GREEN BAY — Matt LaFleur officially became the Green Bay Packers’ new coach Tuesday night. And the fresh-faced 39-year-old first-time head coach is likely to have at least one veteran coordinator stick around to help him: defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
An NFL source confirmed multiple reports that LaFleur intends to keep Pettine, who just completed his first year as the Packers’ defensive coordinator. That means that many of the assistant coaches on the defensive side of the ball also could stick around.
But first, the Packers needed to finalize their deal with LaFleur. The NFL Network reported Tuesday morning that the team and LaFleur had agreed on a four-year contract that includes a fifth-year option, though the financial terms weren’t disclosed.
LaFleur flew to Green Bay on a private jet on Tuesday evening and after landing, he headed to Lambeau Field, where he signed his new contract and the team made the hiring official.
“We are very excited to welcome Matt as the next head coach of the Green Bay Packers,” Packers team president/CEO Mark Murphy said in a statement released by the team. “We found a coach with the background and experience that we think will get us back to playing winning football. We’re also excited about the person — he is bright with a great work ethic and a perfect fit for Green Bay and the organization.”
Said general manager Brian Gutekunst in the same news release: “Matt is smart, organized and has a great vision for the path forward for our team. His values and personality fit the culture of our organization. He has a tremendous ability to build relationships on multiple levels, which is a very important aspect in leading a football team.”
The team has scheduled a 3 p.m. Wednesday news conference at Lambeau Field to introduce LaFleur, who according to one source “knocked it out of the park” during his interview Sunday with Murphy, Gutekunst and director of football operations Russ Ball.
“I talked to Matt when he was going into interview — and Matt is obviously one of my closest friends,” Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay told reporters in Southern California on Tuesday in advance of the Rams’ NFC divisional playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys this weekend. “So to see that for him, you couldn’t be more excited.
“He’s a great football coach. Got a great understanding from offensive football. He’s just such a great guy. He cares about people, he’s going to be honest with his communication and then he’s going to be invested in working really hard to try to put guys in good spots. But when you see those types of things you can’t do anything but just be really happy for a close friend. … So it’s an exciting thing for the Packers and for Matt for sure.”
The Packers were the first of the eight NFL teams in the market for a new coach to decide on their hire, picking LaFleur on Monday evening. On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers decided on ex-Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians and the Cardinals hired ex-Texas Tech coach and USC offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury.
Kingsbury’s hiring advanced the narrative that NFL teams are desperately trying to find the next McVay, who has led the Rams to back-to-back playoff berths, or Kyle Shanahan, the San Francisco 49ers head coach whose team’s season was derailed by starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s season-ending knee injury early in the year.
McVay, speaking to Dallas-area reporters on a conference call Tuesday, was asked about the way teams seem to be looking to duplicate his success.
“I think more than anything what it is, is it’s a reflection of our organization’s success,” McVay said. “If there’s anything that these last two years that have made you appreciate, it’s surrounding yourself with people who are better than you that you can learn from.
“I couldn’t be more appreciative of the people that I’m doing this with. To see some of your friends or maybe people that you’ve worked with get opportunities because of things that they’ve earned is sure exciting. Seeing Matt LaFleur be the head coach of the Green Bay Packers is awesome for him. Matt’s been one of my closest friends since we worked together in Washington.”
LaFleur first worked with both McVay and Shanahan with the Redskins from 2010 through 2013 — with Shanahan as offensive coordinator, LaFleur as quarterbacks coach and McVay was an offensive quality control assistant and later the tight ends coach.
LaFleur and Shanahan spent 2015 and 2016 together on the Atlanta Falcons’ staff — Shanahan as coordinator, LaFleur coaching quarterbacks — and helped the Falcons to Super Bowl LI in 2016. Quarterback Matt Ryan also won the NFL MVP award that season.
Last year, LaFleur rejoined McVay in Los Angeles, though McVay called the offensive plays. LaFleur left the Rams to join the Titans as offensive coordinator this season under defensive-minded coach Mike Vrabel, who allowed LaFleur to call the offensive plays. He is expected to call the Packers’ offensive plays as coach.
By keeping Pettine, LaFleur would give the defense a chance at continuity. Although the final numbers weren’t all that impressive — the Packers finished the season ranked 18th in total defense (354.4 yards per game) and 22nd in scoring defense (25.0 points per game) — Pettine’s unit was beset with injuries. The Packers had only three of their preferred starters in the lineup for their 31-0 season-ending loss to the Detroit Lions.
Pettine said late in the season he had been rejuvenated after two years out of coaching following his two-year stint as the Cleveland Browns head coach and that he wasn’t really interested in being a head coach again. He reiterated that stance before the season finale while also expressing a desire to stay and keep building the Packers defense.
“I know some people might scratch their heads given what our record’s been, but just from a personal standpoint, just the year this has been (great) — getting back in, and the enjoyment being around the players, being around the coaching staff, building a plan, going out and practicing it, teaching it, implementing it,” Pettine said. “But it’s what I love to do and I don’t know if I necessarily see that changing anytime soon.
“The foundation is the hardest thing to get right, and I feel that a lot of it has been built. We’ve made a lot of mistakes — especially me personally, I’ve learned a lot of cases of what not to do versus what to do — but when you just look at Year 2 as you look forward to it, the nice part about it is you reap the rewards of having already (built the foundation).
“If you have the bulk of your players back and the bulk of your coaching staff back, that Year 2 is not so hectic. You start Year 2 well ahead of where you would have been in Year 1. So of course, naturally, most people would want to feel like, ‘Hey, I started something, I want to finish it.’”
Jason Wilde covers the Packers for ESPN Wisconsin. Listen to him with former Packers and Badgers offensive lineman Mark Tauscher weekdays from 9-11 on “Wilde & Tausch” on your local ESPN station.
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