year NFL veteran whose last season (2018) was Patricia’s first with the Lions. “Any time a coach gets fired, it’s always negative, negative, negative.

“If you ask many guys who played for Patricia, they would tell you that they liked him. He was just a good dude. The bottom line is we just didn’t win games.”

Patricia has been gone from Detroit for only two years, but the Lions who are coming to Gillette Stadium will look unfamiliar to him. They swept out the Patriot guard after 2020, firing Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn, and new GM Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell have overseen a massive roster purge, most notably trading longtime quarterback Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff.

There’s no question that Lions fans are more excited now that Campbell is in charge, and the atmosphere around team headquarters seems to be a lot cheerier. The Lions went just 3-13-1 last year, and they are only 1-3 this year, but they have the No. 1 offense in the league (35 points per game) and are making clear progress.

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Former defensive back Glover Quin noted recently on the Dungeon of Doom podcast that Campbell has invited many former Lions to be around the team during training camp and walk-throughs, a practice Patricia had ended.

The biggest difference may be the composition of the coaching staff. Campbell’s staff, unlike Patricia’s, is full of decorated former players: Mark Brunell, Antwaan Randle El, Aaron Glenn, Duce Staley, and Campbell himself, who was a tight end for 11 NFL seasons.

Dan Campbell is in his second season as coach of the Detroit Lions.Duane Burleson/Associated Press

“There’s just a different aspect to coaching when you’ve got guys who did it, and these guys did it at a high level not too long ago,” said Lang, who made two Pro Bowls with the Packers before finishing his career with the Lions. “The guys truly seem to be enjoying playing for [Campbell]. He’s just a fascinating guy. You know what you’re getting every single day with him.”

Sunday will be more of a revenge game for the fans than the Lions themselves, who have only a handful of players left from Patricia’s tenure.

“They’re definitely a young team, man,” Lang said. “You can tell Brad and Dan are trying to build it through the draft and bring the right young guys in. I don’t know the stats, but this has to have one of the largest turnovers just in a two-year period of any team I’ve seen.”

The Lions organization felt it needed a complete reboot following the Patricia/Quinn years, which resulted in 6-10, 3-12-1, and 5-11 finishes. Perhaps Patricia’s biggest failing was believing that a 9-7 team needed a complete overhaul. He alienated and embarrassed veterans such as Quin and cornerback Darius Slay, and didn’t seem to appreciate what the Lions had done before he arrived.

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“When Coach Patricia got there, it was, ‘You guys are all awful. I’ve got to change the whole culture,’ ” Quin said. “We don’t need you to come in and change the culture. The culture is good. We need you to take the team from nine wins to 10 wins.”

But Lang said that a lot of players appreciated Patricia, too. He explained away many of the accusations against Patricia as incidents that happened in his first year, when he was still learning on the job.

Matt Patricia went 13-29-1 as head coach of the Lions.Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

“I think Patricia maybe had a hard time his first year handling everything,” Lang said. “But I always respected Matt, always appreciated him. He would rip your ass in meetings, but then two minutes later he’s out in the hallway having conversations with guys about just getting better and helping guys and teaching technique.

“So it wasn’t like he was just trying to rip your ass because he didn’t like you.

“I remember just having heart-to-heart conversations with him and respecting this guy. It genuinely seemed like he cared about his players. We all used to get yelled at in meetings, but he was the type of guy that you could pull to the side and talk to. And I think in those one-on-one conversations, you’ve got to know what kind of person he was, and that’s what I respected.”

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Lang also said that Patricia didn’t cut corners.

“He wasn’t one of those lazy coaches that was like, ‘We’re going to run this, and we’re going to do it better than them,’ ” Lang said. “He was a guy that, my God, he spent more time in the building than any coach I’ve ever seen. You could tell he was a hard worker. I respected his ability to break teams down. You knew he was going to find a weakness to exploit, find the best matchups possible.”

And Lang wasn’t surprised this year when reports emerged that Patricia would be the Patriots’ offensive play-caller, when almost all of his NFL experience had come on defense.

“Matt always told me he was an offensive guy, an offensive lineman at heart,” Lang said. “I’ve read some of the stories that were going around Boston in the preseason. You thought the world was ending.

“But Matt Patricia, you make some mistakes, he’s going to make you pay. He’s going to find some weakness.”






Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.