The Lass Word: He is the Class of the Class of 2019

Plenty of skeptics then.  Not so much now.

When the 2018 NFL season ended, it signaled the beginning of an offseason of change around the league.  No fewer than eight teams hired new head coaches.  Among them was the Green Bay Packers.  They had fired Mike McCarthy in the middle of a frustrating 6-9-1 campaign, and had chosen not to stick with interim coach Joe Philbin, as they looked toward the future.  

 

The trend for all the teams filling their vacancies was to find a young, dynamic leader in the mold of the Rams’ Sean McVay, who had just led his team to the Super Bowl.  In fact, anyone who had ever had so much as a cup of coffee with McVay seemed to be in demand.  The Packers were no exception. 

 

After a whirlwind of interviews, Green Bay hired one of McVay’s former assistants, Matt LaFleur.  The decision was not met with universal enthusiasm.  LaFleur had never been a head coach at any level, and he was coming from his position as offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans, whose offense had not exactly set the world on fire the previous season.  He was the last person to be interviewed for the Green Bay job, and apparently had hit a home run.  Team president Mark Murphy was so struck by LaFleur’s plan and presentation, that he was ready to offer him the job almost instantly.  He chose to sleep on it and consult with his small band of fellow search members the next day, just to make sure they all felt LaFleur was the best candidate, not just the best interview.  

 

The 39 year old Michigan native was hired, as were seven other head coaches by other teams.  Now, roughly two and a half years later, all of those head coaching decisions can be compared.  And the results are revealing. 

 

If you judge by regular season wins, LaFleur has been the most successful of all the hires, and it’s not even close.  Under his leadership, the Packers currently stand at 35-9.  The closest coach to that mark would be Tampa Bay’s Bruce Arians at 26-17.  LaFleur is the only one of the eight new coaches to immediately turn his team around and make the playoffs in the first year.  He is the only one to take his team to the post season in both of his first two years.  His teams have been one game short of the Super Bowl both times, and Green Bay is considered again to be one of the league’s top contenders this season. 

 

Here’s how the other seven head coaching hires have panned out thus far: 

 

Arizona 

The Cardinals made the unexpected hire of Cliff Kingsbury, a college coach who wasn’t even employed at the time.  Kingsbury had just been fired after going 35-40 in six years at Texas Tech.  But he was considered a quarterback whisperer, and the Cardinals were about to draft Kyler Murray.  The results were disappointing.  Arizona went 5-10-1 and 8-8 in the first two seasons.  But team management took an all-in approach, adding several high visibility players, such as Deandre Hopkins and JJ Watt.  So far it is paying off as the Cardinals have the best record in the NFC at 9-2, but Kingsbury's overall record to date is just 22-20-1. 

 

Cincinnati 

The Bengals chose another former Rams assistant, Zac Taylor.  His record to date is an abysmal 13-29-1, but the additions of quarterback Joe Burrow and receiver Ja’Marr Chase have helped Cincy improve to 7-4 this season.  They are in the running in the highly competitive AFC North. 

 

Cleveland 

The Browns decided to promote offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens to the top job.  It was a disaster.  In over his head, Kitchens stumbled to a 6-10 mark and was replaced by Kevin Stefanski after one season. 

 

Denver 

The Broncos bucked the trend toward the young, offensive-minded coaches, and went with veteran Vic Fangio, a defensive guru.  Fangio is 18-25 as his team struggles to find the answer at quarterback. 

 

Miami 

The Dolphins selected Patriots assistant Brian Flores.  He is 20-24 overall, and his teams have been up and down.  The Dolphins got off to a terrible start this year, but have suddenly warmed, winning four in a row. 

 

New York Jets 

The Jets hired Adam Gase after Miami had fired him.  Gase was actually interviewed by the Packers for their opening, but thank goodness that didn’t work out, because Gase went 9-23 in two years with the talent-poor Jets, and was replaced by Robert Saleh. 

 

Tampa Bay 

The Bucs chose veteran coach Bruce Arians, who promptly went 7-9 in the first year.  In 2020, Tampa management assembled what amounted to an all-star team which included Tom Brady.  Even so, the team went just 11-5 and finished second in its division.  The Bucs did get hot in the playoffs, winning three straight on the road including a victory over the Packers in the NFC title game.  They went on to beat Kansas City in the Super Bowl. 

 

So, looking at these profiles, who has done the best job?  Trying my best not to be biased, I would pick LaFleur.  One could argue LaFleur had an advantage because none of the other coaches had Aaron Rodgers to work with.  But remember, Rodgers fully appeared to be in decline at the time LaFleur was hired.  The Packers were losing with him.  MLF and his staff re-energized the future Hall of Fame quarterback and deserve some credit for his MVP performance in 2020. 

 

A skeptic could also argue that LaFleur benefited from his team enjoying uncanny good health in those first two years.  But what about this season?  The Packers are 9-3 despite a run of injuries to virtually every key player on the team.  MLF and his staff have had to coach up several low draft picks and undrafted free agents.  All teams have injuries, but LaFleur has managed to keep winning through them.  That's something other teams, such as the Cowboys, Niners, Saints and Browns have not been able to do.

 

Yes, Bruce Arians has won a Super Bowl.  But answer me this:  If Green Bay and Tampa Bay were to switch head coaches, who would fare better?  No doubt in my mind the Bucs would get even better while the Pack would decline. 

 

The verdict is in, at least in my courtroom.  Matt LaFleur is the class of the Class of 2019.  When the season is over, he just may become the first in the class to be named Coach of the Year.

 

 

 

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Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

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14 points

Comments (47)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Ferrari-Driver's picture

December 02, 2021 at 03:27 pm

Like many Packer fans, I had my doubts, but like many Packer fans today, I have jumped on the bandwagon.

LaFeur seems to have the demeanor and personality to deal effectively with the players in today's NFL.

I would be curious to see if Lombardi's style of the 1960's would remain effective or whether Lombardi would modify his approach and remain among the most effective in league history.

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Brockrice99's picture

December 02, 2021 at 03:30 pm

Would've loved to see Dillon in a Vince Lombardi Power Run, or to even see what Lombardi would say about Dillon now would be awesome.

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Since'61's picture

December 02, 2021 at 11:35 pm

Lombardi would undoubtedly modify his approach. He was smart enough to adapt as required to win in whatever era he would have coached in.

Most importantly Lombardi would be a different coach than he was in the 60s. He would have grown up differently and he would have been influenced by different mentors and sources as he moved through the coaching ranks.

He would be a winner in any era but his approach would be different. Not necessarily better or worse, just different.
Thanks, Since ‘61

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NickPerry's picture

December 03, 2021 at 07:29 am

"Lombardi would undoubtedly modify his approach. He was smart enough to adapt as required to win in whatever era he would have coached in."

Really EVERY paragraph is right on the money Since '61, but the first one especially rang true for me. Lombardi was an extremely smart man and a master motivator. Even TODAYS
sometimes very selfish players couldn't help themselves and would have run through a wall for Lombardi.

THAT IMO was his biggest quality...Players would go above and beyond to please him.

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Since'61's picture

December 03, 2021 at 09:52 am

Spot on post as usual Nick. Thanks, Since '61

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Brockrice99's picture

December 02, 2021 at 03:29 pm

I am not going to lie a lot of the times the Packers make coaching hires and I like the hire, it is not a good fit, and when I hate the hire it is a great fit! I was not a fan of MLF or Joe Barry when hired, and look how fantastic that has turned out so far. It's almost like the fans should trust Mark Murphy and Brian Gutte more and not crap on them every time they make a questionable move. (Myself included with specific decisions)

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dblbogey's picture

December 02, 2021 at 06:13 pm

Kind of like the Rashan Gary draft pick.

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Brockrice99's picture

December 03, 2021 at 09:42 am

Rashan Gary and AJ Dillon are two big ones that people hated, and this season they have been two beasts for us! Trust the upper management it is there job! (again myself included lol)

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PewAuKeeFan's picture

December 02, 2021 at 03:34 pm

Great comparison Ken! Here's hoping that your last statement comes true!

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Lphill's picture

December 02, 2021 at 03:49 pm

Matt needs to fire the special teams coach and light a fire under them .

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dblbogey's picture

December 02, 2021 at 06:15 pm

We've gone through a few of them, and none were successful. Kind of baffling.

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Bearmeat's picture

December 02, 2021 at 04:01 pm

Is MLF better than most of the schmucks hired in 19 (Although I'd argue Arians is a good coach and the jury is still out on Cliffy). Hell yes. Is he great? We don't know yet.

I think it's "All of the above." The QB matters. So does the quality of the supporting cast (personnel). So does the coaching staff.

It is a fact that while MLF walked into a very dicey political situation, he had the best situation physically of all the new coaches in that he had a proven winner at QB, and talent at WR, OT, OC, NT. The Jets would have killed for that. Gute has done a great job augmenting that, and the QB has resurrected/reversed his decline. And yes, Matt has done a great job managing it.

When 12 leaves, we will find out more of what MLF is made of. And that might not mean winning immediately. Hell, even Payton and Belichick had losing seasons post-franchise QB.

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relleum61's picture

December 02, 2021 at 05:24 pm

McCarthy, season one post Farve also had a losing record while transitioning to another franchise QB. That season, for good or bad, lead to Capers... and other issues down the road.

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jannes bjornson's picture

December 02, 2021 at 08:04 pm

Rodgers kept them in all the games his premiere year. The defense lost most games in the fourth quarters or they would have been 10-6. A lot of close games. My opinion has been imprinted before that Rodgers should have started the NFC CH @ Lambeau. He would have brought the win.

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jurp's picture

December 03, 2021 at 08:55 am

If Rodgers had just finished that game, he wouldn't have brought the loss with a dumbass interception. And then we might've just kicked that game-winning FG...

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barutanseijin's picture

December 03, 2021 at 03:50 pm

Unlikely. It just would have been a loss in a different style.

The Giants outplayed the Packers in the trenches. A team that gets outplayed on the line of scrimmage generally loses unless they have extraordinary luck. Rodgers wouldn't have changed that.

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jurp's picture

December 03, 2021 at 03:54 pm

We only needed 30-35 yards or so to get the field goal. You're right about the Giants outplaying us, but take that pass back and I think we win that game.

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barutanseijin's picture

December 03, 2021 at 04:17 pm

In the '10 NFC Championship against a similarly tough defense and in similar conditions, a somewhat more experienced & more savvy Rodgers threw at a 17/30 clip with 2 INTS to 0 TDs for a 55 rating. His best play was a shoestring tackle on Urlacher. By comparison, Favre went 19/35, 2TD, 2INTs and a 70 rating in the '07 Championship. I don't think there's much chance that Rodgers would have beaten the Giants, especially when you consider what happened in 2011.

PS the Packers were totally wiped out by the Saints in '08, so Rodgers didn't keep them in all games.

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splitpea1's picture

December 02, 2021 at 05:15 pm

There are a few apples-to-oranges comparisons here, but it doesn't matter because MLF has done a fantastic job this season navigating through injuries to the some of the most important players on the team. A big assist goes to Gute, of course. There have been quite a few articles written about MLF not getting the respect he deserves and all that, but any doubts can be erased by winning the Super Bowl.

Just speculation, but I not sure any of the other candidates at the time would have been excited about the DC already being in place.

Although I don't think he would have been a good fit at the time, it would have been interesting to see Flores as the HC, as he is unorthodox and would have certainly broken the mold of the offensive pedigree types the Packers usually hire. Flores would have really been an abrupt departure from the norm, but with a headstrong QB like Rodgers, I'm not sure it would have worked out at all.

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egbertsouse's picture

December 02, 2021 at 05:41 pm

The guy has ridden Rodgers’ coattails to an amazing regular season record. Playoffs? Not so much. Kind of reminds me of another coach….what was that guy’s name again ? Hmmmm…oh yeah, Mike McCarthy. At least we didn’t have to watch McCarthy stand on the sidelines flapping his arms like some demented sandhill crane.

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Tundraboy's picture

December 02, 2021 at 06:35 pm

Your still invited to the Super Bowl party ,if we can keep from having any more significant injuries of course. Enjoy the ride this year while you can.

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Packer_Fan's picture

December 02, 2021 at 05:56 pm

Looks to me that the driver for all of these coaches is who has good quarterbacks. Murray developed. Burrows developed. Tampa Bay hit good with Brady and so did the Packers. Again, only the coaches with good QB's have been successful.

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dblbogey's picture

December 02, 2021 at 06:21 pm

Mark Rypien, Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson, Joe Flacco, Jeff Hostetler. All Super Bowl winners.

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murf7777's picture

December 03, 2021 at 05:21 am

Those are the anomalies, the other 50 were very very good QB’s and most in the HOF. The high majority of SB winners have one thing in common, a great QB.

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Johnblood27's picture

December 03, 2021 at 08:15 am

and Nick Foles???

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PearlyBakerBest's picture

December 04, 2021 at 06:00 am

And Jim McMahon???

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jurp's picture

December 03, 2021 at 08:57 am

Add dead-arm Peyton Manning with the Broncos. Possibly the weakest arm of any QB ever to even be IN a Super Bowl, and he got a ring because of his defense.

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Bigdogbonz's picture

December 02, 2021 at 06:46 pm

I concur 100% GB has the best coach

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pack69go's picture

December 02, 2021 at 08:13 pm

Just for the record, Miami did not make the playoffs after the 2020 season. such mistakes in research make me question the validity of any of the authors points and opinions.

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marpag1's picture

December 03, 2021 at 04:12 am

And yet there are still plenty of steaming media turds who diss MLF on an almost daily basis. Is that your foul odor that I'm smelling now, Stephen A. Smith?

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NickPerry's picture

December 03, 2021 at 07:37 am

I was one of those morons who wanted Josh McDaniels to be hired. After I watched MLF being introduced as the Packers HC, I was never more certain the Packers made a HUGE mistake.

CLEARLY I WAS WRONG!

I'm always the first to admit when I was wrong, well if I remember if I was wrong in the first place. The ole memory isn't what it used to be and is getting worse and worse by the day it seems. BUT I remember without a doubt, the Packers had made a HUGE mistake and the rest of Rodgers career would be pissed away.

I HONESTLY believe 3 times is a charm and the Packers, IF they can get few guys back and not lose anyone else of huge importance moving forward they will win the SB. I think MLF has a great handle on this team AND for the most parts has learned from past mistakes.

3's a charm and MLF is going to be a SB winning HC!

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Johnblood27's picture

December 03, 2021 at 08:16 am

We shoulda stuck with Philbin...

~ ;-) ~

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Since'61's picture

December 03, 2021 at 10:33 am

When the Packers hired MLF I didn't know much about him so I took the let's give him a chance approach. It has worked out very well. MLF always has his team prepared for every game. He's only lost 9 games in 3 years and the reality is that the Packers could have won this season's game against the Chiefs and the Vikings.

If anyone told me at the time that our team would be 35-9 at this point with our new HC I would have signed up for that ASAP. The only missing piece is the elusive SB victory. Assuming that we get some of players back from injury I really like our chances this season. GPG! Thanks, Since '61

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Leatherhead's picture

December 03, 2021 at 10:52 am

We have several people here who think they are smarter than the highly paid professionals who run the organization. They aren’t.

Whether it’s coaches or players or scouts or GMs, the guys that are in this 60 hours a week know quite a bit more than even the most astute fan.

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barutanseijin's picture

December 03, 2021 at 03:47 pm

This was essentially the same response every time someone criticized something TT did (or more often, didn't do): "You think you know better than TT?" As it turned out, the critics were right & TT had to be shoved out the door for the Packers to improve.

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Leatherhead's picture

December 03, 2021 at 04:11 pm

Nonsense. TT was one of the best GMs this franchise ever had.. Look at his record.

Also, the GM doesn’t just do whatever he feels like. Plenty of other people …..knowledgeable people…..are involved in these decisions. Is not just being smarter than one guy, it’s about thinking you know more than everybody in the organization.

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LambeauPlain's picture

December 03, 2021 at 05:38 pm

TT, like Joe Biden, was in cognitive decline his last few years. Thankfully the organization around TT recognized it and implemented a transition plan that has worked out very well.

Sadly, Biden's organization around him is letting him decline and fail week by week. It is pathetic and dangerous. TT's decisions were around a game. Biden's are matters of National Security, life and death.

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Leatherhead's picture

December 04, 2021 at 01:40 pm

Hey, we all know that as you age, you sometimes aren’t as sharp as you were. For most of us, it’s not a big deal if we can’t remember why we went into the garage, but when you’re running a $500,000,000/year organization I that employs and impacts thousands of people, it matters.

People in the organization noticed TT wasn’t up to the job anymore and did the right thing. Good. But don’t ever let anybody tell you he wasn’t a damn good GM from 2005-2016. A Super Bowl, four Championship games , 8 straight in the playoffs and was voted Executive of the Year by his peers. He did a damn good job for this team.

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Qoojo's picture

December 04, 2021 at 04:16 pm

I guess you must be in cognitive decline as well because you can't tell the difference between football and politics.

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Johnblood27's picture

December 04, 2021 at 06:56 am

Thanks for my buzz-kill...

I guess there is no need for this web site or any of us know-nothing 'fans' to post any thoughts which will always be uninformed and ill conceived.

I thought that my 60+ years of football study gave me something worth sharing now and then. I now realize I have been mistaken.

Thanks for that... I think...

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Leatherhead's picture

December 04, 2021 at 01:52 pm

If that’s how you want to look at it. I can acknowledge some people are substantially more knowledgeable than me and still have an opinion, whether it’s about the Packers or something else. If I think it’s worth expressing, i might do that.

I know what I think, but I like to hear the opinions of Dobber and Guam and Coldworld and TGR and others. It helps me shape and refine my own thoughts. Listening to people that are astute is a good thing.

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Johnblood27's picture

December 04, 2021 at 05:41 pm

dude, just bustin on ya.

keep on keepin on!

Im always gonna shove my 2 pennies in!

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Johnblood27's picture

December 05, 2021 at 11:02 am

deleted

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PatrickGB's picture

December 04, 2021 at 09:04 am

What’s interesting to me is that Matt kept most of the coaching staff. He brought in great offensive line coaching staff and kept Pettine’s defensive staff and later let his contract run out Pettine was a former HC and Matt probably needed that wisdom for a year. He pulled the plug on Zook and promoted Drayton (who I like as a coach). Matt works well with Rodgers and constantly evolves his schemes.

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Qoojo's picture

December 04, 2021 at 01:22 pm

It's no coincidence that you can rank the coaching job done by the quality of the team's QB. As mentioned, the records turn around when the QB does better.

MLF Pros:
- Got Rodgers interested and engaged
- Didn't let friendship get in the way of removing DC
- Seems to foster a team atmosphere
- Reduction of Rodgers hero ball

Cons:
- Special teams are still special
- Defense, but maybe he got that turned around this year

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Leatherhead's picture

December 04, 2021 at 02:01 pm

How do you win with Trent Dilfer? Rex Grossman? Joe Flacco? Nick Foles? Taysom Hill. Tebow? I think that good coaches help their QBs play better, regardless of their “quality”

And the Packers defense has been above average ever since MLF arrived. Only two starters from before 2019 remain: Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry. I would include King, and Lancaster, but neither of them plays much. Neither does Burks

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Qoojo's picture

December 04, 2021 at 04:20 pm

Tebow? lol

Defense has not been above average against anything other than regular season filler teams.

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