ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia said Thursday he was “falsely accused” in a 1996 sexual assault allegation that resurfaced this week, and he indicated that the matter has not been an issue as he has climbed from job to job in the years since.
Patricia held a brief news conference one day after a Detroit News report that he and a friend were indicted 22 years ago by a Texas grand jury on one count each of aggravated sexual assault. They were accused of assaulting a woman on South Padre Island. The accuser did not testify and the case was dismissed.
“I was innocent then, and I am innocent now,” Patricia said.
The Lions said Wednesday night that a pre-employment background check did not turn up the incident. The team said Patricia was 21 at the time and on spring break in Texas. The Lions said they were standing by Patricia.
An NFL spokesman said Thursday the league “will review the matter with the club to understand the allegations and what the club has learned.”
Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford, general manager Bob Quinn and president Rod Wood were at Thursday's news conference but did not speak.
“I'm here to defend my honor and clear my name. Twenty-two years ago, I was falsely accused of something very serious,” Patricia said . “There were claims made about me that never happened. While I'm thankful on one level that the process worked, and the case was dismissed, at the same time, I was never given the opportunity to defend myself.”
Patricia took a few questions but did not provide details about the day in question.
“I was falsely accused of something that I did not do,” he said.
Patricia's first NFL coaching job was as an assistant with the New England Patriots in 2004, and he remained with them through last season, when he was the defensive coordinator. He was hired by the Lions in February to replace Jim Caldwell.
Before joining the Patriots, Patricia worked as a graduate assistant in 1996 at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, his alma mater. That was before he spent two years working as an aeronautical engineer. Patricia was an assistant coach at Amherst and a graduate assistant at Syracuse before moving on to the NFL.
“I've interviewed for a lot of jobs,” Patricia said. “Interviewing for jobs in engineering right after the situation happened, it was never an issue, it never came up as anything, because it was dismissed, and I was innocent, so it just has never been part of any process that I've been involved with.”
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said the team wasn't aware of the legal case and expressed support for Patricia.
“For 14 years in our organization, Matt conducted himself with great integrity and is known to be an outstanding coach, person and family man,” Belichick said in a statement. “We have always been confident in Matt's character and recommended him highly to become the head coach of the Detroit Lions.”