GREEN BAY — Matt LaFleur had been on the job for a little more than a week when he began formulating his thoughts for what he’d say to his players in his first team meeting as the Green Bay Packers coach — a meeting that is set for Monday morning.
“I’m starting to think about that more and more,” LaFleur said during an ESPN Wisconsin interview on Jan. 17. “You’ve got to set the expectations and the standards of how we want to operate as an organization and as a football team.”
But for as much consideration as LaFleur has given his speech since then, when he delivers it to his guys on on the first day of the offseason program, his primary goal is simple: To be authentic.
“It’ll be heartfelt, that’s for sure. I’ve got a pretty good idea in terms of starting with the introduction of the staff and a little bit of the philosophy with how we want to run our football team,” LaFleur told reporters during the annual coaches breakfast at last month’s NFL meetings in Arizona. “Anytime you get up in front of the team for the first time, you want to make a good impression on these guys. You care so much. That’s why you do get nervous.”
This marks the third straight offseason that LaFleur has been on a new coaching staff — though it’s the first time he’s leading one. He was in Los Angeles in 2017 when new head coach Sean McVay addressed his Rams team for the first time, and last year he was in Tennessee when new head coach Mike Vrabel took over the Titans and spoke to them.
But McVay and another of LaFleur’s closest coaching friends, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, said that while that first team meeting is important and that their buddy certainly has been preparing for it, he also shouldn’t put too much pressure on himself. That’s the message both McVay and Shanahan tried to emphasize with LaFleur when the subject of his first speech came up.
“He’ll be nervous, man. I was nervous,” McVay confessed at the NFL meetings. “It was a nervous excitement. It was a good energy that you had. But we've talked about it. The thing that I think’s great about Matt is he’s (authentic). You’ve got to be yourself. You still have the same core values and principles.
“(It’s) cool to be able to have one of your good buddies that’s gone through it. But he’ll do a great job. It’s one of those things you lean on your staff heavily and figure out, ‘OK, what are the things we want to operate with on a day-to-day basis?’ And as he continues to build and develop those relationships where everything is about people first, he’ll get more comfortable. But I wish I was in that meeting. He'll be nervous walking in there. I can’t wait to hear about how it goes.”
Like McVay, Shanahan said he and LaFleur have talked about what approach he should take with the players in his inaugural speech, but Shanahan’s most important tidbit: Don’t overdo it.
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“You do have to prepare for it, because you’re going to get up in front of everyone in a big room and you’re going to have everyone sitting, looking at you, judging you. And you don’t want to come off like you’re trying too hard,” Shanahan said. “I’m more (the type) just to say, ‘Get the first one out of the way, then you’ll be more comfortable in the second one when everyone is used to you and you start to understand your personality more.’
“But you got to get up there, you have to set the tone, your expectations. Try to tell them what’s important to you, really who you are as a man. Things that bother you, things that you like because everyone is just sitting there trying to figure out what the new coach wants. The main thing is you can’t tell them all of it in one meeting. Less is more. You got a lot of time to do it. “
And did Shanahan give his pal LaFleur any tips? Sort of.
“We all like to hear each other’s ideas,” Shanahan said. “I’m just glad he’s not in our division. He is in the NFC, so that’s an issue. (So) I won’t tell him all the good stuff because we have to play them.”
Of course, maybe that first meeting isn’t quite as big of a deal as coaches think. Center Corey Linsley has spent all offseason in Green Bay awaiting the arrival of his first child — wife Anna gave birth to Seamus on March 14 — and has talked to LaFleur on “multiple” occasions when working out at Lambeau Field.
While he said he’s looking forward to the meeting, Linsley said the reality is simple: LaFleur’s the boss, and it’s his job to do as he’s told.
“Coach LaFleur seems like an awesome guy. I see him in the facility every day that I’m there to lift and train. I feel like the whole team is really going to vibe with this guy. I feel like it’s a great fit, honestly,” Linsley said. “(But) for that first team meeting, I kind of laugh when people ask, ‘What do you want to hear?’ I don’t really care. I’m here to take orders, you know? I’m looking forward to working with him and working with the whole staff. I’m just excited to get to work.”
That’s exactly what LaFleur is hoping to inspire.
“I just want these guys to be excited about playing football,” he said. “We’re going to process-driven, but at the end of it, I want these guys to enjoy coming to work. The first time I realized how much fun football was is when I worked with (Atlanta Falcons coach) Dan Quinn and how much fun we could have and yet still get productive work in. So I want these guys to enjoy coming to work.
“The best teams I’ve been on, it’s felt like an extension of your family. I want these guys to have that sense of belonging and to care about one another and play for the man next to him. I think that’s how you get the most out of people.”