GREEN BAY – Matt LaFleur uttered the names himself, all of Green Bay’s championship coaches, his first day on the job.
“To be following in the footsteps of Curly Lambeau, Vince Lombardi, Mike Holmgren, Mike McCarthy,” LaFleur said Wednesday upon being introduced as the 15th head coach of the Green Bay Packers. “It’s truly an honor.”
It’s a list to which he hopes to add his name at some point, an opportunity he simply called “surreal.”
But LaFleur is very much the real deal as far as Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy and General Manager Brian Gutekunst are concerned. The leaders of the franchise’s coaching search, along with executive vice president/director of football operations Russ Ball, didn’t take long after meeting with LaFleur on Sunday to make him the team’s new head coach.
The last of 10 candidates interviewed – the final seven over a whirlwind three-day, multi-city excursion last weekend – LaFleur impressed the Packers’ brass with his preparedness, enthusiasm and vision.
“He has the unique combination of a quiet confidence but yet a humility,” Murphy said. “I see him having the ability and experience to really make a difference.
“I think we’ve found a gem in Matt and we’re really excited about the future under his leadership.”
Murphy explained that during the month-long search process, numerous candidates were vetted and the team’s leadership council – nine players, including Aaron Rodgers, representing each position group – was consulted. That feedback indicated to Murphy some complacency had set in amongst players and coaches, so he was out to find a leader who could revitalize things.
Immediately following LaFleur’s interview, Murphy, Gutekunst and Ball all agreed he was the top candidate to do just that, and their feelings didn’t change after sleeping on it.
The 39-year-old coach’s son, who over the last three years has gone from league MVP Matt Ryan’s QB coach in Atlanta to NFL Coach of the Year Sean McVay’s offensive coordinator with the Rams to his first play-calling gig in Tennessee, had an idea he was strongly in the running when Gutekunst had Rodgers reach out with a phone call Monday.
That still didn’t stop him from getting caught “speechless” upon later that day receiving the official job offer from Murphy. It’s been a fast and frantic rise for LaFleur up the coaching ranks, and the franchise’s leaders believe the Packers will be the ones capitalizing on his ascension.
“For me, I try to make this as simple as possible – we wanted someone who could win, and that’s what we found in Matt,” Gutekunst said.
“We’re ready to get after it and I think we have the perfect candidate to lead us to where we want to go. There’s one goal here, it’s always been one goal, to win world championships, and we’re excited to get started.”
LaFleur certainly is, and that phone call with the two-time MVP quarterback only energized him more.
“I cannot wait to get to work with him,” LaFleur said of Rodgers. “I think he’s equally excited. There’s a lot of work to be done in front of us, but I’m just looking forward to that opportunity.
“I think we’re both on the same page. We are committed to winning, there’s no doubt about it, and he’s a competitor.”
Building a relationship with Rodgers and the entire roster is as necessary as it is daunting for a first-time head coach, but LaFleur already has shown how much he’s willing to push any perceived boundaries.
As McVay’s right-hand man with the high-flying Rams offense, LaFleur left last year to join Mike Vrabel’s new coaching staff with the Titans to become a full-time play-caller. Tennessee didn’t make the playoffs this past year, but LaFleur kept them in the hunt despite significant injuries, including to QB Marcus Mariota.
Packers introduce Matt LaFleur at Lambeau Field press conference
The Green Bay Packers introduced Matt LaFleur as the team's 15th head coach at a press conference on Jan. 9, 2019.
He transformed the Titans to a power running team down the stretch, a change Murphy felt spoke to his “creativity,” which put them in position at 9-6 heading into a Week 17 winner-gets-in game against Indianapolis.
With the Rams going 13-3 this year, Murphy felt LaFleur would have been “the hot candidate” across the league had he stayed with McVay, and he commended him for the chance he took to make him more ready to be a head coach.
“I needed to challenge myself,” LaFleur said. “It would have been easy to stay in LA. You look at the roster, you look at the success they’re having this year.
“I took the risk because I knew I had to get out of my comfort zone and grow as a coach. The lessons I learned this year, I learned football is not easy. You’d better navigate through some adversity, and I was proud of that.”
LaFleur’s first major order of business will be to put together his coaching staff. He made no commitments or announcements Wednesday, only saying he was planning to meet with some members of the 2018 staff, including defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, very soon.
From there it’ll be on to diving deeper into the roster than he already has, and setting the plan for 2019, which he already said he’ll enter with high expectations, which are shared by those who brought him here.
“He made me feel like he could coach our whole team, that he could drive our team to where it needed to be,” Gutekunst said. “We need to get better and we need to play harder, and we think he can do that for us.”