Like most Packer fans, I know very little about Matt LaFleur. I’ve never heard the guy speak. First time I ever heard his name was this time last year, when he interviewed for head coaching jobs and landed in Tennessee as the OC.
Despite this lack of knowledge about the guy, I’m intrigued by his background, who he’s learned from and what he might bring to the Packers offense and more specifically, to Aaron Rodgers. And I can’t wait to hear him lay out his vision for this organization.
The Packers’ braintrust interviewed ten men for the head coaching job, most were former head coaches, the others were current offensive coordinators. They wrapped up their interviews on Sunday and offered LaFleur on Monday. That’s not how these things typically go. Usually, a team will pare its list down to three or four and then bring them back for a second round of interviews.
Instead, the Packers pounced. Clearly, they’d heard enough and were bowled over by their meeting and interview with LaFleur. That’s exactly what I’d hoped would happen. The betting money said Josh McDaniels was the favorite, pointing to his success working with Tom Brady and his long term ability to keep the Patriots offense fresh. He was the one guy I’d crossed off my list. How he handled the Colts situation last year should stain his prospects of getting another shot, in my opinion. Plus his abrasive, arrogant personality and desire to call all the shots made him the wrong fit in Titletown.
At 39, LaFleur appears ready for this opportunity. He’s worked under brilliant offensive minds: Mike and Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay. He was the quarterback coach in Washington when RGIII had his best season and in Atlanta when Matty Ice won the MVP. He ran the Rams offense in 2017 when they emerged as a contender in the NFC.
And then there is this past season, when he called plays for the first time and handled everything on the offensive side of the ball for the Titans’ new defensive-minded head coach Mike Vrabel. Viking fans and other Packer haters will mock his results, as his team finished near the bottom statistically in most offensive statistics.
Let’s dig a little deeper: in the season opener, Marcus Mariota suffered a nerve injury to his throwing hand that would affect him all season and they lost their best pass catcher for the year in tight end Delanie Walker. Now, name a Titans wide receiver. Right, not much talent there. As the season wore on, he changed the team’s look to one that featured Derrick Henry, and the former Bama back who had been mediocre for his first two and a half seasons, suddenly looked like a top five back in the last month of the season. The Titans almost made the playoffs, despite being led by Blaine Gabbert at quarterback.
Many football fans scoffed when Ted Thompson plucked the 49ers offensive coordinator, some obscure guy named Mike McCarthy, after his offense had finished 30th in the league. That worked out okay.
There are reports surfacing that LaFleur plans to keep Mike Pettine around to run the defense–that’s precisely what I had hoped would happen. The last thing this team needs right now is to completely clean house and start over. Pettine got off to a strong start in his first year on the job, getting buy-in from the players and showing improvement on the field, despite a rash of injuries that cost him his best players for a good chunk of the season. With re-enforcements coming in the offseason, primarily at outside linebacker and safety, the defense is trending in the right direction.
Then there is Rodgers, who we are told is on board with LaFleur’s selection. And ultimately, the new coach will be measured by how he works with the future Hall of Famer. There is work to be done on that side of the roster as well, on the offensive line, at tight end and maybe at wide receiver.
And LaFleur will get extra time, as all new head coaches do, to work with the players and implementing his new system, one that should get Rodgers excited and invigorated, something he desperately needs–we all witnessed his body language on the field this past season. He needs a reboot and LaFleur is charged with sparking it.
So the Pack has its man and now we’ll hear him talk about the culture he’s looking to build in Green Bay. The Michigan native has the backing of a lot of players who have endorsed him on Twitter–guys like Joe Thomas and yes, Kirk Cousins. Mark Murphy has put his job on the line with this hire–entrusting LaFleur with getting the most out of Rodgers’ golden years.
Let’s hope the results are golden.