Quick to deflect credit, Matt LaFleur deserves it

As Packers' second-year coach has built winning culture in Green Bay, his numbers – and peers – speak for themselves

Head Coach Matt LaFleur

GREEN BAY – With three games left in the regular season, Matt LaFleur already has won more during his first two seasons than any other head coach in Packers history.

As a first-time head coach in 2019, he shepherded the biggest single-season turnaround in franchise history when the Packers went 13-3 and advanced to the NFC Championship Game.

While some questioned whether Green Bay could stay on that upward trajectory in 2020, the encore has been just as impressive as the introduction.

After clinching back-to-back NFC North titles for the first time since 2013-14 following Sunday's win over Detroit, the Packers enter Saturday night's game against Carolina as the top-seeded team in the NFC playoff race.

Anytime he's asked about what's led to the Packers finding success so early in his coaching tenure, LaFleur quickly diverts credit to the MVP-caliber play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the skill and diligence of the roster, locker-room chemistry and the work of his assistant coaches.

What you won't see him do, however, is pat himself on the back for a job well done – even as LaFleur continues to again fly under the radar in the NFL Coach of the Year conversation.

"We've lost six games in two seasons. That's pretty remarkable," said three-time Pro Bowl receiver Davante Adams, referring to the Packers' 23-6 regular-season record under LaFleur.

"It's something that we are all fired up about and I'm definitely surprised he's not getting more love for that. … They're definitely overlooking him but I'm sure he's not too worried about that."

LaFleur's offensive ingenuity is what won over the Packers' brass when the 40-year-old native of Mount Pleasant, Mich., was named the 15th head coach of the Packers on Jan. 8, 2019.

That has come as advertised. With LaFleur calling plays, the Packers' offense currently leads the NFL in scoring (31.5 points per game), third-down efficiency (49.7%) and red-zone, or gold-zone, offense (77.1%).

However, what's gone largely understated is how LaFleur has pushed the right buttons when it comes to training his football team and developing a healthy culture in the locker room.

From the beginning, LaFleur went against age-old coaching norms and curtailed long training-camp practices. Instead, he's stressed the importance of preparation in the classroom. Even in Week 15, he has no qualms about swapping out an in-season practice for a walkthrough, like he did Wednesday, with the Packers operating on a short week.

When the Packers hit a funk in 2019, LaFleur formed a leadership council with players that continues to meet on a weekly basis. That group took on even more responsibility in June, when it collaborated on a video calling for social-justice reform after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.

LaFleur also was proactive in developing the vision for the team's virtual offseason program after the COVID-19 pandemic closed team facilities throughout the spring and summer, enabling the team to hit the ground running during its first practice on Aug. 15.

"He's done a great job of bringing a lot of people together, both from the coaching standpoint to the players and how everybody's meshed," offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett sad. "I think he's amazing. He should get that (coach of the year) award. I mean, for what has gone on these past two years, it's unbelievable. And the confidence he's instilled in so many people is great, how he lets us be us and be able to coach and work with the guys is awesome."

Hackett was one of the coaches LaFleur deputized to formulate a plan for how the team would handle offseason Zoom meetings. LaFleur also empowered his second-year coordinator to bring flare to the offensive meeting room.

It led to Hackett promoting the team's "gold-zone" celebrations, a tribute to one of his favorite movies, "Austin Powers in Goldmember." During meetings, Hackett often can be spotted wearing gold glasses as an homage to the 2002 film.

On a serious note, LaFleur systematically assembled a coaching staff that could implement his vision for what the offense has become. He brought in former associates such as Justin Outten and Adam Stenavich, but also retained running backs coach Ben Sirmans, a well-regarded holdover from Mike McCarthy's staff.

"You can also see how he's just evolved as a head coach in terms of the command he has," Sirmans said. "Some guys in that role aren't willing to listen to suggestions. Those are some of the things he's willing to do to come up with the best formula that's going to work for the team.

"He just understands how to keep it focused but also how to keep it fun and how to keep the energy going the right way. I think he's done a great job. I don't know if he's gotten even enough attention on a national level for the type of job that he's done so far."

Most importantly, from an X's and O's standpoint, LaFleur has lived up to the hype. He's developed an efficient, yet unpredictable, system of offense that has meshed well with the skills of Rodgers, who has commended LaFleur several times over for the rhythm the offense has been in this season.

Not one to take credit for anything, the last thing LaFleur wants to talk about at the moment is where he fits into the NFL Coach of the Year picture. His focus is squarely on maintaining pole position in the NFC playoff chase, and that march continues Saturday night against the Panthers.

However, the numbers – and those who have witnessed LaFleur's brilliance and balance firsthand – do speak for themselves…even if the head coach prefers not to.

"It's not just about you but it's about everybody within this organization, just doing the best job they can, day in and day out," LaFleur said. "That's what I'm probably most proud of is just knowing we hired a staff that has totally bought into that. I think our players have totally bought into that. Just proud of their efforts."

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