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Bearded, bright and backward-hat-wearing Matt Patricia is a hot head-coaching candidate

Matt Patricia is a burly guy with a bushy beard, his hat turned backward and a preference for wearing shorts instead of pants. In all temperatures.

Well, except really, really frigid ones.

The 43-year-old is currently the New England Patriots’ defensive coordinator, but this year he’s also again one of the names mentioned most frequently as a head-coaching candidate for one of the several teams looking for a new one.

The Detroit Lions, New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals have all formally requested interviews with Patricia, who is wrapping up his sixth season as the Patriots’ defensive coordinator. But he’s far less known than his offensive counterpart in New England, Josh McDaniels.

So, who is Matt Patricia?

New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is a hot head coaching candidate, but who is he? (AP)

Beloved by his players, who call him “Matty P,” Patricia has one of the more unique backstories in the NFL coaching ranks: He did play college football, as an offensive lineman at Division III Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, but his degree is in aeronautical engineering. He is, literally, a rocket scientist.

And when he first graduated, Patricia followed that path: He worked as an application engineer at Hoffman Air & Filtration Systems, then in East Syracuse, New York, about 40 minutes west of where he grew up, in the tiny city of Sherrill, New York.

He even wore a shirt and tie.

But the cubicle life wasn’t for Patricia. He wanted to coach football. He wanted to be the man his players looked up to, like the coaches he’d played for. So he left his reasonably well-paying job behind and took a job coaching the defensive line at Amherst College in Massachusetts for $10,000.

After two years, he was back near his hometown, as a graduate assistant at Syracuse University. Patricia was there for three years when he applied to work for the Patriots in 2004, as the lowest-level coach on the Bill Belichick totem pole.

Belichick grilled him, as he does all of his prospective assistants, and Patricia couldn’t believe how intense the interview was. But he was offered the job.

Already used to long hours of studying as an aeronautical engineering student, he returned to that life again with the Patriots – and really, he hasn’t left it. Patricia cops to getting four hours of sleep “on a good night,” but often gets even less than that. There’s always work to be done, he reasons, more to do to make sure players are ready for the next game.

His No. 2 pencil nearly always tucked behind his right ear for easy access, Patricia is easily recognizable on the Patriots sideline by his bright red team pullover. He chose the color so his players can quickly identify him if he’s sending in signals.

It was easy at first to overlook Patricia as coordinator; Belichick made his bones as the Giants’ defensive coordinator in the 1980s, and his opponent-specific approach makes game-planning a little tougher than it might be for other teams.

But now it’s Patricia’s unit, and under his tutelage, New England has finished no lower than 10th in points allowed. This year, it was fifth, a major turnaround after some early season struggles. Last year it was first.

Patricia isn’t big on appearance, but to some NFL observers, one wardrobe choice may actually hinder his chances of getting hired, despite all of the interest teams have.

When the Patriots returned to Boston from Houston after winning Super Bowl LI last February, cameras stationed at Logan Airport caught Patricia wearing a T-shirt depicting commissioner Roger Goodell with a big red clown nose. Fans, of course, loved it; after a legal fight, Tom Brady had missed the first four games of the season, suspended for his alleged part in deflate-gate. In spite of that, however, the Patriots had endured and advanced, and after the team’s incredible comeback against the Falcons, Goodell had to hand the Super Bowl MVP trophy to Brady.

If Goodell is still angry about the shirt, could he step in and dissuade a team from hiring Patricia? It would be quite petty to do so, and by and large the Patriots’ rank-and-file downplayed their anger at Goodell for deflate-gate, which they viewed as a witch hunt. And if Goodell did say something, would a team still say, “too bad, we think he’s the best guy for us”?

Football isn’t really rocket science, despite how some portray it. But if you’re one who views it that way, Patricia is the guy for the job.