Another year, another group of coaching changes in the NFL. We had eight head coaches lose or vacate their positions, so there are eight new faces – some fresh, some not so much.
Everybody loves to talk about the new head coaches, but it often stops there. I believe that by paying closer attention, we can better evaluate how the entire staff is constituted, which can help breed fantasy success.
In this fourth year of writing about coaching changes and their dynasty impact, I’m adding a new wrinkle. We’re going to release them this year in ranked order, starting at the bottom. And before you get too offended, maybe all eight of these hires will have long, illustrious careers. Who knows? Let’s get to it.
Coaching Hire Rank Three of Eight – Matt LaFleur, Green Bay Packers
While writing this series last year, I became a little enamored with the Tennessee Titans and in particular Matt LaFleur. I fell in love with his reputation, his tantalizing coaching lineage (which we’ll get to soon enough) and how it might all work with the young talent in Nashville. Visions of Marcus Mariota expertly running the Kyle Shanahan/Sean McVay offense alongside Corey Davis, Dion Lewis, Derrick Henry and Delanie Walker seemed too good to be true.
Well, it was too good to be true. Mariota was hit by another injury that affected him on and off all season, and the offense never really got clicking the way I had hoped. Henry had himself a very nice year with some huge games late, but the passing game never really materialized.
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It looks like, at least from the Packers front office perspective, they don’t believe the Titans offensive shortcomings on LaFleur. I do think they are right to overlook the poor showing last season, as LaFleur’s plans fell victim to circumstance in the form of injury to Mariota, the fulcrum of the offense. One year into his own tenure, new Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst decided he had seen enough of the venerable Mike McCarthy and sent the former Super Bowl winner packing.
McCarthy can be quite a polarizing figure, but most would agree that the talent of the Packers (especially at quarterback) should have brought more championships to Green Bay over the past decade. Gutekunst ditched the stodgy old McCarthy with his 1998 era offense and went with the “hot young offensive mind” play in LaFleur.
You can learn almost all you need to know about LaFleur by going back to his time with the Washington Redskins in 2010. The staff that year? Mike Shanahan was the head coach, Kyle Shanahan the offensive coordinator, LaFleur the quarterbacks coach, and a 23-year-old named Sean McVay was an offensive assistant. That staff stayed in place until the 2013 season, when Mike Shanahan and most of the staff was fired. (One of the only guys to survive? Now offensive coordinator McVay.) LaFleur followed Shanny the younger to Atlanta, where he helped Matt Ryan to his MVP season in 2016. And McVay brought LaFleur to Los Angeles in 2017 to be his offensive coordinator, before LaFleur landed the OC job in Tennessee the following year.
Whew. It’s a little crazy, isn’t it? LaFleur has been around some of the most well-respected offensive minds in the game, and now he’s the head coach of the Packers and one Aaron Rodgers. This could be good.
The new offensive coordinator in Green Bay is Nathaniel Hackett, who spent the past few seasons running the offense in Jacksonville. Before you ask yourself “why would they hire the guy who ran that offense?”, remember that they had a fantastic year in 2017, Hackett’s first full year running the offensive show for the Jaguars. Hackett was also (like LaFleur in Tennessee) bitten by the injury bug last year. He lost Marqise Lee, Leonard Fournette was on again, off again all year, and he had to rely on Blake Bortles. Blake frigging Bortles. So the Jaguars fired him. That dumpster fire was not Hackett’s fault, and now he gets the kind of second chance coaches dream of; running the Packers’ offense with Aaron Rodgers alongside an offense-focused head coach. LaFleur will call plays, but Hackett will be a key part of developing the offense.
To round out the other coordinator position, LaFleur retained Mike Pettine to continue running the defense. The Packers didn’t have a great defensive year in 2018, but continuity here may help, and Pettine surely has the experience to run that side of the ball. LaFleur needs a coordinator on that side he can trust, and Pettine should be that guy.
At quarterback, the Packers still have Aaron Rodgers. There’s a good chance he’s royally ticked off, so the defenses in the NFC North are already a little worried. And now he has an offensive staff to support him with more modern offensive concepts. LaFleur will likely even run some plays designed to get the Packers’ wide receivers open! (/sarcasm off) Rodgers may have the best physical skills at the position you will ever see, and the thought of him in a modern offense is scintillating. Is it guaranteed? No. There is a chance that Rodgers is too ingrained in the seat of his pants offense of his past, but it could also be electrifying.
While the quarterback situation is set in stone, the running back story is yet to be told. I’ve really liked Aaron Jones for a couple of years now, and many have thought that McCarthy held him back. Perhaps with the new staff in place, he can blossom as the primary running back many of us envision. But remembering the lineage of LaFleur, it’s just as likely that we get a one-two punch in Green Bay. Perhaps we see many more sets with both Jones and Jamaal Williams. I don’t have a particular fondness for Williams, but if he’s in a Shanahan style backfield duo, I could be interested.
The wide receiver group begins and ends with Davante Adams in my mind. Randall Cobb is now gone, Jordy Nelson is retired, and Adams is the WR1 in Green Bay, and it isn’t close. There are certainly plenty of interesting players at the position, but there are too many and I’m not sure about any of them. Pick your flavor, I guess. Marques Valdez-Scantling, J’Mon Moore, Jake Kumerow, Geronimo Allison or Equanimeous St. Brown. I’m confident that Adams will get his but beyond that, I just don’t know. If you look at the LA offense, the ball really gets spread around. We could see a similar distribution here.
Does Jimmy Graham have enough left to make a difference? He is a shadow of his former self. He still has a good deal of physical talent and the experience to know how to win battles and produce, but his days as a tight end monster are over. Outside of Graham, the Packers do have one other veteran on the roster worth noting (at least passingly) in Marcedes Lewis.
The Bottom Line
I was completely smitten with LaFleur last year and invested in a few Titans based on my evaluation. Those moves didn’t pan out, but I still think that LaFleur has a bright future as a coach. I’m trying very hard to temper my enthusiasm here, but I think the Packers made a good move here. McCarthy was the head man in Green Bay for quite some time, and it seems that he (and his old school offense) may have overstayed his welcome. Going with a more innovative offensive mind while Rodgers still has something left in the tank is a smart move by this front office. Here’s to hoping that Rodgers can adjust to a whole new offensive philosophy.