Matt LaFleur: Green Bay’s new wunderkind
Sean McVay is young. He’s offensive-minded. And as Derek Zoolander would say, he’s “really, really, really ridiculously good looking.”
Recently, the NFL coaching landscape has used this as a formula when looking for their own wunderkind, or a person who achieves great success at a young age – like McVay. The Rams hired the then 30-year-old up-and-comer to be their head coach in 2017 after he flew through the offensive assistant coaching ranks and turned around a stagnant franchise in seemingly one offseason. Innovative, fiery and sporting beautiful hair, McVay seemed to be the answer for dormant NFL franchises and fits the definition of wunderkind. All of a sudden, this apparently became the go-to formula to building a winning franchise.
Current Wannabe Wunderkinds in NFL
NFL teams have taken notice of what McVay has done with the Rams.
The Chicago Bears hired 39-year old Matt Nagy before the 2018 season. He turned the Bears around from worst-to-first in the NFC North. Prior to joining the Bears, Nagy was the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator under Andy Reid in Philadelphia and Kansas City. For the final five games of the 2017 season, Nagy was the primary play-caller. The Chiefs averaged 28.6 points per game. That was enough of a sample size for the Bears, so they hired him the following offseason. On a side note, Nagy played quarterback for six seasons in the Arena Football League, throwing 374 touchdowns in that span, good for 62 touchdown passes a year. He knows a thing or two about throwing the football. Mitchell Trubisky seemed to turn a corner under Nagy’s tutelage. Not quite a wunderkind, but Nagy seems to be on the right track.
The Arizona Cardinals recently hired 39-year old Kliff Kingsbury and his 35-40 career head coaching record in the hopes he will bring with him the new offensive philosophy that is taking the NFL by storm. Prior to landing the Cardinals gig, Kingsbury was offensive coordinator for the University of Houston and Texas A&M. Then he was head coach from 2013-2018 at Texas Tech. Since Kingsbury became the OC in Houston, his offenses have averaged 550 yards and nearly 42 points per game. Granted, these are numbers at the college ranks, but it’s still worth taking notice. Oh yeah, and he fits the requirement for being really, really, really ridiculously good looking. Until we see any results, Kingsbury will just be a McVay wannabe. Not yet a wunderkind.
Green Bay Hires Matt LaFleur
Enter the Green Bay Packers. The Packers have seemed to go the McVay method. After interviewing 10 candidates, they hired 39-year old Matt LaFleur (LaFleur was the last candidate to be interviewed). LaFleur replaces Mike McCarthy after McCarthy seemed unable to keep up with the changing offensive landscape in the NFL.
LaFleur was a bit of a surprise to some fans, as New England Patriots offensive coordinator and current 42-year old Josh McDaniels seemed to be the favorite. McDaniels appeared to be the ideal choice as the one who could corral Aaron Rodgers, having worked with Tom Brady for many years. Packers tight end Marcedes Lewis even spoke out recently on the Rodgers/McCarthy soap opera, saying Rodgers would roll his eyes in the huddle after McCarthy would call in the play and call his own plays at times.
LaFleur brings with him play-calling experience on the offensive side of the ball after calling plays for Titans in 2018. The Titans ranked 25th in overall offense and were ranked 27th in points per game at 19.4. The Titans ranked 7th in rushing offense and 29th in passing offense, although Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota had a career best in completion percentage.
LaFleur started his pro coaching career working with the quarterbacks in Houston. A couple years later the same role he filled while in Washington. He took a one year break from the NFL to work with the quarterbacks at Notre Dame (where Packers back-up QB Deshone Kizer was a redshirt freshman). Then got bored with that and returned after one year in South Bend to work with fellow wunderkind wannabe Kyle Shanahan (38-years old) to coach the quarterbacks in Atlanta. He helped make Matt Ryan an MVP, then moved on and worked as offensive coordinator under Sean McVay (wunderkind), though he didn’t call plays. That led to him calling plays in Nashville for one season. Point is: LaFleur has experience working with quarterbacks.
Which brings me to Rodgers. This hiring will ultimately come down to the relationship between Rodgers and LaFleur. LaFleur has worked with Matt Ryan in Atlanta during Ryan’s MVP season and was on the staff that helped launch Jared Goff into legit quarterback status. While in Washington, he worked with Robert Griffin III and helped shape Kirk Cousins into a formidable NFL QB. If LaFleur and Rodgers are able to work together, it could become a beautiful union and the Pack will be back. And so will Rodgers.
The Packers also just hired Nathaniel Hackett – former offensive coordinator in Jacksonville – to take over offensive coordinator duties in 2019. Although Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles never really lit the world on fire under Hackett, he also doesn’t have the talent of Aaron Rodgers. NFL reporter Ian Rapaport said Hackett will “challenge and engage” Rodgers. Good. With Hackett and LaFleur bringing in a new culture, hopefully that will equate to more accountability within the locker room, starting with Aaron Rodgers. Let’s hope that accountability leads to respect between the two and that success is the end result.
The hiring of Matt LaFleur will take some time to judge. Heck, maybe he pulls a McVay or a Nagy and turns things around right away. Or maybe the Packers are a couple years away from competing again. There are plenty of holes to fill on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Offensive line, tight end and edge rushers (plural) jump out as positions of need.
Any way you look at it, though, this is about how well LaFleur meshes with Rodgers. LaFleur signed a four-year contract that basically runs through what remaining time Rodgers has left. If LaFleur at any point loses Rodgers’ trust, it could be a rough few years in Green Bay. But like I stated earlier, if these two can mesh, this could be a beautiful union. Rodgers is, after all, still the face of the franchise.
Is LaFleur young? Check. Offensive minded? Check. Really, really, really ridiculously good looking? Check. And if LaFleur were to bring the Packers back to the promised land and deliver a Lombardi trophy within the first two seasons, he wouldn’t be a wannabe anymore – Packer fans would have their very own wunderkind.