Every year on his birthday, New York Giants defensive line coach Andre Patterson gets a reminder of how much he has meant to many of the players he has touched in more than four decades of trying to help them be the best they can be.
“On my birthday, on Father’s Day, I get texts from guys that I coached in high school, from guys I coached in college, from guys that I coached a long time in the NFL that [have] been done playing for a long time,” Patterson said recently in an exclusive interview with Big Blue View. “And that makes me feel good more than anything.”
Why do players become so attached to Patterson? Well, part of it has to be that so many of them, including Dexter Lawrence in 2022, have played the best football of their lives under Patterson’s tutelage. The other part is simply how Patterson treats them.
Patterson was with the Minnesota Vikings as defensive line coach and, for a short time, co-defensive coordinator from 2014-2021. Lindsey Young of Vikings.com watched him work and had this to say:
“He cares deeply about his players, and you can tell that. He wants to make them better football players, but coaching is so much more than that to him. He wants to mentor and guide them as men. It’s very important to him that he help build high-character men off the field.”
Rob Rodriguez was Patterson’s assistant defensive line coach in Minnesota from 2015-2019 and is now entering his first season as defensive line coach for the Arizona Cardinals.
Rodriguez was effusive in his praise of Patterson when I spoke to him shortly after the Giants hired him in 2022. He repeated that praise recently.
“He is the best teacher I’ve ever been in a room with,” Rodriguez said. “He is also the best at finding what makes individuals tick and catering to those qualities. Makes it possible to motivate all types of people.
“[He] takes interest in people beyond football. There are stories of him encouraging and supporting all kinds of people who aren’t players — trainers, support staff, etc.”
When asked about that legacy, Patterson said, “I hope that that’s what’s happening. That’s always been my goal as a coach.”
Dexter Lawrence and the Giants
Lawrence’s 2022 season was the best of his career. He had career highs in sacks (7.5), tackles, (68), and quarterback hits. He made the Pro Bowl and was named second-team All-Pro. That made Lawrence the latest in a long line of players — John Randle, Chris Doleman, Danielle Hunter, and Linval Joseph among them — to play their best football under Patterson’s tutelage.
Back in February of 2022, Rodriguez predicted a breakout for Lawrence if he were willing to embrace the teachings of Patterson, which would be different than anything he had ever been exposed to.
“If I was near him [Lawrence], I would advise him, dude, shut out everything you know, just listen, commit, and give it a shot. It’s going to be hard at first, but you’re going to be playing better than you’ve ever played in your life, and it’ll be empowering for you because you’re going to know why,” Rodriguez said at the time.
Lawrence did, and the results were apparent.
When I spoke to Lawrence during the 2022 training camp, his thirst to be great was obvious. Patterson was the right coach for him at the right time.
“When you look like Dex, you’ve been the biggest, strongest guy in the room, probably since the day you walked into kindergarten,” Patterson said. “And so, along the way, he’s been allowed to be the big, strong, athletic, physical guy in the room. And it hasn’t been about becoming a master of your technique. And that’s the biggest thing that I sold him on, is that if you have a quest every day, a burning desire to be the best at your technique, then the gifts God gave you will show.
“Give him the credit because he worked his tail off on all the new things that I taught him. And you could just see it. I could just see it through the season getting better and better and better. And I could tell, hey, the light’s getting ready to come on. And you could see it happening about Week 4 or Week 5 of the season. And it just kept getting better and better as the season went on.”
Patterson took pride in watching Lawrence blossom. It wasn’t, though, different than watching any player realize his potential.
“My job is to help my players get better. It’s not about me. I don’t let my ego get in the way. It’s not about what people say about me. It’s about me helping my players achieve their dreams,” Patterson said. “And when I say dreams, that’s a big word because some guys in the room are just trying to make the team. Some guys in the room are trying to fight to be starters. Some guys in the room are trying to get their second contract. Some guys in the room are trying to go to the Pro Bowl, and some guys in the room, if you’re lucky, have the ability to be the best at their position in the league.
“And so it’s about me doing whatever I have to do to help them achieve their dreams and their goals. It’s not about me. It’s not about me protecting my image or my label. It’s about me doing whatever I have to do to help my players achieve their goals.”
Head coach Brian Daboll had never worked with Patterson before hiring him. For Daboll, Patterson fits the mold of what he wants in his coaching staff.
“He’s got a good amount of experience. He’s a good teacher and a good communicator. His players trust him. He develops good relationships with them. Done a nice job,” Daboll said.
“That was important for me in terms of hiring our entire staff. One, they had to be good teachers. Two, they had to be good communicators. Three, they had to have good personalities. Every coach is a little bit different. I just wanted a place where players could come in and feel like they could be themselves and really trust the coaches. He’s certainly one of them.”
What’s the secret sauce?
Patterson has acknowledged that he is not a “cookie-cutter” coach, which applies to both HOW he teaches and WHAT he teaches.
In terms of the ‘how,’ Patterson said he had always brought his teaching roots to his coaching as he gets to know each player and figures out “which way his brain works.”
“Every player, you know, can’t execute their job doing the technique one way,” Patterson said. “I’ve always felt like it’s up to me to figure out the skill set as far as football is concerned of each player to figure out how each player learns because they all learn differently. It’s my responsibility as their coach to figure that out.”
It is the ‘what’ Patterson teaches that is truly fascinating. It is a holistic approach. Lawrence told the media during 2022 training camp that Patterson works “from feet up.”
“Andre’s technique, whoever you are, it makes you better,” Rodriguez said in 2022. “If you’re average, it helps you be good. If you’re good, it helps you be great. If you’re great, it helps you be the best.”
Patterson knows he is asking players to learn things that are foreign to what they have previously been taught.
“I’m real big on teaching them how to put their bodies in the right position so they can use their maximum power link and explosiveness. I start from the bottom up,” Patterson said. “So, first thing we work on is footwork. Then from footwork, how your hips are supposed to explode and extend, and then hand placement, then eyes, and vision. So, we start from the bottom up. And at the beginning some of the positions that I put ‘em in are real awkward. But then, as they get it then all of a sudden they can see how much different they are, how much more explosive they are, how much more power they’re generating.
“There’s some things that I teach them with their feet, with their hands, with their hips that are totally different from what they learned in high school, college, and if they were on other NFL teams and the pros. And again, they feel real awkward at the beginning, and it’s uncomfortable because it’s different than what they’ve been taught. But once they get it, they can see how much faster, how much more explosive, how much more stress they put on the offensive linemen.”
So, where did Patterson learn this stuff? The answer provides another window into what has allowed Patterson to be successful.
Once his playing days at Montana were done, Patterson didn’t enter coaching way back in 1982 as a graduate assistant at the school with his current approach to defensive line technique.
“It’s a little bit of everything. It’s a little bit of me being an offensive lineman when I played, me starting off coaching offensive line and understanding what the O-linemen are trying to do. And then another part of it is listening to players that I’ve had along the way,” Patterson said. “Some of this is things that I’ve stolen from different guys in this profession. As a young coach, things I got from John Randle, things I got from Chris Doleman, things I got from Willie McGinnis, things I stole from Reggie White at Pro Bowl.
“Then just putting all those together and coming up with my own ideas. I haven’t been afraid to say I’m gonna do it this way even though everybody else is doing it another way, So it’s all come together from all those different things.”
Patterson first coached in the NFL as a defensive line coach with the New England Patriots in 1997. He has long been considered one of the best, if not the best, at what he does. Yet, Patterson has never been a solo defensive coordinator or gotten head coaching consideration. He was co-defensive coordinator with the Vikings in 2020 and 2021.
I asked him if he had done everything in his career that he wanted to.
“It’s funny. I got asked that question the other day, and I was like, hey, if my career was over now, I have no regrets,” Patterson said. “I’ve done everything that you could do in this league except for go to and win a Super Bowl. I’ve been fortunate enough to coach in a lot of playoff games. I’ve coached in Pro Bowls and have been able to rub shoulders with some of the greatest players that ever played this game. I’ve been able to be around some of the best coaches to ever coach this game.
“There’s only two things that I would wish I had a chance to do, and that one would be win a Super Bowl, and two would’ve been a chance to be a head coach. But I wouldn’t have any regrets because I’ve done it for a long time. And I know I play a part in players improving not only as players but also as men. And helping them to understand that it’s about being a great son, husband, father, those things are the things that you’re really being judged on more than how great of a football player you are.”
Patterson has been asked to interview for defensive coordinator positions three times during his career. That, though, came in the days when NFL teams could deny assistant coaches permission to interview for jobs with other teams, even if it meant a possible promotion.
The Denver Broncos, where he was defensive line coach in 2005 and 2006, denied him permission once. The Cleveland Browns, where he held the defensive line job in 2003 and 2004, denied him permission to interview twice.
“It was a hard pill to swallow, but when it’s all said and done, I was the one that signed the contract,” Patterson said. “So, things could have been a little bit different if I would’ve been allowed to take those opportunities. And, if I would’ve had success, maybe that opportunity would’ve come my way to get a chance to be a head coach. But I can’t complain about that because I was the one that signed a contract, and I understood the rules of the way that they were back at that time.”
Keepin’ on keepin’ on
Patterson is 63 years old. He had a health crisis last year that caused him to spend eight days in an Intensive Care Unit, miss several weeks of work, and coach practices from a cart when he did return.
Yet, Patterson did not think about retirement. Why keep going?
“Because I love it,” he said, adding with a laugh, “You sound like my wife.”
“When my feet hit the floor in the morning, I’m still excited about going to work,” Patterson said. “I’m excited about being around my players and seeing my players every day and the camaraderie with the coaches. It’s what I love to do. It’s what makes me tick.
“It’s more of that than I would say chasing the dream of winning a Super Bowl. Don’t get me wrong, I want to do that, and I’ve got a burning desire. And I want to try to achieve that and help our team reach that goal. But it’s more that I love what I do, and it’s a huge, huge part of who I am. And I guess I’m just not ready to let it go.”
Patterson got serious about his health during the offseason. During minicamp, right after his 63rd birthday, Patterson revealed that he had lost 62 pounds since the end of the 2022 season.
“I’m doing great,” he said. “I feel like my normal self.”
“I’m glad he’s trending upwards relative to his health,” Daboll said. “It’s always good to keep your assistants. He’s certainly one of them, done a good job with the defensive line, but he also adds to the defensive room as a whole with everybody.”
Patterson credited the Giants’ training staff with pushing him.
“They’ve got me working,” he said. “The trainers have done a great job of having me work out in the pool, on the treadmill. Each week they make it harder and harder for me, and I keep coming back. That was the biggest thing, just getting myself back strong again.”
Giants defensive linemen have not let Patterson’s weight loss go without some good-natured kidding.
“They just gave me a bad time, especially Dex and Leo,” Patterson said. “But that’s a good thing, and I’m gonna try to stick to it.
“I feel great out there on the field. They’re giving me a bad time last week because I worked a pass-rush move. And Ryder [Anderson] came up to me, and he goes, coach, just think about it, six months ago, you were working from a scooter. You’re out here working a cross-chop against us. So I didn’t think about it until he said it, but I feel good.”
All of which Patterson will keep teaching, and players will keep benefiting.