There was really only one question that needed answering when Matt LaFleur sat down at the podium on Wednesday afternoon. Have you talked to Aaron Rodgers? By the time the question had been asked, Mark Murphy already dropped the nugget Rodgers had been part of the Green Bay Packers’ leadership committee during the process. Importantly, he was not on the search committee.
For some fans, and likely some ready-to-pounce media members, that phrasing stands out as a red flag. The Packers really put Rodgers on an advisory committee to find the next coach alongside guys like former GM Charley Casserly? See, Green Bay really did let Rodgers pick his own coach and of course he picked some neophyte he can walk all over.
If you think those exact conversations aren’t happening, just spend a few minutes on Packers Twitter or watching FOX Sports 1 (emphasis on “a few). They’re also silly to the point of being disrespectful in the case of calling LaFleur a “pushover.”
That’s not what happened, though. The advisory committee and leadership committees are different, as is the search committee. It’s a fitting homage to Mike McCarthy’s running back usage to find his replacement by committee. Rodgers offered his input, but only as part of a nine-player group who offered their input about personality traits and leadership style. He was not bigger than the team, nor was his voice considered bigger than the other players on this committee. That’s why you have a committee.
On the other hand, the hiring process revealed something pretty clear in terms of how the Packers front office viewed this search: it’s all about Aaron Rodgers. So if you’re going to hire a coach to recapture the Rodgers magic, it only follows to actually get input from Rodgers. What do you think the team needs? What do you want? Does it have to be a West Coast coach? But Rodgers offered that input alongside other players who would presumably also be impacted by those decisions.
Murphy and Brian Gutekunst didn’t ultimately have to acquiesce to every demand, but as they referred to it, the search was a learning process. Taking input from the player whose play ultimately will decide the fate of the franchise makes sense. It’s possible Rodgers never wanted to make a switch as drastic as moving from McCarthy’s modern West Coast schemes to the Erhardt-Perkins world with Josh McDaniels. You don’t have to know the intricate differences between those systems to know they’re different, from the verbiage, to common route concepts and more.
At the very least, it’s reasonable to conclude Rodgers and other key offensive players showed a willingness to learn LaFleur’s system, based on some West Coast concepts going back to the Mike Shanahan era, with what is basically the same verbiage. The offense won’t look like McCarthy’s offense at the snap, but it will sound similar in the huddle and will feature many of the same passing game concepts.
In some ways, it’s the logical conclusion for the Packers to come to after deciding McCarthy’s system had stagnated, as had the franchise’s sense of urgency. We might not call Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay’s offenses “West Coast,” but the bones are very similar, just with a modern twist with formation, motion, and personnel usage. It’s exactly the kind of updating the team needs, without requiring a full overhaul. It’s safe to assume having some familiarity with the concepts will provide a modicum of continuity for young players like Aaron Jones, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown.
Rodgers was always going to be able to adapt. It was a question of his willingness.
Back to the original question though: had LaFleur talked to Rodgers? Yes, he said, offering little more insight into the conversation than saying the two were ready and excited to work together. We later learned this conversation didn’t happen because LaFleur reached out to Rodgers, but rather that general manager Brian Gutekunst asked Rodgers to make contact before the job had even be finalized.
Not only does this resonate as a representation of how the team feels about its quarterback, but also its head coach. Before a contract is even done, the team has its ultra-famous, two-time MVP quarterback reach out, in some ways as a closer. Green Bay may not have felt it necessary to sell LaFleur per se, but making that connection before a deal is announced serves to solidify the standing of both coach and quarterback within the organization. LaFleur gets to feel wanted by team and star player, while the star quarterback plays his own important role in the process.
While we have no idea how LaFleur will do as a coach or how well he and Rodgers will mesh, it’s hard to imagine the Packers handling Rodgers’ involvement in the process with any more aplomb. His input was considered, but not required; in a way, he got to be the one to let LaFleur know the job was his. The new coach joked Wednesday he figured he’d gotten the job once Rodgers called.
This was not a star player holding his franchise hostage, or a team knuckling under for its superstar. For all the concerns about Murphy’s involvement in the process, his insistence of running the show, and the worries Rodgers would have too much say and ultimately push for a patsy coach, none of those fears appeared to come true. LaFleur will have to write his own coaching legacy in the coming months and years, but the process by which Green Bay selected him, the most prepared and impressive candidate they interviewed, looks solid.
Now, the Packers have to hope playing this coaching search just right with Rodgers translates to Rodgers playing just right on Sundays this fall.