On the eve of the anniversary of the Chicago Bears hiring head coach Matt Nagy, the Green Bay Packers reportedly have hired their own young offensive-minded head coach.
Multiple outlets reported Monday night that the Packers had zeroed in on Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur to be the 15th full-time head coach in franchise history.
LaFleur, 39, has never been a head coach previously. He had just completed his first year with the Titans and now will be on his fourth different team in as many years. LaFleur was the quarterbacks coach at Notre Dame in 2014 and for the Atlanta Falcons in 2015 and 2016.
After he was passed over for the Falcons’ offensive coordinator job when Kyle Shanahan became head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, LaFleur spent the 2017 season as Sean McVay’s offensive coordinator with the Los Angeles Rams.
The Packers interviewed several candidates and had a head start on their coaching search over every one of the eight NFL teams seeking a head coach except for the Cleveland Browns. After Packers president Mark Murphy and GM Brian Gutekunst started the process, it became clear that the team was seeking an innovative head coach who could push QB Aaron Rodgers back toward greatness after the team signed him to a massive extension last summer.
LaFleur worked with Matt Ryan during his MVP season in 2016 and helped Jared Goff rebound from a rocky rookie season to thrive for the Rams’ high-powered offense last season. LaFleur’s results were mixed in his one season in Tennessee, as the Titans’ offensive rankings were very similar this season to what they were in 2017 before his arrival. But the Titans also dealt with injuries, including to starting QB Marcus Mariota, who could not finish the season healthy.
The parallels between LaFleur and Nagy are fascinating. Both were lower-level college quarterbacks — Nagy at Delaware, LaFleur at Saginaw Valley State after a stint at Western Michigan — before each played professionally. Nagy had a stint in the the Arena League over seven seasons while LaFleur played briefly in the National Indoor Football League.
Both also worked under some of the more respected offensive minds in the game, with Nagy coming from Andy Reid’s highly successful coaching tree and LaFleur coming from the Mike Shanahan tree, which included Kyle Shanahan and McVay. Both Nagy and LaFleur also were 39 years old at the time they were hired and were the first men hired in their respective head-coaching cycles.
LaFleur replaces Mike McCarthy, whose 13-year run ended in early December after a shocking loss to the Arizona Cardinals. McCarthy was replaced on an interim basis by Joe Philbin as the Packers missed the postseason. But there were reports that part of the former staff could return, including defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, whose unit showed signs of improving even amid another disappointing season.
The Packers’ job was LaFleur’s only known interview for a head-coaching vacancy this year. Green Bay officially requested permission from the Titans for an interview with LaFleur on New Year’s Eve, the day after the team’s 31-0 loss to the Detroit Lions gave the Packers back-to-back losing records for the first time since the 1990 and 1991 seasons.
Clearly, the LaFleur-Rodgers relationship will be minced and monitored carefully — and perhaps exhaustively. LaFleur is a little more than four years older than the 35-year-old Rodgers, and the Packers’ QB can actually claim to have been in the NFL for longer than his new head coach. When Rodgers was drafted in Round 1 by the Packers in 2005, LaFleur was cutting his teeth as an offensive assistant at Central Michigan.
His head coach there at the time? That would be current Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, with whom LaFleur coached two different stints. When Kelly rehired LaFleur to coach the Irish quarterbacks in 2014, Kelly called him “an incredible competitor [who] displayed all the characteristics a coach would want in his signal callers.”
First-time, offensive-minded head coaches have become quite the rage around the NFL. The early success of McVay and Nagy has helped spur that, and teams losing talented offensive coordinators has prompted them to consider promoting young, innovative offensive minds to top jobs.
No one knows how LaFleur will work out yet in Green Bay, but it’s notable that he got the position over a slew of talented and (in some cases) more experienced candidates.
Among the 10 known interviews the team conducted, seven came with previous head-coaching experience (including interim) — former Colts and Lions head coach Jim Caldwell; former Colts head coach Chuck Pagano; former Broncos head coach (and current Patriots offensive coordinator) Josh McDaniels; former Dolphins interim head coach (and current Saints tight ends coach) Dan Campbell; former Dolphins head coach Adam Gase; plus Philbin.
The Packers also reportedly interviewed Patriots linebackers coach (and de facto defensive coordinator) Brian Flores, Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. and Buccaneers offensive coordinator Todd Monken.
Can LaFleur follow in the footsteps of McVay and Nagy? The Packers clearly hope so, turning over the keys of one of the NFL’s most revered franchises and the offense run by Rodgers to a first-time head coach who not long ago was a name few outside the NFL’s coaching circles even knew.
That’s what makes this hire both fascinating — and frightening.