This past August, the Green Bay Packers signed quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a four-year, $134 million dollar extension. Unfortunately for the Packers and Rodgers, the season that followed the new deal didn’t play out as hoped. Rodgers suffered a knee injury in their season opener, which hampered him throughout the season. To go along with that, the supposed riff between him and Mike McCarthy finally came to a head. Not only did McCarthy lose his job, but for the second straight season the Packers missed the playoffs.
Though the numbers might not reflect it, 25 touchdowns passes with only two interceptions, Rodgers and the rest of the Packers offense wasn’t what we were accustomed to seeing. The once mighty Packers offense, led by Rodgers, looked stale and discombobulated. With that in mind, president Mark Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst knew a change was needed. The team needed new leadership, especially on offense. While the whole team needed a new direction, Murphy and Gutekunst had to believe that the offense was the biggest issue when searching for a new head coach. The Matt LaFleur hiring pushes the Green Bay Packers all in on offense.
Matt LaFleur Hiring Pushes the Green Bay Packers All In on Offense
The hottest name in NFL coaching right now is Sean McVay. At only 32 years of age, McVay has helped mold the Los Angeles Rams offense into the gold standard for NFL offenses. Because of his creativity and youthful enthusiasm, these past two seasons have seen the Rams win 24 regular season games. He has also led the Rams to consecutive playoff appearances.
It appears that Murphy and Gutekunst took notice of what McVay has done. With the Packers offense suffering the past two seasons, it is highly likely that both men yearned to bring the same type of offensive explosiveness back to Lambeau Field that the Rams currently have. That belief led to the Packers interviewing and eventually hiring Matt LaFleur.
Paid His Dues
While some so-called experts believe that LaFleur got the Packers head coaching job because he “bro’d it up” with McVay, that is far from the truth. LaFleur isn’t a failed college head coach or a one-year wonder assistant. He has paid his dues as an assistant.
LaFleur has been an NFL assistant for 10 years, as a quality control assistant, quarterbacks coach, as well as an offensive coordinator for two different NFL teams. Along with his time in the NFL, he spent six seasons as an assistant at the college level. In college, he coached under Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. At the NFL level, he learned under Mike Shanahan, Kyle Shanahan, and also McVay. In 2016, he was the quarterbacks coach for the Atlanta Falcons. That season, quarterback Matt Ryan won the NFL MVP award.
In McVay’s first season with the Rams, LaFleur was the Rams offensive coordinator. That season, the Rams finished with an 11-5 regular season record and earned a playoff berth. Their offense led the NFL in passing and finished seventh in rushing.
Paving His Own Way
Instead of staying with the Rams for a second season, LaFleur chose to leave. He was then hired as the Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator. He chose to do this because he would have the opportunity to call his own plays, something McVay did and continues to do with the Rams.
Although the Titans offense struggled, finishing 23rd in total yards and passing, their struggles weren’t all on LaFleur. The Titans starting quarterback Marcus Mariota missed a plethora of time because of injuries and the Titans also were without the services of their top two tight ends.
If this sounds familiar to Packers fans, it should. As Jason Wilde of ESPNWisconsin.com recently pointed out, when Ted Thompson hired McCarthy in 2006, McCarthy was the San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator. In his lone season as the 49ers offensive coordinator, they finished last in total offense and 30th in scoring. This illustrates that LaFleur’s one season with the Titans doesn’t mean he can’t run a productive offense. The level of quarterback play between the Titans and what the Packers have isn’t comparable. Instead of dealing with a learning young quarterback as he had in Mariota, he will now be working with a two-time league MVP and a former Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
Surrounding Himself With the Right Staff
With only one year of play-calling under his belt and being a rookie head coach, LaFleur has a lot to learn. To help him with the learning curve, it will be essential that he hires the right staff to surround himself with. That’s especially true on the defensive side of the ball.
Although nothing has officially been announced, it appears that LaFleur will keep Mike Pettine and the Packers defensive staff. This should be looked as a very big positive for LaFleur. Pettine is an established defensive coordinator and has a proven track record.
Many have heaped praise on Pettine for his work that he did with the Packers defense this past season. Although there are improvements to be made, the Packers finished 21st against the pass and 22nd against the run, the defense improved under Pettine. To go along with being one of the better defensive minds in the NFL, Pettine is a former head coach that can help LaFleur in dealing with being a first-time head coach.
Coaching Overhaul on Offense and Defense
While it appears the defensive staff will stay, the same can’t be said about the Packers offensive staff. LaFleur has inherited an offensive and even special teams staff that will need a major overhaul.
Frank Cignetti (quarterbacks coach) and Jim Hostler (passing game coordinator) just finished their first season as Packers offensive assistants. Even though both coaches resumes were littered with teams that had losing records, they were brought on to the staff. Their past working relationships with McCarthy no doubt helped them with landing their positions. With McCarthy departed, it appears both will be packing their whistles and clipboards.
Along with Cignetti and Hostler, it is highly doubtful that Ron Zook will keep his job as the special teams coordinator. Under Zook, the special teams week in and week out not only failed to produce but actually hurt the Packers in trying to win games.
Two possible holdovers could be offensive line/run game coordinator James Campen and offensive coordinator/interim head coach Joe Philbin. Campen has done a strong job with the Packers offensive line. He has helped David Bakhtiari become an upper-echelon left tackle and helped make Corey Linsley an up and comer in the NFL. He has also developed undrafted free agents into serviceable NFL offensive lineman.
Experienced Offensive Assistant Coaches Wanted
With Philbin, it will be a tough call. He has been a dedicated employee of the Packers organization for many years. When McCarthy was fired, he put his close relationship with McCarthy aside and took over as the interim head coach. Philbin not only has years of experience as an assistant but also has spent time as an NFL coach. If Campen is let go, it is possible that Philbin could replace him. He has experience as an offensive line coach.
If LaFleur doesn’t retain Philbin, it would be best that he bring in experienced NFL offensive assistants. Being a head coach is a lot different than being an assistant. He will be pulled in many different directions, so he will need to rely on his assistants. Like with Pettine, it would be best that those assistants have NFL experience.
Not only would it be best that they have experience, but that they have different backgrounds as well. It didn’t help McCarthy this past season when he chose to bring in coaches like Cignetti and Hostler. Besides both not having a winning background, both were close friends of McCarthy’s and it is assumed, just yes men to McCarthy.
A Leader of Men Required
The choice of Matt LaFleur as the Packers new head coach comes with a lot of risks. Having a great offensive mind helps but it doesn’t guarantee success. LaFleur isn’t just in charge of improving Rodgers’ play and reinventing the Packers offense. But he is now in charge of all aspects of the Packers. Defense, special teams, time management, and so on. He will need to show that he is the leader of this team. This means that he will have to earn the respect not just of the offense, but all of his players.
While McVay and Kyle Shanahan have shown that they are offensive innovators, neither have won a playoff game as an NFL head coach. In fact, in two years as the 49ers head coach, Shanahan has yet to lead them to a winning record. Being successful on just one side of the ball doesn’t guarantee championships.
If becoming a leader of an NFL team isn’t pressure enough, LaFleur will have the pressure of needing to win immediately. When Aaron Rodgers is your starting quarterback, getting to the playoffs just isn’t enough. McCarthy knew that and discovered that this season. Mark Murphy lost sight of that which is why he’s preaching how important it is to get back to the Super Bowl.
If LaFleur fails to live up to those expectations, even with it being his first season, jobs will be lost. The NFL business doesn’t allow head coaches time like they used to. If the Packers continue their losing ways, it isn’t out of the realm that LaFleur would lose his job. Joining LaFleur would be Murphy and possibly Gutekunst.
A lot is riding on the hiring of LaFleur. For Murphy and Gutekunst, they are possibly betting their jobs that he is the answer to get back to the Super Bowl.