GREEN BAY – Head Coach Matt LaFleur has rounded out his top-level assistants by hiring Shawn Mennenga as his new special teams coordinator. Mennenga takes over for Ron Zook, who held the job for the Packers since 2015 but was not retained by LaFleur.
Here are five things to know about Mennenga:
1. He coached special teams at the NFL level for seven years in Cleveland.
Mennenga worked as an assistant on special teams for the Browns under coordinator Chris Tabor from 2011-17. That tenure overlapped with Green Bay defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s time there as head coach. San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, one of LaFleur’s mentors, also was Pettine’s offensive coordinator for one year in Cleveland (2014), so those connections likely played into Mennenga ultimately getting on LaFleur’s radar.
2. The Browns’ units had significant highlights during some lean years for the franchise.
Cleveland’s special teams were generally considered solid under Tabor and Mennenga, with a worthy highlight or two each season despite the Browns’ struggles in the win-loss column. Punter Britton Colquitt set a team net punting record (40.3) in 2016, returner Travis Benjamin ranked third in the league in punt return average (11.6) in 2015, the kickoff coverage unit was second in opponent field position with 16 stops inside the 20-yard line in 2014, and both kicker Phil Dawson and returner Joshua Cribbs made the Pro Bowl in 2012.
3. He’s back in the NFL after a brief one-year return to the college game.
Last season, Mennenga served as special teams coordinator for the University of Vanderbilt, a return to the college level where he forged a varied and well-traveled career. The Commodores were better on punt returns than they were on kickoff returns. Vanderbilt ranked fourth in the Southeastern Conference in punt return average at 11.0 yards, while allowing opponents just 8.1 per attempt. On kick returns, opponents (23.8) got the better of Vanderbilt (19.8).
4. His college coaching career covered a lot of ground, including time as a head coach, as he progressed up the ranks.
Here’s the rundown: Mennenga broke in as a graduate assistant at Southwest Baptist University (Bolivar, Mo.) in 1994 and then coached the secondary there from 1995-96. He moved on to coach outside linebackers at Western Kentucky in 1997 and then became defensive coordinator for three years at Hutchinson Community College (Kan.). Culver-Stockton (Mo.) was the next stop, first as defensive coordinator in 2001 followed by three years as head coach, taking over for Tabor. Then came four seasons from 2005-08 as defensive coordinator at Fort Hays State (Kan.) and two years from 2009-10 as linebackers coach at South Dakota State before he reached the NFL.
5. He has a challenging task in front of him.
The Packers struggled on special teams throughout 2018, coming in last in former Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin’s annual rankings, which break down each team’s performances in the return, coverage and kicking games. Injuries led to constant shuffling of personnel, including at returner, and repeated penalties plagued Green Bay’s units all season long.