PHOENIX, AZ (WBAY)- NFL owners, general managers and coaches have convened at the Biltmore Arizona in Phoenix for the 2019 NFL Annual Meeting. This is yet another first for Packers rookie Head Coach Matt LaFleur. But the ‘first’ he is most anxious for is just 15 days away. That is when the Packers open their offseason program and the 39-year old will stand in front of and address his team for the very first time.
“I think it’s something I’ve thought about since the day I got hired,” LaFleur said Sunday in Phoenix. “I think it is a big moment because that is the first impression you are going to have with your football team.” Has he rehearsed that moment in front of a mirror, or anywhere else? “No, not yet, but as we lead up to that moment I’m sure I will give it a dry run.”
LaFleur doesn’t ‘need’ to win the room that day, but he does need to command it, and sell himself to players who will follow a coach that they trust to put them in the best positions to be successful. But that doesn’t happen in one meeting. “Yeah, I think that is built over time. The one thing I will tell you that I have learned the most from everybody else I have worked with is you have to be genuine, you’ve got to be true to yourself, said LaFleur. “And I think the players will see that.”
What the players also have to see is that the rookie head coach is there for all of them, not just the offensive mind brought in to help Aaron Rodgers return to his MVP form. Something LaFleur is very in tune with. “Yes, this is about the team and nobody is above the team. That’s why I love football, it is the ultimate team sport. We know it is going to take everybody from the players to the coaches, to the support staff; everybody moving in the same direction.”
But his relationship and ability to coach Rodgers is at the forefront of all of this. Thanks to a few phone calls, that relationship is still in its’ infancy. That will change quickly when players report for the start of the offseason program on April 8th. But LaFleur knows the two certainly won’t be on the same page April 9th. “No I think honestly it’s something that establishes over time. It’s just going to organically develop and the only way that happens is to make sure your communication is on point. It’s clear, open and honest and I’m looking forward for that process to begin.”
Rodgers’ process is going to change with a new offense, one that may not afford him the latitude and freedom at the line of scrimmage he enjoyed under Mike McCarthy. In previous stops, LaFleur did not have that many audibles built in to his system; the quarterback had options, but not total freedom. As LaFleur explains, “with our system, what we try to do is we try to get premiere plays versus specific looks. So a lot of times we’ll call a play call that has two options to it and then it’s up to the quarterback to make sure that we get the right play called.” What if Rodgers calls a third option? “Well that has never been a part of the offensive system yet. But I’m sure that when you are dealing with a guy that has the experience in the success that he’s had, I’m sure our offense is going to evolve, and maybe that element will come into play.”
Here in Arizona, LaFleur will be able to look around the head coaches in the meetings and see plenty of guys who were able to guide their teams to the postseason in their first year at the helm. In fact, it’s happened for 30-percent of the new head coaches over the last 11 years. But it has never happened in Green Bay. Can LaFleur be the first?
“I’m never going to make predictions. I’m confident in our process. I’ve been fortunate to be around a couple of other programs, organizations, where in year one we were able to have some success, again it really boils down to that daily process of just trying to get better every day and be the best version of ourselves.” Understandable, but perhaps a tough sell to a fan base that is not accustomed to back to back years without a playoff appearance, much less three in a row. “It’s more about our football team and what our players believe, said LaFleur. “I’m confident that we are going to get the most out of our guys and I think if we are focused on that process we will get to where we want to get to and that ultimately leads to getting into the playoffs.”
In Green Bay, Super Bowl titles are the goal. And that is not out of the question. 5 first time head coaches, guys with zero head coaching experience like LaFleur, have made it to a Super Bowl, with two of them winning titles. George Seifert with the 49ers in Super Bowl 24, and Don McCafferty with the Colts all the way back in Super Bowl 5. So….there’s a chance.