Pete Dougherty and Olivia Reiner discuss their impressions of the introductory coaching staff press conference. Olivia Reiner, PackersNews
GREEN BAY – The last piece of the coaching staff puzzle to fall into place for Matt LaFleur was one of his most important: Determining who would head up the Green Bay Packers’ strength and conditioning staff.
LaFleur said it took him until this week to finalize that component of his staff due to the fact he was still making positional coaching hires as of last week. But with the guidance of longtime strength and conditioning coordinator Mark Lovat, LaFleur promoted assistant Chris Gizzi to that position.
Lovat, who is entering his third decade on the Packers’ strength staff, will remain in an assistant role. Assistants Thadeus Jackson and Grant Thorne were also retained.
Gizzi, a former Packers linebacker, is entering his sixth season with the club. It will be the first time he is serving as a coordinator. Gizzi came to Green Bay after working at the University of North Carolina in 2013 as the Tar Heels’ assistant strength and conditioning coach. Before that, he owned the Atlas Performance training facility in Chicago.
Gizzi played for the Packers from 2000-01. He was on the Denver Broncos’ reserve/military list from 1998-99 as he finished out his commitment to the Air Force. While at Air Force, he was the Western Athletic Conference’s defensive player of the year in 1996 and '97.
“That is a critical hire,” LaFleur said of Gizzi on Monday at Lambeau Field. “You talk about the guys that are going to talk to the team the most, it’s going to be myself, it’s going to be the special teams coordinator and it's going to be the strength coach. So those three positions are absolutely critical to our success moving forward.”
Lovat had been the strength and conditioning coordinator since 2010 and was the league’s strength coach of the year in 2011. He has been with the organization since 1999.
“This kind of speaks to the kind of person that Mark Lovat is,” LaFleur said. “He’s a selfless individual. He suggested that (move to assistant). And then that’s when I really started to think about it. I talked to him, I talked to ‘Giz,’ and that was just something that we thought going forward that was going to make an impact within our organization.”
Jackson is now in his 10th year with the Packers while Thorne is entering his seventh season with the team and fifth as part of the strength and conditioning staff. He was a consultant from 2013-14.
New view for Butkus
The stories, Luke Butkus would not share. At least not on this day. One can imagine some details weren’t fit to print anyway.
Growing up the nephew of legendary Chicago middle linebacker Dick Butkus, Luke was steeped in Packers vs. Chicago Bears lore. It’s just that those memories all came from one side. The perspective was skewed.
“Yeah, I’ve heard quite a few stories,” Luke Butkus said. “I don’t know if it’s the time right now to talk about them.”
Standing in the home locker room at Lambeau Field on Monday, Butkus — the Packers' new assistant offensive line coach — had a new perspective now.
There have been plenty of crossovers in the NFL’s oldest rivalry. Even still, a Butkus wearing a green Packers hoodie is an unexpected sight. Butkus said there are plenty of those to go around.
He already has plans to send Packers gear to his uncle.
“I’m going to make sure I get a lot of Green Bay gear for him,” Luke Butkus said. “I know he’ll have that Chicago Bear gear still, but those two times a year, they better know which one to wear.”
Hard to imagine Luke Butkus turning his uncle into a Packers fan. Regardless, he said Uncle Dick was pleased for him when he called to share the news he was joining Packers coach Matt LaFleur's staff.
Ten years ago, Luke Butkus held the same position with the Bears. He then went on to be a quality control/offensive line coach with the Seattle Seahawks before moving to the college ranks, where he was Illinois’ offensive line coach in 2012. He was again an assistant offensive line coach in Jacksonville for three seasons before returning to Illinois as offensive line coach the past three seasons.
Luke Butkus was born five years after his uncle retired in 1974. He never got to see his uncle play in Green Bay, but he had those stories. Later, Butkus would coach games as an opponent at Lambeau Field. So when the Packers pursued him for his new job, Butkus said, he knew it was a special opportunity.
It’s something his uncle realized, too.
“He was excited not only for me but my family,” Luke Butkus said. “He was excited about the opportunity to come up to Green Bay and be a part of something special.”