"Maybe he'd be up there working on boosters or something for NASA," Ninkovich said. "I don't know, how do you get to Mars? Something like that. He's very smart."
A former offensive lineman who worked with that unit as a graduate assistant at RPI, Patricia coached defensive line at Amherst College and was an offensive grad assistant at Syracuse before joining the Patriots as a coaching assistant in 2004.
He climbed his way up the ranks on Belichick's staff, where friends said he put in 20-hour days early in his tenure in New England and helped modernize the Patriots' film practices.
"There was a lot of film breakdown and a lot of grunt work to do just to get through that (first) summer," said Scott Sasenbury, a former teammate and fraternity brother of Patricia's at RPI. "He said it was just 20 hours a day, just grinding, just trying to get information together for the team to be able to use, and I think at the time they were going from a system that had very archaic kind of film breakdown to putting it on a software that allowed you to sort it, pull it up and kind of go through that process a lot easier than the more manual method. He said when he started there his goal was to save the head coach and assistant coaches time in their day, and I think that was probably one of his early successes was being able to do that."
In 2006, after spending one season as the Patriots' assistant offensive line coach, Patricia moved to defense to coach linebackers. He spent five seasons working with that position and one more as safeties coach before he was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2012.
The Patriots ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in scoring defense in each of Patricia's six seasons as coordinator, and they've won two of the past four Super Bowls. On Sunday, the Patriots allowed 538 yard of offense and forced just one punt, and Patricia said he was to blame for his team's defensive failings.
"Obviously, I didn't do a good enough job here with the defense," Patricia said after the game. "Look, that's a great offense. They're extremely talented. I've been talking about it all week, how good they are. They played really well, we just didn't get enough stops when we had to. So give them all the credit. They played outstanding."
The Lions, who fired Jim Caldwell on New Year's Day after four seasons and a 36-28 record as head coach, finished 27th defensively in yards allowed last season and have the flexibility to overhaul the unit this spring.
Starters Ziggy Ansah, Haloti Ngata, Tahir Whitehead, Paul Worrilow, Tavon Wilson and Nevin Lawson are all unrestricted free agents.
Patricia has been a part of both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses in the past, though the Patriots used a 4-3 as their base look this season.