GREEN BAY – A year ago, Matt LaFleur took a leap of faith.
He was offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams, living in one of America’s glitziest cities and working for perhaps the NFL’s glitziest offense. He had an offensive mastermind to learn from in Rams head coach Sean McVay, considered a prodigy in NFL circles after rebuilding the Rams at age 31. LaFleur, the offensive coordinator, had a front-row seat as McVay turned around the franchise overnight, but he was in the passenger seat.
So he branched out.
A year after becoming the Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator, taking a lateral title but a job where he could call plays, devise game plans and polish his head-coaching resume, LaFleur’s faith has paid off.
The Green Bay Packers are set to hire LaFleur as the 15th head coach in franchise history, sources confirmed to PackersNews on Monday night. The 39-year-old coach’s next job will include many new responsibilities. Such is the reality of being a first-time head coach.
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LaFleur presumably arrives with some idea of the Packers personnel, candidates for his first coaching staff and franchise expectations. That’s what an interview is for.
Now, it’s time to dig into the details.
Here’s a look at five things LaFleur must do in his first week.
1. Connect with Aaron Rodgers
A source said Rodgers was informed of president Mark Murphy's and general manager Brian Gutekunst’s decision before they made the offer to LaFleur, and Rodgers was on board with the decision. It is quite possible LaFleur has already communicated with Rodgers, at least via telephone. That’s one of the things to find out when the Packers introduce him to the public in his first news conference. Still, LaFleur’s relationship with his new quarterback will be paramount to his success in Green Bay. He’ll need to show Rodgers a willingness for collaboration, a respect not only for the quarterback’s football talent but also his acumen, while also establishing his coaching authority. If that sounds tricky, it’s probably because it will be. While he’s at it, LaFleur should also reach out to key players inside the Packers locker room. That list likely includes left tackle David Bakhtiari, receiver Davante Adams, defensive linemen Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels, and inside linebacker Blake Martinez, just for starters. But LaFleur’s relationship with Rodgers will take center stage, as all relationships between head coach and quarterback do in the NFL. It’s time to start building one.
2. Determine Mike Pettine’s future
Among the things that attracted the Packers to Matt LaFleur, a source said, was his willingness and even desire to retain Mike Pettine as defensive coordinator. The Packers made it clear to LaFleur that he had the autonomy to hire his own coaching staff, but it was important to them that Pettine was retained. They were impressed with the work Pettine did in his first year with the Packers, believing the defense made real improvements with his scheme and guidance. LaFleur had no issue with Pettine being retained, the source said. In fact, LaFleur entered Sunday’s interview with the Packers already having Pettine on his short list of candidates for the job. LaFleur has a mutual connection with Pettine through San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. He was quarterbacks coach in Atlanta and Washington, where Shanahan was offensive coordinator. Shanahan worked under Pettine as offensive coordinator for one year in Cleveland. In Tennessee, LaFleur also had authority of the Titans offense under defensive-centric head coach Mike Vrabel. So he knows what to expect when being paired with a powerful defensive coordinator on the other side of the ball. If Pettine is retained as expected, much of the Packers defensive coaching staff could remain in place. It’s also possible LaFleur will keep offensive assistants. One to keep an eye on will be offensive line coach and offensive run-game coordinator James Campen.
3. Schedule a spring plan
The Packers will have some built-in benefits with their spring schedule. With a new head coach, they’ll be able to report for the start of their offseason program April 1. Teams with returning head coaches can’t start spring drills until April 15. The Packers can also hold an additional, voluntary minicamp between the third week of their offseason program and the NFL draft, which starts April 25. In May, LaFleur will have the option of when to hold the team’s rookie orientation. Former head coach Mike McCarthy traditionally held rookie orientation on the weekend after the draft, but LaFleur will also have the option of scheduling those workouts two weekends after the draft.
4. Acquaint himself with Green Bay
LaFleur was hired without being interviewed in Green Bay. So one of the first things to do will be getting acquainted with Green Bay itself. Because the Titans aren’t in the playoffs, the Packers can put LaFleur to work immediately. He’ll presumably arrive in town during the next couple days, if he hasn’t already. That’s when LaFleur will get the grand tour of Packers facilities, and meet members of the staff.
5. Establish a tone
First impressions matter. Ultimately, what LaFleur says this week won’t touch the significance of what his team does on the field this fall, but now is the time to establish the proper tone not just for his new fan base, but more importantly his new players and employer. There won’t be much to go on when the calendar flips over to February, March and April. Winning the press conference won’t necessarily equate to winning games. It won’t even have the same import as private conversations with players. Still, LaFleur has just grabbed the wheel of a team that desperately wants to steer toward a championship in the final years of its title window. What he says matters.