GREEN BAY – A little more than three years ago, Matt LaFleur was watching Matt Ryan work through his progressions in practice when he noticed a correction needed to be made.
A fresh-faced assistant in his first season coaching the Atlanta Falcons’ quarterbacks, LaFleur had picked up on a fundamental mishap in the franchise quarterback’s delivery.
He could have swallowed his whistle and let things unfold, but it was LaFleur’s belief the hitch was causing Ryan to sail passes to the receivers on skinny post routes.
So the 35-year-old coach spoke up, undeterred by the fact he was critiquing a former third overall draft pick who had played seven NFL seasons at that point in his career.
Predictably, Ryan raised an eyebrow at his suggestion.
“I said something about his balance, and he didn’t like it,” recalled LaFleur.
However, what happened next is a moment that brings a smile to LaFleur’s face to this day. As LaFleur tells it, Ryan proceeded to rip off the next 10 passes perfectly. Afterward, LaFleur joked with the veteran quarterback, “I think I’m going to tick you off every day.”
Their partnership bore fruit over the next two seasons. Ryan captured his first NFL MVP award in 2016 and led the Falcons to Super Bowl LI, while LaFleur gained recognition as one of the league’s true up-and-coming offensive minds.
It was a time of personal growth and professional galvanization for the now 39-year-old LaFleur, who was introduced as the 15th head coach of the Packers on Wednesday afternoon.
After coordinating a record-breaking offense with the Los Angeles Rams in 2017 and calling plays in Tennessee this past year, LaFleur will now get the opportunity to work with another former MVP quarterback in Aaron Rodgers.
After impressing President/CEO Mark Murphy and General Manager Brian Gutekunst in the initial interview in Nashville, LaFleur received a phone call from Rodgers prior to accepting the job earlier this week.
It was at that moment LaFleur began to get an inkling he could possibly be in the running for the job. Independent of landing the job, LaFleur felt an immediate connection with the future Hall of Fame quarterback centered on winning.
“I can tell he’s a passionate guy, and he wants to win,” said LaFleur of Rodgers, who also was part of the player leadership council Murphy and Gutekunst consulted before the search.
“And I think that holds true for me, as well. So I think we’re in alignment there. Because like I said before, this game is about winning. I know that he wants to add to his legacy, and the only way we’re going to accomplish that is to win a world championship.”
To get there, LaFleur plans to call plays in a system he’s developed and modernized working for the likes of Mike and Kyle Shanahan, and Sean McVay, with whom he sparked a turnaround in Los Angeles a little more than a year ago.
McVay’s Rams have taken the league by storm with their innovation and creativity. Prior to the Packers’ Week 8 matchup with Los Angeles this past year, Rodgers was effusive in his praise for McVay’s offense and playstyle.
Yet, that didn’t prevent LaFleur from stretching his wings and betting on himself as a play-caller with the Titans, a gamble Murphy praised his new head coach for during a 40-minute news conference with reporters Wednesday.
“It was a risk for him to leave L.A. and go to Tennessee, but he did it because he knew it would help him become a head coach, to take on the play-calling responsibilities,” Murphy said. “Quite honestly, if he had stayed in L.A. with the kind of year they had this year, he’d be the hot candidate. He’d be flying all over the country talking to everybody. But I think the experience he had in Tennessee there’s no doubt that made him a better coach and we think he’s absolutely ready to be a head coach.”
LaFleur says he plans to keep an open-door policy and build a culture of honest communication in the Packers’ locker room. When developing game plans, LaFleur values feedback from players and making sure they have confidence in his vision.
It’s no different than the approach LaFleur took with Ryan in the Falcons’ quarterback room back in 2015. In their two years together, LaFleur learned the value of partnership and trust between the quarterback and his coaches.
A son of a football coach himself, LaFleur plans to draw on all of his past experiences in building an offense in Green Bay that stays one step ahead of the competition and plays to Rodgers’ strengths.
“If there’s one thing I can say in regards to a guy like Aaron, if you give Aaron time and you are unpredictable, he’s going to excel, because we all know the talent he has,” he said. “That’s how we’re going to build this thing.”