Pete Dougherty and Olivia Reiner discuss their impressions of the introductory coaching staff press conference. Olivia Reiner, PackersNews
GREEN BAY – One of the enduring images of the 2018 Green Bay Packers season is kicker Mason Crosby looking down at holder JK Scott and motioning in disbelief that his game-tying 49-yard field goal attempt didn’t angle through the uprights as time expired on Dec. 2, leading not just to a 20-17 loss to Arizona but also the firing of head coach Mike McCarthy shortly thereafter.
No, McCarthy wasn’t fired because of that missed attempt. But that moment — and what preceded and followed it — led to Shawn Mennenga being brought to 1265 Lombardi Ave. by head coach Matt LaFleur as the Packers' new special teams coordinator.
“There’s one thing that is so important to me,” LaFleur said. “It’s not about offense and defense. It’s about offense, defense and special teams. And that’s going to be a big emphasis for us moving forward.”
It has to be.
Nine missed kicks. Misdirected punts. An unspectacular return game punctuated by turnovers and mental mistakes. A seemingly endless string of offside penalties and flags in general. Fake punts and field goals leading to opponent first downs and scores.
The Packers, by the eye test and most statistical measures, were one of the worst special teams units in the league last season.
Enter Mennenga, who spent last season as the special teams coordinator for Vanderbilt after seven seasons as an assistant with the Cleveland Browns. The Vanderbilt job was his first leading the entire special teams room, an admittedly needed detour away from the NFL to prepare himself for taking over the Packers’ maligned group.
“You’re making the calls on game day and those kind of things,” Mennenga said. “I think just the daily … from the time you come in, getting your system installed with your staff and then getting those first meetings ready and then on through going through that year is very similar to what it is in the NFL. I think that all prepared me.
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"My to-do list down there was three pages long getting ready. I’m using that same kind of to-do list but adapting to what it is here, check things off, make sure we’re crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s. I think that’s going to help me be prepared to hit the ground running here.”
Maurice Drayton, whom LaFleur retained from Ron Zook’s staff last year, didn’t know Mennenga personally but shared some schematic background in the relatively small world that is special teams coaching in the NFL.
“Very detail oriented,” Drayton said of Mennenga. “Very organized. We’re leaving no stone unturned, uncovering every rock and just excited about it.”
While in Cleveland, Mennenga worked alongside special teams coordinator Chris Tabor. Tabor, who now holds that same position with the Chicago Bears, learned under Kansas City’s Dave Toub — perhaps the most well-known and respected special teams coordinator in the NFL.
And Toub cut his teeth in Philadelphia alongside former Eagles coordinator John Harbaugh.
It’s an impressive lineage on paper. It was attractive to LaFleur. So was Mennenga’s personality. But LaFleur and the Packers backed up the new coach’s belief in improving special teams by not just retaining Drayton, but also hiring quality control coach Rayna Stewart to assist that group.
“I feel really confident that we have three high-quality coaches in that regard,” LaFleur said.
Now the trio has to translate that to the field.
“My conversations with Shawn have been great,” Packers kicker Mason Crosby said. “I really like what he’s about. Obviously, his experience with the Browns there and then kind of getting that different experience going to college, so he’s seen kind of every side of it. As far as what I can tell we’re going to have a good plan and he’s going to really teach, focus in on just cutting guys loose to go and play. Try not to overcomplicate things. It’s special teams — we’ve just gotta fly around with our hair on fire. Find the right guys in the right positions to go make plays. It’s a simple task to say it, but they’re going to work hard.
“We’ll have a good plan going into the offseason. I’m looking forward to getting to work together and see where it takes us.”
And what is that plan, exactly?
“It’s the way you develop guys on the daily basis,” Mennenga said. “Starting in the spring and the plan we have from phase one to phase two and into (organized team activities) and on into training camp and developing the whole roster in the way we not only game plan, but how we scout opponents and what we’re trying to talk to our players about, and teach them about their opponents and take advantage of weaknesses we may see and hide our weaknesses, and take advantage of our strengths.
“It’s kind of a daily thing we do and there’s kind of a checklist we have to help prepare our guys on a daily basis from day one to all the way to the end of the season.”