GREEN BAY — David Bakhtiari was on vacation in New Zealand when his iPhone rang. On the caller ID, a Georgia-based number he didn’t recognize popped up.
So he handed the phone to his girlfriend, who happily played the role of call screener.
“And then it turns out, ‘Hey, it’s Matt LaFleur,’ and she hands me the phone,” the Green Bay Packers' all-pro left tackle recounted during an interview Wednesday on ESPN Wisconsin.
Still leery that it might be one of his past or present Packers teammates — T.J. Lang immediately came to mind — crank calling him, Bakhtiari cautiously began the conversation with LaFleur, who’d been hired as the Packers’ new coach two weeks earlier.
“I picked it up and started talking, and I was still kind of testing the waters to see if it was someone messing with me,” Bakhtiari continued. “And then I found out, ‘Yep, this is my new head coach and this is our first conversation. So this is going well.’”
Actually, the conversation went quite well, Bakhtiari said. While still disappointed LaFleur had opted not to retain longtime offensive line coach James Campen and slightly anxious after playing most of his first six NFL seasons for ex-coach Mike McCarthy, Bakhtiari liked what he heard from LaFleur — especially when it came to accountability, a lack of which became an issue toward the end of McCarthy’s tenure, Bakhtiari said.
When he announced LaFleur’s hiring, Packers team president/CEO Mark Murphy said he kept in mind concerns the players voiced to him before interviews began.
“I think they wanted somebody that would hold players accountable,” Murphy said. “And the other thing that the players talked a little bit (was) how they felt a complacency had set in among some players and coaches.”
On Wednesday, Bakhtiari acknowledged he saw some troubling signs last season, when the Packers finished 6-9-1 and McCarthy was fired with four games to play after an embarrassing Dec. 2 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The Packers were 4-7-1 at the time and went 2-2 in the final month under offensive coordinator-turned-interim-coach Joe Philbin.
“I think anytime, if complacency is being talked about, that’s one (sign) someone’s been in a place for too long,” Bakhtiari said. “I’ve always told myself that the day I’m complacent is the day I don’t have a job. So I’m pretty sure if I don’t have a job anymore, I’ve been complacent.
“There’s a lot of things happening outside the locker room that frankly we’re not exposed to. So when things come out that X, Y, and Z have been complacent, well, I don’t know. I’m too busy making sure I’m making my meeting on time, so I’m not (considered) complacent.”
What bothered Bakhtiari more was what he saw as a lack of accountability, something defensive players had complained about following the 2017 season, when longtime defensive coordinator Dom Capers was fired and replaced by Mike Pettine. Among the most frequent phrases players used about Pettine as they got to know him was that he demanded greater accountability.
“The one thing that always rubbed me the wrong way, and I guess it can kind of parallel with complacency, is accountability,” Bakhtiari said. “Accountability, like for me, the one thing that would really grind my gears was guys being late for the plane (before road trips) and no one holding those guys accountable or even fining them for being late.
“(It should have been), ‘Hey, we’re leaving at 1:30. You’re not there, the door is closed.’ That’s how it needs to be.”
Although he didn’t bring up any other specific issues, Bakhtiari added that being late for the team charter or a meeting was “just one example off the top of my head.” He intimated some players feared no repercussions for irresponsible or unprofessional conduct.
“There needs to be that fear for guys across the board that, ‘Hey, your job is consistently judged and based on having to perform. That’s the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately (reality) of the NFL,’” Bakhtiari said. “For me, the one thing I saw, guys here and there can show up a couple minutes late to the plane, meetings … and it kind of filters through. If you’re not going to hold one guy accountable to one situation, it’ll slowly trickle (down) to multiple avenues. That’s one thing that I noticed that I was not a fan of at all.
“That’s one thing I guess when I think about complacency, it also goes to holding people accountable, and that’s where I think I see it more.”
As for LaFleur, Bakhtiari said while he’s not looking forward to the earlier start to the offseason program that comes with a new coaching staff, he is eager to see how the culture changes.
“We had a good conversation. I was very pleased to have him call me and go over some things. I’m excited to meet him in person and see what he’s got,” Bakhtiari said. “It was just a good conversation — a good opener, a good introduction. I enjoyed just the new, freshness, and I’m excited to see really what he’s able to bring once he’s had enough time to build his coaching staff, puts everything together and we get back to (Green Bay).
“Unfortunately, we have to go back early but we’ll have something new, which could be fun.”
Bakhtiari said he did get a call from the NFL inviting him to play in the Pro Bowl as an alternate injury replacement but he turned it down for the second straight year. Although he’s been named to the NFL’s All-Pro team each of the past three years — including first-team All-Pro in 2018 — he’s yet to be voted into the Pro Bowl. He went to his only all-star game as an alternate in 2016. … The Packers officially hired Alvis Whitted as wide receivers coach. The 44-year-old played nine NFL seasons as a receiver and spent the last seven years as the wide receivers coach at Colorado State University. … Although the team made no official announcements, the Packers confirmed running backs coach Ben Sirmans, defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery and secondary coach Jason Simmons have been retained from McCarthy’s staff by placing the three coaches on their Packers.com coaches page. Simmons has a slightly different title; he is listed as defensive backs coach. It appears LaFleur won’t have run-game and passing-game coordinators on each side of the ball, the way McCarthy did last season.