GREEN BAY – For all the attention, and rightly so, on Aaron Rodgers breaking Brett Favre's franchise record for touchdown passes with his next one, there's a piece of history Head Coach Matt LaFleur is on the verge of as well.
With a win Saturday vs. the Browns, LaFleur would tie the league record for the most regular-season wins by a head coach in his first three years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
From 1989-91, San Francisco's George Seifert won 38 games, going 14-2 his first two seasons and then 10-6 in his third. Thus far, LaFleur is 37-9 at the helm of the Packers (13-3, 13-3, 11-3), moving ahead of Jim Harbaugh's 36 wins at San Francisco from 2011-13 with last week's victory at Baltimore, coincidentally over Harbaugh's brother John.
LaFleur now has an opportunity to tie Seifert this week, and if he does, he could surpass him next week, which would be significant in that he could set the new mark without needing the 17th regular-season game that was added this year. The NFL had been playing 16-game regular seasons since 1978.
Ask LaFleur about any of his accomplishments, and he's always quick to credit others in the organization – the players, his coaching staff, the personnel department, you name it. He also always has his eye on what's next, because it's become clear during his three seasons he'll never reach any level of satisfaction or complacency until he brings another Super Bowl title to Green Bay.
That said, there are a few pillars to LaFleur's program that help define his coaching style. Where these rank in their level of contribution to his standout run of early success compared to the players, fellow coaches, front office, etc., is an open question.
But there's no denying they matter, because there's no arguing with the results he's produced so far.
1. He holds himself accountable first.
After any loss, or in discussing anything that doesn't go right, almost without fail LaFleur will say it starts with him. And he means it. He's always going to look in the mirror first to examine whether he could have done something better, whether it's the game plan, the play calls, game management, whatever.
Shouldering the blame lies in contrast to the credit he's always spreading around, but it speaks to the culture he's created behind the scenes. He may not call players out in the media the way he calls himself out, but he and his coaches hold them accountable out of the public eye, and they can't really pass the buck in good conscience when the head coach never does so publicly.
2. He listens to his players.
This applies to various areas. Regarding X's and O's, it's not just Rodgers who has LaFleur's ear, but Davante Adams and other veteran, accomplished players have referenced conversations they've had separately with LaFleur – after practice, before a meeting, in the hallway, etc. He wants their input to enter the game-planning equation.
The team's leadership council – a select group of locker room leaders chosen by the team as a whole – also can influence the daily routine. Just this past week, with having one fewer day than usual between games, the players asked for more recovery time. So he let them leave early on Tuesday and moved the scheduled walk-through practice to Wednesday, with an eye toward being more rested before ramping up preparation.
3. He doesn't just talk about taking one game at a time, he lives it.
Pick any of his many favorite phrases – hitting the reset button, going 1-0 every week, bringing your best every single game. They're all baked into the approach LaFleur takes and the culture he's created.
Sure, it's a lot of coachspeak, but it's not an act with LaFleur. If reaching back-to-back NFC title games and becoming the first coach in team history with 10-plus wins in his first three seasons isn't enough, perhaps his most impressive achievement is he's yet to experience a losing streak as an NFL head coach.
Even Seifert suffered a losing streak in the middle of his third year. Jim Harbaugh had a pair of losing streaks in Year 3.
If anything speaks to truly taking it one at a time, the fact that LaFleur has never let one game beat him twice does. It's been especially noteworthy this season, when the Packers have dealt with significantly more injuries than in his first two years. The way 2021 has unfolded justifiably has LaFleur among the top candidates for NFL Coach of the Year.
As LaFleur addressed Thursday how the Packers have turned the "next man up" mantra into a successful reality, he simultaneously touched on multiple points outlined above.
"I think it speaks to everybody in that locker room because they have a choice whether they want to follow that message or not," he said. "That's the bottom line.
"Now, granted we haven't gotten to where we want to go and we know that there's a lot more in front of us … Like the old saying goes, you're either getting better or you're getting worse, you're never staying the same, and I think those guys take that to heart.
"It starts with the leadership in that room, I think it starts with our assistant coaches. We've just got a lot of good people around here. And then when you get a lot of good people that are talented, you have a chance to do something special."
So does LaFleur. Just because he'd rather not talk about it doesn't mean it shouldn't be recognized.