It has recently come to light that newly hired head coach of the Detroit Lions, Matt Patricia, was charged with aggravated sexual assault in Texas in 1996. A grand jury found that there was probable cause that both he and a teammate by the name of Greg Dietrich committed this crime, so they indicted the two of them. Although the grand jury found there was probable cause, that does not mean there was no reasonable doubt. All this meant was that his case was set to go to trial, but before the trial was set to start, the alleged victim asked for the case to be dismissed, as she did not feel as though she could face the pressures or stress of a trial. It is important to mention that the reasoning for the alleged victim to drop the case is not an uncommon reason for victims to have a case like this dismissed.
Patricia has repeatedly rejected the accusation in both a written statement and in a press conference. In both, he repeatedly stated that the case was dismissed, though it is important to note that the case was not dismissed due to lack of evidence. In fact, the assistant district attorney had five witnesses set to testify against Patricia: a nurse, a doctor, a police detective, a police officer, and a college friend of the victim. Regardless, owner Martha Ford, general manager Bob Quinn, and team president Rod Wood issued a joint statement emphasizing the fact that the case was dismissed and that Patricia fully denies the claims. They also state that Patricia never reached a settlement with the alleged victim, nor paid her any money.
Given all this information that has come to light recently, people around the league are asking a few questions. The first being: Can the Detroit Lions fire Matt Patricia for these allegations? The answer is yes, they can. Most NFL contracts contain morality language that allows the team to dismiss a member of the personnel, whether they are a player or a coach if they do something that the owner sees as a violation of that language. Especially given the fact that it appears that general manager Bob Quinn did not know about these allegations before hiring Patricia for the job, as this information was neither disclosed nor discussed in the interview process. If the Lions decide that this baggage is too much for a new head coach, they are likely within their rights to fire him before he even coaches a preseason game.
The next question they ask is: Is it likely that they are going to fire him? From the information out right now, it does not appear likely. Since the case was dismissed, and no settlement was reached in order for it to be dismissed, the Lions likely won’t face too much pressure from the fanbase to fire Patricia. Fans are especially likely to overlook these allegations since they are so hungry for the team to do well and to excel in the playoffs. Without pressure from the fans, it is unlikely that Patricia will be let go.
The final question they ask is: Should the Lions fire him? This is the most complicated question of the three, and the answer will differ from person to person. Those who want stronger off-field accountability to be enforced by the league will push for either the Lions to fire Patricia or for him to resign his position. Those who only care about results, regardless of off-field issues, will not care as long as Patricia helps the Lions win consistently.
Since the alleged victim did not sue Patricia within the two-year statute of limitations in Texas when it comes to civil claims, it is highly unlikely that the case will be re-opened. That is unless new evidence emerges. Barring that, the Lions would likely face significant backlash for firing Patricia over unproven allegations. Right now, this situation is a no-win scenario for the Lions. Despite the fact that the case was dismissed, and the fact that Patricia firmly denies these claims, there will be a number of people who will develop mistrust in the organization if they refuse to punish Patricia. But if they do punish Patricia, there will be a number of people who will criticize them relentlessly for doing so.
The best case scenario for the Detroit Lions is that Matt Patricia helps lead the team to its first-ever Super Bowl victory, in order to help distract the media and the fans from these allegations. Until then, these questions and criticisms will not stop. Regardless of whether or not Patricia is guilty, the fact that these accusations exist will be a permanent blemish upon his resume.