After thirteen relatively successful years under Mike McCarthy’s leadership, the Packers have finally moved on. It was no surprise to the Cheesehead faithful, given the staleness of the offence and the very clear breakdown in relations between McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers. The man chosen as his replacement though, will have come as a surprise.
Matt LaFleur is that man. He has no prior head coaching experience, but has worked extensively under the Shanahan coaching tree, for both Mike and Kyle. He initially served as a quarterback coach at Houston under the younger Shanahan, before following him to Washington to work for the elder Shanahan. It was there that he started to really cut his teeth as an offensive mind, working with RGIII and Kirk Cousins as their quarterback coach. Griffin won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award under the tutelage of LaFleur.
LaFleur dipped out of the NFL for a year, coaching at Notre Dame, before returning to again work with Kyle Shanahan, this time with the Atlanta Falcons. Under Shanahan and LaFleur, the Falcons produced a spectacular offense, posting some gaudy numbers led by eventual MVP Matt Ryan and stud wideout Julio Jones. LaFleur then moved on to become the offensive coordinator for Sean McVay with the Rams, before finally getting the opportunity to call his own plays with the Tennessee Titans this year. This is where it gets sticky for Packers fans.
The fact of the matter is that Packers fans will not really be bothered by the achievements of the Falcons and Rams offenses with LaFleur’s involvement. The credit for both of them will largely go to the two most ‘hip’ coaches in the NFL, Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay. Are the Packers trying to find the new version of those two guys? Maybe so. That is a risk that will concern some.
It should be remembered, however, that the appointment of Mike McCarthy was met with considerable disdain all those years ago, as he was the architect of the league’s worst offence at the 49ers. McCarthy revived Brett Favre and then oversaw the development of arguably the most talented quarterback to ever play the game in Rodgers.
Despite winning ‘only’ one ring, you’d be hard pressed to argue that McCarthy was the wrong choice. However, with only one season as a coordinator under his belt, it is easy to see why there is trepidation regarding the appointment of LaFleur. Shanahan was well established as an elite playcaller before getting his shot and McVay had built a great offence in Washington before getting the gig in LA. It would be hard to argue with people who think a job this big requires someone with more experience than LaFleur.
Josh McDaniels seemed the obvious choice for the Packers, given his experience of working with another claimant to the title of G.O.A.T, a certain Tom Brady. Brady has enjoyed continued success in his later years and as Aaron Rodgers is now 35, you’d think that McDaniels could get an almighty tune out of the one man in the league that you could argue is more talented than the Pats quarterback.
It also must be considered that McDaniels reputation is still tarnished after bailing on the Colts last year at the last minute. Several respected NFL journalists are however reporting that Todd Monken, the offensive coordinator for the Buccaneers, was the runner up to LaFleur in this race.
One man that will be happy, regardless of any doubts others have, is Rodgers. Whether right or wrong, it was clear that Rodgers was no longer playing for McCarthy. He, like the fans, had clearly lost patience with the lack of invention in the Packers offence and it has been widely reported that he was even calling his own plays and ignoring those of his coach. This should not be an issue with LaFleur.
Granted, the Titans offence was nothing to shout about this year, but it should be acknowledged that there is a distinct gap in talent when comparing their roster with that of the Packers. The Titans impressive victory over the Patriots showed the creativity of a LaFleur offence – constantly changing the formation, going up-tempo and lots of pre-snap motion – all things that Rodgers will love as it will help him to see what the defence is doing.
Packers fans will be excited at the prospect of Aaron Jones stepping up too. He was dreadfully underused by McCarthy – expect that to change under LaFleur, who balanced his Titans offence by utilising the talents of Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis.
Ultimately, the powers that be in Green Bay wanted someone who could challenge Rodgers on the practice field, to make him better on game days. It’s a tough ask for anybody but given that they didn’t give a single candidate a second interview, they must have been blown away by LaFleur. Doubts will linger and only time will tell, but given the presence of #12, the potential is massive. The loyal Packer fanbase will be pulling for their new head coach, but expectations will undoubtedly remain sky high.