Packers Head Coach Candidate: Matt LaFleur
There seem to be two prevailing opinions as to who the Packers should hire to be their next head coach. First, the Packers should hire an offense-oriented coach. And second, that coach should be part of the wave of young, new coaches who are having success in the league.
If those are truly the credentials worth considering, Matt LaFleur should be on the Packers’ radar. He’s only worked on the offensive side of the ball, he’s just 39 years old, and he’s demonstrated progressive growth toward bigger and bigger roles the longer his career has worn on.
But if that makes him seem like a slam dunk candidate, a word of potential caution: despite being close to success, it’s not clear exactly what role LaFleur has played in it.
The details on Matt LaFleur
Most recent job: Offensive Coordinator of the Tennessee Titans
Record as a head coach: 0-0
First job: Offensive Assistant at Saginaw Valley State
Packers connection: LaFleur worked with Ejiro Evero with the Los Angeles Rams in 2017. Evero was the Packers’ defensive quality control coach in 2016. With the Houston Texans, LaFleur worked with Jethro Franklin, who was a member of the Packers’ coaching staff from 2000 through 2004. While with the Atlanta Falcons, LaFleur worked with Marquand Manuel, who’s now the team’s defensive coordinator. Manuel played one season with the Packers in 2006.
The background on Matt LaFleur
He hasn’t gotten some of the press of his contemporaries, but Matt LaFleur should be considered one of the hottest rising stars in coaching right now.
After five years in the college ranks, LaFleur landed his first job in the NFL in 2008, serving as the Houston Texans’ offensive quality control coach under head coach Gary Kubiak. That job sparked a decade-long meteoric rise that saw LaFleur pair with some of the biggest young names in coaching.
After two years in Houston, LaFleur traveled to Washington, where he joined Mike Shanahan’s Redskins staff as a quarterbacks coach. Readers familiar with the career arcs of the two trendiest names in coaching will already know what happened, but while with the Redskins, LaFleur was able to work closely with both Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay.
LaFleur served through the elder Shanahan’s entire tenure in Washington, and after the breakdown of that regime, he spent the 2014 season at Notre Dame while quarterback DeShone Kizer was redshirted.
A year later LaFleur was back in the NFL, rejoining Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta. As quarterbacks coach, he helped Matt Ryan to two of the most productive years of his career, including an MVP campaign in 2016.
After the Falcons famously blew their 28-3 lead to the Patriots in the Super Bowl, LaFleur reconnected with a second coaching colleague, joining Sean McVay’s staff in Los Angeles as McVay’s offensive coordinator. He and McVay worked together to produce the league’s top scoring offense in 2017, the second consecutive year in which LaFleur was part of the league’s scoring leader.
In 2018, LaFleur has served as the offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans after first interviewing for their head coaching job. The results haven’t been quite as pretty as his last two stops. The Titans are 27th in the league in scoring as of Week 15 and have fairly low ranks in most other statistical measures.
Matt LaFleur’s biggest moment
LaFleur is arguably a coach that has been more success-adjacent than successful in his own right, but the success to which he’s been adjacent is pretty spectacular.
In his two years as the Atlanta Falcons’ quarterbacks coach, Matt Ryan put up some pretty incredible numbers. In his 2016 MVP campaign, Ryan led the league in TD%, yards per attempt, yards per completion, passer rating, QBR, and adjusted net yards per attempt, quite possibly the efficiency metric most indicative of a quarterback’s success.
In Matt LaFleur’s own words
With a coaching pedigree that ties him to some of the brightest offensive minds in the business, you’d think Matt LaFleur would have some pretty interesting thoughts of his own when it comes to how to run an offense.
And you’d be correct.
Shortly after taking the offensive coordinator job with the Tennessee Titans, LaFleur identified the critical factors to a successful offense: explosive plays and balance.
“It is extremely difficult to dink and dunk all the way down the field,” LaFleur said. “The defenses are just too good. If you look at it, statistically the teams that are getting the chunk plays, the explosive (plays), those are the teams that are going to produce more yards, more points.
“Ultimately, the yards really don’t matter. So you have to score enough points, and I have been fortunate in my career to have been around some really good play callers, starting with Gary Kubiak and then going with Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, and that was always at the forefront of our minds: How can we create explosive plays?”
“There’s always going to be a foundation, and the foundation really starts with our running game and how we tie the pass game to our running game,” LaFleur said. “We want to keep the defense off-balance, you have to keep them guessing. If you have plays that start out looking the same that are different, it keeps the defense guessing.”
What are the chances Matt LaFleur is the next Packers head coach?
Jon’s Rating: 2/5
It’s easy to talk yourself into or out of a coach by reading the tea leaves of his coaching history. On a recent podcast, I did this very thing regarding Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. Can another Andy Reid’s coaching tree really produce another head coach? And could Bieniemy really do the job after never being more than a running backs coach at the NFL level prior to this year?
I’m wary of reversing that idea with LaFleur, who, like Bieniemy, has worked under some great coaching names. But how much of LaFleur’s success can you really credit to him?
Some people more familiar with his coaching history have argued… perhaps not that much. LaFleur was reportedly underwhelming enough in Atlanta that he didn’t even get a shot at the offensive coordinator gig there after Kyle Shanahan left for San Francisco. And despite a promotion to offensive coordinator in Los Angeles, he never called plays there.
The first time he got full control over an offense was in Tennessee, and we’ve already detailed how poorly that’s gone. So what, really, is Matt LaFleur as a coach?
I don’t know, but I think there’s enough merit to some of these facts to wonder if he’s really ready for a head coaching job.
Gary’s Rating: 1/5
The Packers will have likely had over a month to prepare before their first opportunities to interview current NFL assistant coaches, and all indications would point to Matt LaFleur being interviewed by Green Bay. Mark Murphy and his team will have the difficult task of trying to determine if LaFleur is successful in his own right or simply success-adjacent.
LaFleur is arguably the best available head coach candidate on paper if you’re looking for an offensive mind. He’s worked under wunderkinds Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, and now has at least one season of play calling under his belt.
His candidacy and how he interviews may help strengthen the case for a more out-of-the-box head coach. If he’s indeed the most qualified offensive mind available, but underwhelms in an interview, how might Green Bay proceed?
It also seems likely that other quarterback-needy NFL teams may be a more enticing fit for LaFleur. All things equal, an offensive head coach would prefer to be hired near the start of a quarterback’s career. Think about teams with potential head coach openings like the Browns, the Jets, the Ravens, and the Cowboys. Their quarterbacks are young, and the next head coach there will have an opportunity to develop a quarterback into one of the greats, receiving the coveted title of “quarterback whisperer” along the way.
While Aaron Rodgers is an elite quarterback, the next head coach has an unenviable job of taking an already-great player to a higher level. Success in Green Bay at this point seems tied to whether a coach can help Rodgers return to what he once was, not help a quarterback become a great quarterback. Unfortunately, we tend to give more credit to the coach who unlocks the greatness from the beginning than the one who helps a quarterback rediscover it.