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Keeping the coach never works out

History says that if the Packers continue to lose, they should (and maybe will) move on from Matt LaFleur.

Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The 2023 Green Bay Packers have a disappointing 2-5 record after the first two months of the regular season. Over the course of a 17-game season, a 29 percent win percentage translates to about a five-win season. That’s being kind to Green Bay, as the Packers — outside of one great quarter against the New Orleans Saints in Week 3 — have been one of the worst teams in football after the opening week of play.

So what happens now? Green Bay still needs to continue to take its medicine, from a cap perspective, in 2024. Head coach Matt LaFleur was good at scheming up plays when quarterback Aaron Rodgers was throwing balls, receiver Davante Adams was catching balls and left tackle David Bakhtiari was blocking on Rodgers’ blindside, but that’s not the job that LaFleur has anymore. Now, the head coaching position for the Packers is all about the development of their rookie contract players. Through eight weeks, you can argue that the youth on Green Bay’s roster has regressed more than it has developed.

But would the Packers really let go of LaFleur? At the moment, he has a 67.1 win percentage and a 49-24 record in the regular season, even if he’s only been 10-14 in the last two years.

To try to answer that question, I looked at the history of the National Football League to find examples of coaches who are in similar situations to LaFleur. What I found was that in the Super Bowl era, only 14 coaches had five wins or fewer in Year 5 or later of a coaching stint and were retained — without having won a Super Bowl in a previous season. These are LaFleur’s comparables, at the least the ones who survived the (immediate) chopping block.

Below are the coaches, listed in order of their subsequent win percentage after they were retained following a sub-six-win season:

  • Jason Garrett: 40-24 (.625)
  • Dan Reeves: 20-12 (.625)
  • Marvin Lewis: 85-73-2 (.538)
  • Wayne Fontes: 34-30 (.531)
  • Jeff Fisher: 49-47 (.510)
  • Bart Starr: 26-29-2 (.482)
  • John McKay: 22-25 (.468)
  • Jack Del Rio: 18-25 (.419)
  • Sam Rutigliano: 10-14 (.417)
  • Dick Nolan: 11-17 (.393)
  • Mike Smith: 6-10 (.375)
  • Jack Patera: 6-12 (.333)
  • Dave Wannstedt: 4-12 (.250)
  • John Robinson: 3-13 (.188)

In total, only 5 of those 14 coaches had a winning record after they were kept. It’s worth noting here that the two most successful coaches in this group, Garrett and Reeves, had pretty interesting circumstances for being on this list.

Garrett went 4-12 in 2015, in between 12-4 and 13-3 seasons, because quarterback Tony Romo — who finished the season with a 3-1 record — battled through injuries. Without Romo in the lineup, the combination of Matt Cassell, Kellen Moore and Brandon Weeden under center went a combined 1-11.

Reeves hadn’t won the Super Bowl, but he got about as close as you could before going 5-11 in 1990. In the previous four seasons, Reeves’ Denver Broncos were named AFC Champions three times in four years. Reeves spent two seasons as the Broncos’ head coach before being replaced.

So if you exclude those two circumstances, the next best examples of coaches having this bad of a season this late into their coaching careers and bouncing back are Marvin Lewis, Wayne Fontes and Jeff Fisher. Woof.

All this can change if the Packers start winning games, but it’s not looking pretty for LaFleur’s future. Here are the next five games on the Packers’ schedule:

By December 11, when Green Bay heads to New York to take on the Giants, there’s a decent chance that the team’s record is going to be somewhere in the 3-9 range. For perspective, that would give LaFleur an 11-18 record over the 2022-2023 seasons. Mike McCarthy was fired mid-season for going 4-7-1 in 2018 and was 11-16-1 in his final two years as head coach in Green Bay.

Yes, 2023 was supposed to be a “rebuilding” year for the Packers, but there’s still a standard in the NFL. Veteran coaches do not get to lose double-digit games and keep their job, even if their hand is tied by their cap situation. When they do manage to slip through the cracks, the results hover around .500 for the remainder of their career — at best.

I’m rooting for LaFleur to get this ship turned around, but six is the magic number, if we’re talking about the win column. The next month or so should go a long way to prove whether or not this Packers squad is going to come close to that mark.