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An Open Letter to Matt LaFleur: Don’t make the same mistakes Mike McCarthy did

McCarthy hung on to Dom Capers way too long despite the consistent failures of the Packers’ defense. LaFleur can’t afford the same mistake with Mike Pettine.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Green Bay Packers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Hey coach,

First off, I want to say thank you. The culture you have established through two seasons has been exactly what the Green Bay Packers, as a team and and as a franchise, have needed. You’ve brought fresh ideas both on and off the field and it breathed new life into an organization that was growing stale in multiple ways under the previous regime. Packer Nation will be forever in your debt for this.

It is in fact that previous regime in which I wish to discuss with you. As Aaron Rodgers and any player who played multiple seasons under Mike McCarthy can tell you, one of things that doomed the latter part of his tenure and kept the Green Bay Packers from returning to the Super Bowl was loyalty. Well maybe not normal loyalty (the good kind) but blind loyalty, the kind that can cause a coach to turn their head on a subordinate’s shortcomings because they feel that since that person did something well, perhaps maybe not even recently, they deserve blind faith despite multiple failures.

It is no secret to anyone that McCarthy hung on to Dom Capers far too long. After the defense played a critical role in winning Super Bowl XLV, your predecessor seemed to give Capers a blank check to do what he wanted with minimal consequences. The defense slipped significantly in the year following that Super Bowl win but no one really noticed because of the offense’s historic numbers. The following year in 2012 the defense performed slightly better but was run over in historic proportions by Colin Kaepernick in the divisional playoffs. 2014 brought a historic collapse in the NFC Championship and the following two seasons saw the Packers lose in games where the defense gave up a big play in overtime against the Cardinals and then was humiliated by Kyle Shanahan and yourself in the 2016 NFC title game.

Finally, after a season where the Packers missed the playoffs, McCarthy finally fired Capers.

Today you face a similar crossroads with not just one but two of your coordinators and I must encourage you to not make the same mistake McCarthy did: you have to fire defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, as well as special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga. It is indeed a tough decision but one you must make because the Super Bowl window for your team is only open a fraction of the way now.

When you were hired by the Packers, you made the decision to retain Mike Pettine. It was a smart call, as stability on that side of the ball would allow you as a rookie head coach to focus on your specialty: the offense. After the defense saved the day for your still-developing offense early last year, maybe you felt you owed Pettine after his defense was humiliated twice by your former boss Shanahan, once in the regular season and again in the NFC Championship. After all, the team had invested plenty on that side of the ball and it showed plenty of promise early in the season before it started to struggle late in the year leading to the collapse in San Francisco.

Then came this year, the strangest of all seasons thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. No one really knew what to expect thanks to a lack of offseason in-person work, but folks hoped the offense would rise to the occasion and the defense would learn from its late season mistakes from a year ago.

The former happened in spades, the latter did not. Time and again your offense would race out to a big lead only to have the defense let opponents back in. The team would usually close the deal, with the loss to the Colts being the exceptions, but it showed a dangerous flaw.

Yet you rode this flaw all the way to the NFC championship for a second consecutive season and also for the second straight season, that flaw was exposed. Kevin King was targeted like a small child in a dodgeball game and a more experienced hand, Tramon Williams, was left on the sideline for the entire game when all you needed was one stop, which Williams arguably would have had a better shot at making.

Then there’s the touchdown on the final play of the first half. How is the defense in man coverage with a single high safety on that play? That alone should be a fireable offense. If the Bucs don’t make that play, in theory, this isn’t being written to you right now and you’re preparing for Super Bowl LV.

I know it might be tough because you like Mike and a lot of the players seem to like Mike, but this isn’t the time for being chummy. Sentimentality does not win championships. Wade Phillips is out there. I’m sure the prospect of having Aaron Rodgers and a high octane offense would be more than enough to woo the defensive guru to Green Bay.

You have a chance here to add a wizard when your current coordinator is nothing but a court jester.

You very well may only have one more chance to get to the Super Bowl with Aaron Rodgers at the controls. It’s time to go “all-in” and paint with broad strokes to get the completed painting you’ve been imagining since you arrived here.

As for Mennenga, need I go on? There’s plenty of evidence on tape and I’d think you know the way to go here.

Thanks for your efforts so far in your time here. You’ve done things no other coach here has done but in Titletown, we don’t count close calls. We don’t hang conference finalist or division titles like other lesser franchises do. We only count championships.

We still believe in you, but it’s time to take action. Don’t make the same mistakes your predecessor did.

Go Pack Go.

—Kris