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Matt LaFleur’s mandate to update the Packers’ offense starts with finding the right coordinator

With Mike Pettine returning to run the defense, Green Bay clearly wants LaFleur focusing on the offensive side of the ball. Here are some ideas of who he could tab as OC.

NFL: Tennessee Titans-Training Camp
Matt LaFleur looks poised to call plays, which may complicate the potential search for an OC.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Look around the league at the top offenses in football and you’re unlikely to find deadweight coaches trudging alongside the innovators. Andy Reid doesn’t employ stragglers. Matt Nagy packed his staff with young offensive minds. Doug Pederson might just have had the best offensive staff in football when the Eagles won the Super Bowl last season. And Sean McVay just had one former coach hired for a head job. Zac Taylor may be next.

Hiring Joe Philbin to a major offensive position like coordinator doesn’t represent the way the modern NFL works. For whatever benefit there may have been to having a respected coach already in the room, he’s not the guy to push the offensive forward in a way it so desperately requires. The Green Bay Packers theoretically didn’t hire LaFleur for continuity’s sake. They did it to blow things up on a certain level.

That leaves Green Bay in search of an offensive coordinator, someone who the team reportedly would like to have ties to the Shanahan-McVay offense. Remember, for all the plaudits McVay rightly receives for his offense, the bones of it are Shanahan the elder’s, while the younger Shanahan and McVay have developed their own modern wrinkles. Any job coaching Aaron Rodgers will be desirable, but not having the chance to call plays could limit the field of candidates for LaFleur and the Packers.

The most obvious choice is a name many fans considered before LaFleur got the job: Rams quarterback coach Zac Taylor. Some suggested a Vic Fangio head coach with Taylor running the offense represented the best option for the Packers offense. But while McVay let LaFleur go to Tennessee because he was going to get to call plays, it appears unlikely he’ll do the same for Taylor — precisely because he won’t. That signals LaFleur will, indeed, call plays for the Packers which may potentially complicate the search.

Green Bay could run into the same issue with Rams passing game coordinator Shane Waldron, who has garnered some head coaching buzz, including reported interest from the Bengals. McVay appears to be a coach who, like McCarthy in Green Bay, wants to see his coaches go off and succeed, but only in the right situations. The playcalling problem once again crops up.

But there are two Rams coaches who make sense and could view the Packers OC as a step up for them, assuming McVay agrees to let them leave. The first is Aaron Kromer, a veteran offensive line coach who coached on Sean Payton’s Saints staff as part of their Super Bowl run. He also served as Bears OC and line coach for two seasons. His teams consistently maximize their talent along the offensive line and he would be an excellent coach to make sure the franchise quarterback stays clean.

The other possible option is the peripatetic Jedd Fisch who, because he’s moved around so much, has worked for coaches like Steve Spurrier, Brian Billick, Mike Shanahan, Pete Carroll, and Jim Harbaugh. Still, Fisch is just 42, comes with that diverse background in multiple offenses with college connections, and could be the kind of coach who offers unique suggestions to a coach like LaFleur, who has really only ever coached one type of offense.

Another intuitive choice would be Matt’s brother Mike, the 49ers’ receivers coach and passing game coordinator. He checks the requisite boxes in terms of experience and relationship, but according to NBC Sports in the Bay Area, would prefer to remain in San Francisco. Working with your brother is certainly different than working for him, plus it’s not hard to see why a young candidate like the 35-year-old LaFleur the young would view an OC job without playcalling as a lateral move.

This speaks to the difficulty the Packers might have filling this void. LaFleur, at 39, has been around myriad quality coaches, but many of them have also graduated to bigger roles. Even though a coach like Gary Kubiak expressed interest in returning to coaching as a coordinator, that kind of move doesn’t fit with Green Bay’s vision moving forward. LaFleur may lack the kind of longstanding relationships with coaches to come in just to be an offensive consigliere.

When Mike McCarthy wanted to revamp his offense, he had coaches he could call, including Philbin. While ultimately that turned out to be insufficient, at least he had a cell phone with legitimate names on it.

Looking at the Titans staff LaFleur put together, there’s no name that jumps out from the usual places. The quarterbacks coach, Pat O’Hara, spent most of his career coaching in the arena league and before Tennessee was in Houston as an offensive assistant. Receivers coach Rob Moore has only ever filled that role, going back to 2013 with the Bills and Raiders.

The most intriguing name on the list of potential candidates is Mike McDaniel, a name to watch in the coming days. A former receiver at Yale, McDaniel has climbed all over the Shanahan tree along with LaFleur. The two coached together for a season on Gary Kubiak’s staff in Houston. Then, while LaFleur coached the QBs in Washington, McDaniel served as an offensive assistant and receivers coach. The two once again reunited in Atlanta for the Matt Ryan renaissance, before LaFleur went to LA and McDaniel to San Francisco with —wait for it — Kyle Shanahan.

Experience in the Shanahan offense? Check. Previous coaching connection and relationship with LaFleur? Check. Sharp, up-and-coming coach who won’t be afraid to adjust on the fly? Check.

One outside-the-box choice would be Shane Steichen, the Chargers quarterbacks coach. He’s said to be well-respected inside the Packers organization and although he’s not a Shanahan disciple, he worked under Frank Reich and Mike McCoy in San Diego (before the LA move) and survived McCoy’s firing. His experience with Philip Rivers could dovetail nicely with an offense built around Aaron Rodgers as his physical tools inevitably decline as he ages. He was set to be the OC for Josh McDaniels in Indianapolis before the infamous pull-out, which confirms he’s seen as a future OC by at least one smart offensive coach.

Ultimately, the Packers must find a coach they see as able to both challenge LaFleur to keep the offense fresh, while working with him to revamp it from the ground up. There likely won’t be the sexy, splash hire like Zac Taylor, but there are quality options available to the Packers. Getting the OC hire right won’t be nearly as important as the DC hire, and the entire organization seems sure that’s been taken care of by keeping Mike Pettine. Still, a first-time head coach has to find someone who can keep the ship steady even if he’s not calling plays, while balancing the desire to innovate and create anew. That mantra is the story of the Packers 2019 offseason, so why should such an important hire be any different?