Welcome to the Matt LaFleur era. Feels a little strange, doesn’t it?
The Green Bay Packers have their first new non-interim head coach since 2006, and if you’re still processing the hire, you’ve got plenty of company. Many members of the APC staff are still working through their own feelings on the decision, as you’ll read below.
LaFleur will be formally introduced as the new Packers head coach this afternoon, but that new conference notwithstanding, we want to know the answer to a simple question: what’s your gut reaction to the LaFleur hire? Here are ours.
Wendi Hansen: Shook (in the best possible way)
I’m not going to lie, when the news first broke that the Packers had indeed hired LaFleur, my gut reaction was “LaFleur. LaFleur?! LaFleur. Huh.” I was sort of indifferent, a little nervous, nervous and did I mention nervous? I knew of him, of course. His prior work with greats like McVay and Shanahan preceded him, not to mention the fact that he was Matt Ryan’s QB coach the year he won MVP. That says something.
The more I read and researched, the more my confidence grew. LaFleur is young, innovative, creative and has just enough gumption to both allow Rodgers to do his thang, but reign him in when necessary. No one knows how this hire will pan out, and his actions on the field and with these guys will ultimately speak louder than words, but I’m excited to see what this offseason will bring, and the growth that will incur in 2019. Welcome to Green Bay, LaFleur.
Bob Fitch: Wary
I’m not going to profess that I know very much about the offensive scheme that LeFleur runs; I went to a Titans game this year and they lost to the Bills by a point, looking pretty bad while they did it. Ranking close to last in a lot of major offensive metrics isn’t a good look, but neither is having your starting quarterback injured with nerve damage and having Blaine Gabbert throw ⅓ of your offense’s passes. Let’s not kid ourselves; Mike Pettine will handle the defense, and LeFleur was brought in to ‘fix’ Aaron Rodgers and the good-but-could-be-better offense. Being a part of successful offenses can certainly look good on a resume, but it’s impossible for any outsider to know exactly what impact LeFleur had on those offenses.
With all that said, it’s hard not to get excited about a shakeup in Green Bay. After many years of sticking with the same regime and not achieving anything in recent years, a breakup was overdue and Green Bay has since rebounded with a trendy young name on the coaching market. The sticker is still shiny on our new toy, so it’s fun and exciting for now, but consider me cautious.
Paul Noonan: Extremely skeptical
This fundamentally comes down to LaFleur’s ability to get along with and fix Aaron Rodgers, and not much else matters. That is fundamentally a personality question, and I won’t pretend to know whether or not he’s the right guy, but what we do know of LaFleur is troubling. By almost all accounts, LaFleur hasn’t actually been in charge of any of the offense run by the various wunderkinder he’s been around. More troubling, Sean McVay did not have to let him go to Tennessee and did. More troubling, LaFleur was originally considered for the head coaching job for the Titans, was rejected, and came back for a lesser role. More troubling, the Rams improved without him, and the Titans were downright bad. More troubling, many of his past press conferences reference a desire for offensive balance. More troubling, he is retaining Mike Pettine, indicating to me he doesn’t have his own guys or vision.
There are excuses for all of these things, including injuries to Marcus Mariota, and he’s been around a lot of success, but I like to see some tangible accomplishments in my head coaches, not just projectability. I don’t care for excuses, and when I hear one, I want it followed by “I learned from that, and succeeded in this way.” Hopefully, Gute and Murphy are excellent interviewers, but if this regime crashes and burns I won’t be a bit surprised.
Jon Meerdink: Thoroughly whelmed
If there was a list of what “Packers internet” wanted in the next head coach, Matt LaFleur is probably very close to what the Head Coach Generator Bot 3000 would have spit out. He’s young, has an offensive background, as is connected to some of the brightest stars in the world of coaching.
But after reflecting on the hire for a couple of days now, I don’t find myself particularly excited or put off by the hire. I think that’s because there’s nothing you can point at and say “Yes, that is the definable quality that makes Matt LaFleur a viable head coach candidate.” He has more than a few positive attributes (and nearly just as many possible red flags), but generally, it’s just a lot of pretty okay resume line items.
That leaves me neither over- or underwhelmed by LaFleur, but also not angry, excited, or happy. Put me down as feeling very whelmed. I can’t muster much more feeling than that right now.
Evan “Tex” Western: I want to believe
I’m not 100% there yet on Matt LaFleur. I’ve made the case for him to myself several times in the past week or so, but I still find myself cautious because of one specific factor, despite being able to rationalize it.
My main hangup is the fact that LaFleur has just a single year of play-calling experience, and in that one season, his Titans offense finished 22nd in DVOA. This is very much unlike Mike McCarthy, who had a significant body of work as a play-caller before Ted Thompson hired him. However, it is similar in that McCarthy’s one-year stop in San Francisco the season before he came to Green Bay resulted in one of the worst offenses in the NFL.
The rationalizations here are that the Titans lost their best receiving weapon (tight end Delanie Walker) for the season in week one and their starting quarterback, Marcus Mariota, was injured all season, missing two games and significant portions of three others. The other thing I see is that from some film breakdowns (thanks Dusty Evely), you see the types of creative route concepts and combinations that the Kyle Shanahans and Sean McVays of the world use — a welcome sight after Mike McCarthy’s slant/flat and iso routes on every passing play.
I’m not worried about LaFleur’s personality meshing with Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers has said that he wants to be coached and challenged, and it seemed that he was mentally checked out in 2018. If former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky — one of LaFleur’s former players — is to be believed, that’s exactly what LaFleur will do for Rodgers.
Congrats to LaFleur. I’ve known the dude for 10+ years now, played for em twice. I love the hiring. Dudes very bright, very creative, knows how to attack defenses, has had great teaching and the biggest thing-he’s gonna coach the HECK out of 12 and challenge him DAILY! @packers— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) January 7, 2019
I never really believed that the Packers needed someone to come in and establish dominance over Rodgers. I thought the best option was to find someone who could establish a genuine rapport and mutual respect with him and who could stimulate him as a quarterback, both in his mechanics and decision-making. The fact that LaFleur has a background as a quarterback himself can only help in that regard.
Ultimately, the ability of LaFleur to mold his vision for the offense around the Packers’ talent — Rodgers in particular — will be the determining factor in whether the unit returns to elite status, which will, in turn, decide if the team as a whole is a contender again. I think LaFleur has the right background and temperament for that task, but my reservations about his experience will still concern me until proven wrong.
Peter Bukowski: Surprised, but not shocked
I have no idea if Matt LaFleur will be a good coach. And based on the enormous variations in reactions among national pundits — many of whom didn’t even bother to do baseline homework — neither do most people. To hire him this quickly amid reports Josh McDaniels was the frontrunner suggests a coach who blew Mark Murphy and Brian Gutekunst away in the interview process. That’s no guarantee of success. It’s fair to say most coaches who end up getting hired were impressive in their interviews, otherwise, they probably don’t get hired.
This feels like the Mike Pettine hire to me. It wasn’t who I thought the best choice would be (Josh McDaniels is my Vic Fangio in this case), but the more I dig into LaFleur, the more I learn about his past and pedigree, the most impressive he becomes to me. And the reasons to pick him over McDaniels from a personality and risk standpoint should be obvious.
APC’s Jason Hirschhorn made a point to me that has really resonated: the biggest risk the Packers could have taken was to not take one at all. Bruce Arians, Jim Caldwell, Chuck Pagano, we knew what the ceiling was with those coaches. The retention of Pettine makes this hire’s intent clear: bring the Packers offense into the 21st century, re-engage Rodgers and bring some creativity to the mix. LaFleur appears to be equipped to do that.
How do you grade the Packers’ hiring of Matt LaFleur as head coach?
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