Matt LaFleur is part of the NFL’s most apparent new coaching trend. He’s young, offensive-minded, handsome and worked with Sean McVay.
That’s clearly what it takes to be a hot head coaching candidate in the league today. While it almost sounds like parody, there’s reason for Packers fans to be excited for the hiring.
At only 39 years old, LaFleur has already assembled quite a resume. That includes a pair of offensive coordinator roles in the last two seasons with the Los Angeles Rams and then the Tennessee Titans, with stints in Washington, Atlanta and Notre Dame as a quarterbacks coach.
That’s a lot of different places and roles, but he found relative success at nearly every stop.
With the Redskins, LaFleur was the quarterbacks coach for four seasons, including 2012, also known as the year Robert Griffin III was named the offensive rookie of the year. He also worked under Mike Shanahan and with Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay (for one year) there, strengthening his coaching network from the get go.
After one year with Notre Dame, where he helped Everett Golson look beyond competent, LaFleur moved on to the Atlanta Falcons, where in 2016 his starting quarterback, Matt Ryan, was named league MVP. Ryan’s actual potency as a quarterback, while generally praised, has been bandied about for years, which makes that one special year and his connection to LaFleur particularly intriguing.
As for his first offensive coordinator gig and his biggest exposure to McVay, LaFleur was with the Rams in 2017 when they had the No. 1 scoring offense in the NFL and were 10th in total offense.
It's unlikely #Packers coach Matt LaFleur will get Rams QB coach Zac Taylor on his staff because Sean McVay wouldn't let him go for a non-play-calling OC position, a source said. McVay let LaFleur go because the #Titans job included calling plays.
— Tom Silverstein (@TomSilverstein) January 8, 2019
That resume is impressive for any assistant coach, let alone one who hasn’t reached 40 years of age. The biggest questions about this hire, however, likely stem from the 2018 season, which he spent with the Titans.
Tennessee ranked 25th in total offense this season and was 27th in scoring offense. Those numbers are undeniably concerning for a team in Green Bay that’s looking for an offensive spark. The advanced metrics are only marginally kinder to the Titans this season, who finished 22nd in offensive DVOA and 25th in passing offense DVOA.
Without glossing over that too much, because results are concrete and the fact of the matter is Tennessee’s offense was disappointing, some of this can be explained away.
First and foremost, Marcus Mariota didn’t play the whole season again due to injury. The jury is still out on Mariota’s ability as a franchise quarterback, but any team that goes from a starting quarterback to Blaine Gabbert for any number of games is going to struggle (Mariota appeared in 13 games and started 14 of them, with Gabbert playing otherwise).
There are also some numbers which indicate LaFleur did a better job working with the offense than thought at first glance. The one that’s been circulated the most on social media is expected completion percentage, which the Titans led the league in at 68.7 percent this season. The Packers, on the other hand, had one of the worst expected completion percentages in the league in 2018.
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) January 7, 2019
Finally, you must consider what history has shown you about coaches and their statistics at previous jobs. Undoubtedly some coaches have bad performances and bad seasons which carry over to other, bigger jobs. But in recent Packers memory there’s a glaring example of an offensive coordinator coming off a bad year who found undeniable success.
In 2005, the San Francisco 49ers had the worst offensive DVOA in the NFL by a mile. Their quarterback of the future, the No. 1 overall pick in that year’s draft, played in nine games, made seven starts and threw one touchdown pass to 11 interceptions. They were dreadful.
Their offensive coordinator was Mike McCarthy, who the Packers hired before the 2006 season. In 12.75 seasons with Green Bay, McCarthy’s teams won nearly 62 percent of their games, won a Super Bowl, went to four NFC championship games, won the division six times and made the playoffs nine times. Again, undeniable success after a bad year as an offensive coordinator.
One last potential positive to touch on is that LaFleur is keeping Mike Pettine on board as Green Bay’s defensive coordinator. The Packers’ defense wasn’t close to being one of the league’s best in 2018, but it was competent at worst, a stark contrast to some recent seasons. That’s a consistent presence, which a developing defense certainly needs. Pettine has his detractors too, but he took a mess left by Dom Capers and turned it into a league-average group. It’s a positive start for a new coach whose first staff will be under heavy scrutiny.
Hiring LaFleur is risky, without question. The Packers didn’t host a second round of interviews, they just picked their man right away after one. His best year as an offensive coordinator (out of a tiny sample size) came when he wasn’t the primary play caller. These are valid concerns.
However, you can also argue that the Packers are wise to ride the wave that is obviously working. Offensive-minded coaches are thriving in the NFL today. Andy Reid, Sean Payton, Sean McVay and Frank Reich are the prototypes for successful coaches in the league now. They’re creative offensive minds and their teams are thriving.
LaFleur has a sparkling track record for a young coach, save for one season. There are risks involved with the move, but a team looking to re-engage its hall of fame-caliber quarterback and ignite a potentially potent offense should keep that unit in mind when looking toward the future. Mark Murphy, Brian Gutekunst and company did that with this hire.