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Jeff Hafley excited to get to work with energetic defensive staff

Matt LaFleur sees bright future for Packers’ defense, new offensive assistant Sean Mannion

Head Coach Matt LaFleur
Head Coach Matt LaFleur

GREEN BAY – As much as Jeff Hafley's time and effort centered on college football the past five years, the Packers' new defensive coordinator never took his eye off the pro game.

To aid his Boston College teams, Hafley spent countless nights watching NFL cutups to see what his friends at the next level were doing on defense and taking notes on burgeoning offensive trends.

That intel has proven valuable since Hafley was tabbed by Head Coach Matt LaFleur to reshape the Packers' defense. In assembling his inaugural defensive staff, Hafley cast a wide net to find the best teachers, motivators, and mentors to take with him to Green Bay.

Credentials matter and Hafley pulled from both the NFL and college ranks to supplement his group, but the common thread binding it together is character.

"The one thing that's probably most important to me, even more so than X's and O's, is the guys, the coaches, we're in this thing together," said Hafley last month.

"That's one of the biggest things that I'm gonna stress with this group, with this staff, and the style of play we're going to play on defense. These guys gotta love playing with each other and they gotta love each other."

Hafley split his first month on the job between getting acquainted with the Packers' defensive personnel and identifying the right coaches to develop that talent. That process started with retaining Jason Rebrovich and Ryan Downward, both of whom served on Joe Barry's defensive coaching staff.

Under Hafley, Rebrovich will make a switch from pass rush specialist to defensive line coach, while Downard remains defensive backs coach. It marks a reunion for Hafley and Downard, who met as young assistants on Mike Pettine's staff with the Cleveland Browns in 2014.

Downard came to Green Bay in 2018 after Pettine was hired as Green Bay's defensive coordinator. He's now the second-longest-tenured coach on staff, behind only running backs coach Ben Sirmans (nine seasons).

Working his NFL connections, Hafley hired former Los Angeles Chargers defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley as Green Bay's defensive pass game coordinator and Anthony Campanile as linebackers coach/run-game coordinator.

"Derrick and I knew each other from when I was a DB coach the first go-around; being at combines, getting to know him," Hafley said. "I followed his career and kept in touch with him, and he's got coordinator experience. He knows what it's like to sit in my chair and he brings a lot of value. He's been part of some different schemes, which I think will help."

Most recently a linebackers coach for the Miami Dolphins, Campanile gained some celebrity for his impassioned speech to the team during the most recent season of HBO's "Hard Knocks."

The partnership between Hafley and Campanile has been more than a decade in the making. Hafley first tried to bring Campanile on as a graduate assistant at the University of Pittsburgh, but that fell through after head coach Dave Wannstedt resigned at the end of the 2010 season.

Hafley spent one season as Rutgers' defensive backs coach before following Greg Schiano to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. During his departure, Hafley helped Campanile get his foot in the door as a defensive assistant under new Scarlet Knights head coach Kyle Flood.

Hafley said he tried to hire Campanile during both his stint as Ohio State's co-defensive coordinator in 2019 and his four seasons at Boston College, but the timing didn't work out.

Now, it finally has. When discussing Campanile's hire last month, Hafley lauded the 41-year-old as "a star" and "a brilliant football coach."

"When you see Anthony on 'Hard Knocks,' you probably think of a fiery, energetic motivator; a guy from Jersey," Hafley said. "But he's one of the best, most loyal people I've ever been around and he's one of the best football coaches I've ever been around."

Coming with Hafley from Boston College is assistant defensive line coach Vince Oghobaase and defensive assistant Sean Duggan. Oghobaase and Hafley worked together during Chip Kelly's lone season in San Francisco, and both remained on staff after the 49ers hired Kyle Shanahan in 2017.

Oghobaase, 37, coached UCLA's defensive line during Kelly's first two seasons there before accepting the same position at Boston College once Hafley was hired in 2020.

"His players love playing for him, and he gets on them hard," Hafley said. "He coaches them hard. He's demanding. He holds them to a standard, but he's got such good relationships and he's such a good teacher, and he's so smart. (Big) picture-wise, I think he has the ability to see it all."

The Packers have minimal change on the offensive coaching staff other than the addition of former NFL quarterback Sean Mannion, who will serve as an offensive assistant and work with Green Bay's quarterbacks.

The 31-year-old Mannion retired earlier this offseason after nine NFL seasons, a move he hinted at while speaking to LaFleur prior to a Week 8 matchup between Minnesota and Green Bay.

The two worked together during LaFleur's lone season as the Los Angeles Rams' offensive coordinator in 2017. Always impressed with Mannion's preparation and detail as a backup QB, LaFleur told him to reach out when he was ready to make the leap into coaching.

While preparing for an interview with the Chicago Bears, Mannion jumped on a Zoom call with LaFleur during the second half of the NFC Championship Game to get some feedback on his presentation.

"He showed me what he was going to present, and I told him, 'Wow, that's pretty good. I think you should come up to Green Bay right when you're done with that interview,'" LaFleur said. "I'm surprised they let him out of the building. They tried to get him, but I guess we had more to offer. We're lucky to have him. I really do think this guy's going to have a bright future for us and certainly in the coaching profession."

Green Bay also hired former Packers receiver Myles White as a coaching assistant via the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship after he spent a portion of his 2023 offseason in Green Bay as part of the same program. White caught nine passes for 66 yards in seven games after signing as an undrafted free agent with Green Bay in 2013. He spent the past two seasons as a receivers coach at Miami (Ohio).

The Packers are still more than a month away from the start of the offseason program, but both LaFleur and Hafley are excited about the makeup of the coaching staff and can't wait to "piece it all together."

"Hafley was a big part of the process in terms of getting the right staff around him … guys that he respected, that he trusts are going to be able to carry out the vision for the defense," LaFleur said. "I think you'll see a lot of high-energy coaches that'll help our players bring out that energy that we need to be able to go out and compete to the best of our ability on Sundays."