By Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Even when he was working as a position coach the past four years for the Chicago Bears, Houston Texans and Boston College, Paul Pasqualoni still worked like he would one day get back to this.
One day, he’d return to making defensive decisions – and it took his former Syracuse graduate assistant to get him there. The Detroit Lions will run mostly Patricia’s multiple front defense, but Pasqualoni is expected to be calling the plays this fall.
“I’ve always prepared like that was going to be a responsibility you needed to be prepared for,” Pasqualoni said Tuesday, the first time he spoke with the media since being hired in February. “Even as an assistant coach I was always kind of in that mode.”
Lions coordinator Paul Pasqualoni wants to build a defense that stops the run and makes QBs uncomfortable. Michael Rothstein/ESPN.com
Pasqualoni called defenses in the NFL for Miami in 2008 and 2009 and then in Dallas in 2010 and part of his head coaching stint at Connecticut from 2011 to 2013. He was part of the reason Syracuse had a strong defense when he ran that program from 1991 to 2004.
It has been almost a decade since he has been an NFL decision-maker, though. Those offenses incorporate more read option and have found ways to use certain players in specialized roles to take advantage of their skills.
Even though he hax been away from that part of coaching, where he has been has actually helped.
“If they’ve changed, they’ve gone a little bit more to the college-spread set, the zone-read set, so the past two years in the ACC, I promise you, I’ve seen that a little bit, up front and very, very close and personal,” Pasqualoni said. “So if anything, that’s probably helped me a little bit.
“And there’s been some good quarterbacks in that league, too. A couple good ones. It’s helped.”
Among those quarterbacks: Now-NFL quarterbacks Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson and Brad Kaaya.
For the 68-year-old coaching lifer, it’s a long way from his first job as an assistant coach at Cheshire (Conn.) High School in 1972 when he was also teaching physical education at three different elementary schools in his hometown. That path eventually led to Syracuse, where he began as a linebackers coach and then the head coach – where he worked with Donovan McNabb and Dwight Freeney and hired a bunch of the current Lions staff, including Patricia.
After being fired following the 2004 season after a change in athletic directors, Pasqualoni bounced around a bit before Patricia called this offseason, offering him a job to run his defense – not dissimilar to when another former Syracuse assistant under Pasqualoni, Steve Addazio, hired him to go to Boston College in 2016.
This staff has even more Syracuse connections. As he spoke Tuesday, Brian Stewart – whom he hired as a defensive backs coach in 2001 at the school – was a few feet away also chatting with the media as a member of the Lions staff. And it’s well known how many Syracuse-Pasqualoni connections there are on the Lions’ staff now in both the coaches and support staff to those coaches.
A lot of that comes because of Pasqualoni, who was all of their bosses at one point or another.
“The Syracuse program was a developmental program. We worked hard, tried to develop players, tried to always be prepared, and the GAs who came in there had a lot of responsibility, had a lot of jobs they had to do,” Pasqualoni said. “They worked very, very hard at it, and a lot of good things happened to a lot of those guys.”
Other than Patricia, though, Pasqualoni’s job will be the highest profile. The two of them together will be looked at if Detroit’s defense fails. And it’ll be Pasqualoni coordinating Patricia’s vision for the defense, a philosophy the two of them have spent years honing.
“Defensive philosophy is going to be smart, you know, to be tough, and that means to be able to perform at a very dependable, high level on a consistent basis,” Pasqualoni said. “Like you’ve heard a hundred times, stop the run and try to make the quarterback uncomfortable. You’re not going to sack the guy, but there has to be in a variety of ways discomfort created for the guy playing the quarterback position, whether it be disguise or pressure, whatever it might be. You just can’t let quarterbacks at this level operate and be comfortable because in the end, you know, they’ll get you.
“In a nutshell, that’s kind of it.”