The conversation around Detroit’s hiring of Matt Patricia has, for obvious reasons, wandered far afield from whether Patricia is qualified purely in football terms for the job of head coach, to how it is possible that the Lions were unaware of an indictment for sexual assault in Patricia’s past. NFL hiring decisions generate immediate, enormous public interest, and you’d therefore assume franchises would know every possible thing about their new hires prior to making any announcements.
Failure to discover information of this magnitude when it is available via quick online search certainly calls into question the thoroughness of the hiring process, before we even get to the part where any possible hand-waving away of this type of incident would constitute a depressing par for the course in general NFL business. If you were hoping for an explanation from someone involved in the Lions’ decision-making process that would address itself to those concerns, you are not likely to be satisfied by today’s effort, from team president Ron Wood:
“There might be ways for companies, teams in our case, to find information out about a prospective employee through other means than the legal means,” Wood said. “I guess if others wanted to do that, that’s their prerogative. I’m only in charge of what the Lions do, and I want to do it the right way.”
Of course, a simple Nexis search is nowhere close to “other means than the legal means,” but it’s certainly true that employment law makes this situation more difficult than it might initially seem—per the ESPN report, applicable laws prohibit the asking of candidates directly “about any felony or misdemeanor arrests that didn’t lead to convictions.” Patricia wasn’t convicted of any crime, and he maintains his innocence, and there’s an uncomfortable but reasonable question of whether a 22-year-old indictment should permanently disqualify someone from gainful employment. But NFL head coach is an insanely exclusive gig, and there are hundreds of assistant coaches and former coaches and former players kicking around, and it’s not unreasonable to expect an NFL team to add things like “hasn’t been credibly accused of sexual assault” to a list of qualifications. For sure, at a minimum, it’s probably safe to say the Lions would not have hired Patricia if they’d anticipated the blowback they now face. As things stand the team and Wood find themselves in the position of defending the rigor of their hiring process, with goofy and revisionist lines like these:
“There’s been a lot of criticism of people interviewing and questions that were asked that are inappropriate, at the combine and et cetera. And we’re not one of those teams that are going to do those kind of things, whether it’s a player, a coach or an employee,” Wood said. “We’re following the rules, and I’d rather follow the rules and maybe end up where I’m at, although we’re not happy to be dealing with this, there’s no doubt about that.”
No one is suggesting the Lions should ask candidates if they’ve ever been indicted for sexual assault. It’s not a refusal to break the rules that got the Lions into this mess, and the suggestion that solemn deference to law or noble notions of propriety kept them ignorant of this incident from Patricia’s past is transparently false. Perpetrators of sexual assault overwhelmingly are not convicted of any crimes, and Detroit’s background check process was ultimately vulnerable to missing important information for at least that reason. The Lions are obviously not unique among NFL teams for having a blind spot for issues of sexual misconduct, but the expectation is that the famous zealousness of character parsing that NFL teams engage in when evaluating, say, draft prospects would also define coaching searches, and that all that ruthless prodding would inevitably uncover just this sort of incident.
“I would say I’m always trying to get better and the organization is always trying to get better,” Wood said. “But I’m not sure what specific changes, if any, we would make based on this. Always trying to improve every process.”
Absurd. Everyone in the organization—everyone who follows football even casually—already knows what specific changes will be made: The Lions will never hire anyone again without doing a couple quick internet searches. And the rules will have nothing to say about it. Learning what they would’ve learned would at least have them in position to say “we made an informed decision,” which is a damn sight better than “we don’t know how to work a dang computer.”