GREEN BAY – Life was a lot different for Sean McVay a decade ago.
Before he was the highly acclaimed head coach of the Los Angeles Rams, McVay cut his teeth as a tight ends coach on Mike Shanahan's staff in Washington in the early-2010s.
McVay was a single guy in his mid-20s without a lot of connections in the D.C. area other than the young couple who lived across the street, then-Washington quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur and his wife, BreAnne.
When McVay wasn't grinding film or game-planning, he often could be found hanging out with the LaFleurs and their infant son, Luke.
"That was before I met my fiancée so I'd third wheel it with them a lot," said McVay on Tuesday. "They kind of took me under their wing."
McVay laughs about those memories now, as he readies to bring his Rams into Lambeau Field on Saturday to square off against LaFleur and the Packers in an NFC Divisional playoff game, the first time the two friends will be pitted against one another as NFL head coaches.
LaFleur and McVay became fast friends in Washington and have remained close ever since. When LA made McVay the youngest head coach in NFL history in 2017, one of his first moves was tabbing LaFleur as his offensive coordinator.
LaFleur could tell McVay had a bright future from the first time he interviewed with Mike and Kyle Shanahan for an entry-level job as an assistant tight ends coach in 2010.
"My office kind of butted up to the offensive staff room, and I could kind of hear them through the wall and just the excitement and enthusiasm and energy he had in his voice," LaFleur said.
"And then you get to sit down with him and, I mean, everybody knows about his memory and everything that's associated with that, but just his ability to connect with people, I think that's special."
That doesn't mean the two didn't clash at times during game-planning meetings in LA. If LaFleur disagreed with a call McVay made, he let his head coach hear about it.
But that's why McVay hired him in the first place – because LaFleur wasn't going to just nod and go along with whatever he said. He was going to challenge him.
In the end, the two helped the Rams go from worst to first in scoring offense and improve their win total from 4-12 to 11-5.
"Every day was a battle. That's what's fun about this, though," said LaFleur with a smile. "You can challenge each other, and that's how you grow. You know the intentions of the other person. It's just like family. You don't hold anything back when you have complete trust in who you're talking to that you're just trying to work as hard as you can in the best interest of the team or trying to do things the best way possible."
While McVay has perennially kept LA in the title contention, LaFleur has overseen a quick rebuild of his own in Green Bay. After winning 13 games combined in 2017-18, the Packers went 13-3 in each of LaFleur's first two seasons as head coach.
The second year of the partnership between LaFleur, as play-caller, and Aaron Rodgers, as quarterback, resulted in Green Bay leading the NFL in both scoring (31.8 points per game) and red-zone offense (80%) in 2020.
None of it has come as a surprise to McVay.
"I think it's just the command, the capacity for the game but most importantly, the ability to connect with people," said McVay of LaFleur. "He kind of checks all the boxes. I think what he also did, was I thought he hired a great staff around him. Then, they've got great players and that's really the winning edge."
The two coaches recognize the parallels between their offensive systems, modified versions of the West Coast scheme of Mike Shanahan that heavily incorporates bunch formations and misdirection. Yet, their teams have taken contrasting paths to Saturday's showdown.
The Packers were one of the league's most potent offenses this past season, while also having the fewest giveaways (11) of any NFL team. On the other hand, the Rams boasted the league's best scoring defense (18.5 points per game) and finished just seconds behind Green Bay's league lead in time of possession.
LaFleur and McVay still talk regularly to this day, though maybe not so much this week with LaFleur looking to guide the Packers to back-to-back NFC Championship Games for the first time in 23 years.
McVay considers LaFleur "one of my closest friends in life" and refers to him as a "big brother." His fiancée, Veronika Khomyn, also has grown close to the LaFleurs over the years.
However, that friendship will go by the wayside when the Rams and the Packers battle for the right to move one step closer to football's ultimate prize.
"I love him like a brother," LaFleur said. "He's a great friend of mine, but the gloves will be off on Saturday."