By Douglas Farmer —
It is a low bar, one cleared no matter whom the Green Bay Packers hired to replace fired head coach Mike McCarthy. Matt LaFleur is a good hire, because he is not Mike McCarthy.
At this point in his career, not much else positive can genuinely be said about the hire. That is not inherently a knock on LaFleur. He is only 39. Coaching careers rarely have stockpiles of accolades at such a young age.
Yet, the Packers hired him. Following two seasons as an offensive coordinator—2017 with the Los Angeles Rams and 2018 with the Tennessee Titans—LaFleur was deemed to have the experience necessary to coach one of the most talented quarterbacks in history, a quarterback just four years his junior.
Following a season putting together the No. 22 offense in the NFL by advanced metrics rankings, LaFleur was entrusted with an offense that finished No. 7 despite its seeming struggles.
Following a stretch in which he took four jobs in five seasons, LaFleur is now expected to lead a franchise that has had two head coaches this century.
If this all sounds somewhat familiar, there is a reason. Back in 2006, McCarthy was hired following one season as the offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers and five before that with the New Orleans Saints. The season with the 49ers featured an offense that finished No. 30 in scoring. Perhaps the most notable line on his then-résumé was a year coaching the quarterbacks in Green Bay in 1999. Brett Favre at least knew his new play-caller.
Of course, McCarthy made it nearly 13 seasons. He won a Super Bowl and finished with a record of 135-85-2. The Packers were a game away from the Super Bowl three more times under him and missed the playoffs only twice—the last two seasons.
Broadly speaking, McCarthy worked out, but missing the playoffs the last two seasons was crucial time lost with an all-timer behind center. Maintaining the status quo for another season risked that debacle all over again. Someone besides McCarthy had to take over. Even Aaron Rodgers realized that.
“A lot of change in life is tough at first,” Rodgers said the weekend of the Super Bowl. “But it usually works out for the best.”
LaFleur clears that bar. He is change.
His greatest claim to this point is having worked with Rams head coach Sean McVay and 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, both for multiple years. Considered forerunners on the offensive frontier of modern football, anyone associated with McVay and Shanahan had a leg up in this offseason’s hiring process. That trend was criticized even before McVay’s juggernaut scored as many touchdowns in the Super Bowl as Rodgers did from his couch.
That criticism is warranted so far, as inexperience in a leadership role rarely plays out well. Nonetheless, a new mindset is needed in Green Bay. LaFleur checks that box. He may do so to an extreme, but that is better than not doing it at all.
Douglas Farmer grew up in La Crosse, Wisconsin, before covering sports across the country with stops at The Los Angeles Times, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Dallas Morning News. He graduated from Aquinas High School in 2008 and from the University of Notre Dame in 2012, and now spends his professional time keeping an eye on the latter’s football team.