GREEN BAY - It didn’t take long for Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur to decide he would retain Mike Pettine as his defensive coordinator.
Three days after an NFC championship game letdown LaFleur described as “very disappointing” for his ascending defense, a source confirmed to PackersNews the bitter ending will not cost Pettine his job. The Packers will retain Pettine in 2020, his third season. Pettine was hired by former Packers coach Mike McCarthy before the 2018 season.
ESPN was first to report Pettine will be retained.
The decision continues an organizational commitment to Pettine as defensive coordinator. As President/CEO Mark Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst set out on their head-coaching search that eventually led to LaFleur last year, they did so with the desire to retain Pettine as defensive coordinator.
LaFleur evidently shared their feelings about retaining Pettine, whose reputation he was familiar with through a mutual connection with San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan.
In the second season with Pettine’s scheme, the Packers ranked ninth in scoring defense (19.6 points allowed per game) in 2019. But they were 18th in yards (352.6), three spots behind their No. 15 ranking from 2018, and twice were dismantled by Shanahan’s offense. The second time came Sunday, when the 49ers threw only eight passes but rushed for 285 yards en route to a 37-20 win that secured the NFC title.
When asked Wednesday morning if Pettine would remain as his defensive coordinator, LaFleur declined to give an endorsement.
“We’re still working through everything right now,” he said. “Just trying to evaluate everything.”
LaFleur worked quickly with Pettine, deciding to keep him in charge of the Packers' defense.
The decision will likely please members of the Packers' defense. Privately, several players expressed appreciation for Pettine being kept on a year ago. Although there was turbulence in his second season, the Packers’ top-10 ranking in scoring defense was their first in almost a decade, when they finished second in their Super Bowl-winning year of 2010.
There remains another level for the Packers' defense to reach if it is to lead the franchise to another championship. Pettine’s quip early this season that it’s faster flying to Miami (site of the Super Bowl) than walking might not sit well after 49ers running back Raheem Mostert tore through his defense Sunday, finishing with 220 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries.
“They definitely outcoached us,” LaFleur said. “I just didn’t feel like we played with the same urgency, the same tenacity, the same toughness. We didn’t set the edge the same as we had been earlier this season. It’s disappointing because it’s not like we didn’t know what they were going to try to do. We knew exactly what they were going to try to do. We knew they were going to run the football, and for them to be able to do that was extremely disappointing.”
There were warnings throughout the season the Packers’ run defense could be a hindrance that would keep them from the Super Bowl. Indeed, their No. 30 ranking in the NFL indicates it was much more than a blip. Regardless, LaFleur decided the gains under Pettine’s leadership outweighed the season’s frustrating end.
It’s enough for the Packers to keep their pairing together in 2020.
“I think our defense did a lot of great things,” LaFleur said.