GREEN BAY — Having a little brother 7½ years younger can be … well, let Matt LaFleur finish that sentence.
“A pain in the butt,” the Green Bay Packers new head coach said with a chuckle Thursday morning, during an interview on ESPN Wisconsin. “He was certainly a pest — and he still is a little bit of a pest to me.”
That may be true — although LaFleur was clearly joking — but this much is certain: He definitely wanted his younger brother, Mike, on his staff in Green Bay. Instead, the San Francisco 49ers blocked the Packers from pursuing Mike, the team’s wide receivers coach and passing-game coordinator.
The elder LaFleur was also interested in Mike McDaniel, the 49ers run-game coordinator, but head coach Kyle Shanahan denied that request as well.
“You get an opportunity like this, you want the guys that you know and that know you and that you trust, and that are great football coaches,” Matt said. “That’s why Kyle kept (them) in San Francisco.”
Asked earlier in the interview — with no mention of his brother or McDaniel — if formulating a staff has been challenging, LaFleur replied, “It’s certainly a challenge because a lot of the guys that maybe you’ve worked with in the past that you’ve always envisioned, ‘I’m going to have these guys on my staff,’ a lot of these guys are locked up by other clubs and you can’t always get guys out of contracts. Thankfully, there’s a lot of great coaches out there and we feel confident we’re going to put together a great staff.”
The LaFleur brothers worked together with the Atlanta Falcons for two seasons, when Matt was the quarterbacks coach and Mike served as the assistant wide receivers coach and assistant tight ends coach.
“It was a unique opportunity that we had in Atlanta,” Matt said. “The first year was a little rough, I’m not going to lie. There was a lot of back-and-forth. But we found our rhythm in that second year.”
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Matt said Mike “is my best friend and I love him to death,” and admitted he was disappointed he couldn’t at least get his brother or McDaniel in Green Bay. Instead, the Packers have hired Nathaniel Hackett to be the offensive coordinator and are still working on a receivers coach and an offensive line coach, as well as several other staff spots.
Asked specifically about his brother and McDaniel, LaFleur replied: “I’ve had a long relationship with both those guys. I’m not talking about a personal relationship but more of a working relationship. I’ve got a lot of respect for them. They’re great coaches. It was just one of those deals where they’re invaluable to Kyle, as well.”
Whitt lands in Cleveland
Joe Whitt wasn’t out of work long. Less than a week, in fact.
Two league sources said the longtime Packers cornerbacks coach has accepted a job with the Cleveland Browns, who have hired him as the team’s defensive passing-game coordinator and secondary coach under new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks. Whitt had four teams interested in him after the Packers parted ways with him last Friday.
One league source reiterated that Whitt’s dismissal in Green Bay wasn’t defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s call, and that Pettine and Whitt worked well together. Instead, Whitt’s departure was tied to his longtime connection to ex-head coach Mike McCarthy, and the team’s desire to move on from coaches who’d been with McCarthy for much of his tenure.
LaFleur said Thursday that while he has made the final call on coaching hires, he has also received input from team president/CEO Mark Murphy , director of football operations Russ Ball and general manager Brian Gutekunst on those decisions.
“It’s my decision, but certainly those guys are great resources and they interviewed a lot of great candidates,” LaFleur said. “There’s a lot of familiar names that keep coming up on different candidates lists. When you get an idea about a guy, they may have an opinion or may have some information on certain guys that you want to bring in. I’ve been leaning on those guys as a resource.”
With Whitt and offensive line coach James Campen both landing in Cleveland and interim head coach Joe Philbin pursuing other opportunities, the only other long-standing McCarthy staffer was versatile defensive coach Scott McCurley, who just finished his 13th season with the team. A league source said that McCurley, too, has also been informed that he won’t be retained.
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.