Darius Slay had five years of experience in the Detroit Lions organization before Matt Patricia arrived as head coach. And Slay’s experience with Patricia shows what happens when 60 years of mediocrity-at-best slams into the Patriot Way.
After the trade that sent Slay to the Eagles, Slay started talking on the record about Patricia. The inescapable message is that Slay liked things the way they were, and that he resented Patricia’s effort to instill a culture that has proven to work, elsewhere.
In an interview with Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Slay recounted an incident from 2018 that poisoned the relationship.
“He told me in front of the whole team, in the team meeting room, showed clips of me in practice getting a ball caught on me or so in practice,” Slay said.
Let’s press pause on Slay’s comments. He’s basically explaining that Patricia employed a Bill Belichick move, one that he routinely utilized over the years with Tom Brady (to the surprise, as explained in the attached video, of Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth in 2007 and Chad Johnson in 2011). Belichick routinely calls out the stars in order to send a clear and potent message that no one is above criticism.
Slay, during his five years in the Detroit organization, apparently had never experienced that. So he didn’t like it, and it set the stage for his reaction to the rest of Patricia’s remarks.
“I posted a picture [of a wide receiver on Instagram], and he told me, stop sucking this man’s private,” Slay said. “So I’m like, ‘Whoa.’ I’m like, ‘Hold up.’ Where I’m from, that don’t fly. ‘Cause I wouldn’t say that to him. I wouldn’t say to him to stop you know what to Bill Belichick. I wouldn’t do that. That’s just not me as a man. That’s disrespectful to me and so from there on it was done with.”
Reasonable minds may differ on whether Patricia should have used the phrase, but the reality is that it’s hardly an uncommon term. Typically, it isn’t meant literally; it’s aimed at discouraging gratuitous or premature praise. And it likely hit the mainstream when Harvey Keitel’s character used it in Pulp Fiction.
Is it crass and vulgar? Absolutely. Is there a risk in directing that phrase to someone you barely know? Obviously. And Slay possibly took it literally because Slay already was upset with Patricia for being called out in front of his teammates, and Slay likely was looking for any reason to justify his instant dislike of Patricia.
After the meeting, former running backs coach David Walker approached Slay to explain that Patricia was trying to send a message to the team to stay off social media, and that Patricia targeted Slay because of his standing in the locker room.
“I was real teary-eyed because I got real, real mad and he was like, ‘Slay, man, he’s just trying to . . . set the tone for the team that some stuff don’t go,” Slay told Birkett regarding the conversation with Walker. “He don’t like social media so he trying to post it, make it calm social media down, ’cause a lot of us like social media. I said, ‘Man, I wasn’t trying to hear that because of the fact that I’m a grown man, he’s a grown man.'”
Patricia issued a statement to Birkett in response to Slay’s on-the-way-out-the-door remarks.
“Over the last two seasons, Darius and I have had multiple conversations in private that I believed were constructive and satisfactory,” the statement explains. “My discussions with athletes are confidential and I won’t comment on anything discussed with our players in a team meeting. I appreciate his hard work and wish he and his family all the success in Philadelphia.”
That’s not a denial, because there’s presumably nothing to deny. Patricia did what he saw Belichick do for well over a decade in New England. Instead of approaching Slay ahead of time to explain that Patricia would be using the player as an example for the rest of the team, Patricia opted to try to make the point and clean things up after the fact. It didn’t work, laying the foundation for Slay never fully buying in to what Patricia was trying to do.
The bigger problem for Patricia is that the Belichick approach only works if the team wins. At 9-22-1 through two seasons, Patricia’s attempt to change the culture is on the verge of implosion. Indeed, if the goal is to change the culture in order to win and the team isn’t winning, why bother to change the culture?
That’s the risk Belichick took in New England in the early days of the Patriot Way. If it hadn’t worked, he would have become a twice-fired head coach, possibly destined to grumble his way through the balance of his career as a defensive coordinator.
Patricia has taken that same risk, and he’s getting closer and closer to the expiration date of the Patriots-meet-Lions experiment. Currently, Patricia and G.M. Bob Quinn are in a race to overload the locker room with guys who will buy in, to identify and remove the guys who won’t, and to hope that the guys who buy in have the talent to win.