Here’s where and when the new Packers head coach has been, what positions he’s held, and how his teams’ passing games have fared in his time as an NFL coach. LaFleur, by the way, spent 2014 as the quarterbacks coach for Notre Dame.
Houston Texans – Offensive quality control coach (2008–2009)
The Texans went with Matt Schaub, a second-year starter, and fifth-year pro, when LaFleur joined the Texans in 2008. In his two years there, Schaub’s passer rating went from 83.2 to 92.7 to 98.6. He’s never matched his 2009 rating in the nine years since LaFleur departed from Texas.
In 2009, Schaub threw for 4,770 yards, well above any other quarterback. He out-passed a murderer’s row of quarterbacks that year: Peyton Manning (4,500), Tony Romo (4,483), Aaron Rodgers, (4,434), Tom Brady (4,398), Drew Brees (4,388), Ben Roethlisberger (4,328), Philip Rivers (4,254), Brett Favre (Vikings, 4,202), and Eli Manning (4,021).
From 2008 to 2009, the Texans’ record went from 6-5 to 9-7, and Schaub was selected to the pro bowl. He’s not been a starter since 2013, has a 47-45 overall win-loss record, and an 89.1 rating with 4 teams. Schaub’s second year spent with LaFleur on the staff was the high point of a 15-year career that is still on-going.
Washington Redskins – Quarterbacks coach (2010–2013)
In four years as a coach under head coach Mike Shanahan, he and the Redskins had a mixed record. In 2010-11, the Skins amassed an 11-21 record with aging QB Donovan McNabb and Rex Grossman. McNabb compiled a 6-13 record in games started, and ratings of 77.1 and 82.9. Grossman went 5-8 n 2011, with a 72.4 rating. It was Grossman’s last year as a starter in a 10-year career, in which he had an overall 71.4 passer rating.
In 2012, rookie QB Robert Griffen III went 9-6 in games started, with a 102.4 rating, 20 TDs, 5 interceptions, and 3,200 yards. He was named NFL offensive rookie of the year, and named to the Pro Bowl. He also rushed for 815 yards, and averaged 6.8 yards per carry. However, near the end of the season, he injured the ACL and LCL ligaments in his right knee, making him unavailable for the pro bowl game.
In 2013, He didn’t play in any pre-season games, played noticeably injured through most of the season, and was put on inactive list for the final three games. His record as the starter dropped to 3-10, his rating fell to 82.1, and he had 16 TDs and 12 interceptions. His rushing dropped to 489 yards.
Atlanta Falcons – Quarterbacks coach (2015–2016)
Matt Ryan began his eight season as the Falcons’ starting quarterback in 2015, which was Julio Jones’s second season. Ryan, the third overall draft pick out of Boston College in 2008, in eight years had never had a rating below 80 or above 100, though he had made the Pro Bowl in 2010, 2012, and 2014.
In 2015, Ryan’s team went 8-8 and he had a typical 89.3 rating. Ryan has been a consistent high-yardage QB with the Falcons, recording 4,000+ passing seasons every year from 2011 through 2018.
It was in 2016, the second year LaFleur was his quarterbacks coach, that Ryan achieved his greatest success, which he has not come close to matching since. His stats: 4,944 yards, 69.9 completion rate, 38 TDs, 7 interceptions, and a 117.1 passer rating. Ryan was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player and Offensive player of the year, and first-team All-Pro.
In the year after LaFleur moved on to the Rams, Ryan’s passing yardage fell by 848 yards, his touchdowns dropped by 18, his interceptions increased by 5, and his rating fell by almost 26 points. It should be noted that Kyle Shanahan also left in 2017, moving on from being the offensive coordinator to the 49ers head coach.
Los Angeles Rams – Offensive coordinator (2017)
Sean McVay became the head coach of the Rams in 2017 and he quickly named LaFleur as his offensive coordinator. Jared Goff, in his second pro season, went from a 63.6 to a 100.5 rating. He threw for 28 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions. In 2018, after LaFleur had left, the Rams’ pass game busted out, going from 3,804 to 4,688 yards through the air; Goff’s passer rating last season was 101.1
The Rams went from a 4-12 record in 2016 to an 11-5 record, and the team went from having the 2nd least productive pass attack to the tenth best – in just one year. They continued to progress in 2018, ranking fifth in passing yardage.
Tennessee Titans – Offensive coordinator (2018)
LaFleur moved on to Tennessee for one season. He made the move because he was given the play-calling duties in addition to being the offensive coordinator. Though fourth-year QB Marcus Mariota played in all but two games, he was injured throughout the season. Despite those limitations, he managed to improve his passer rating substantially, from 79.3 to 92.3. The Titans finished the season with the same record as the previous year, nine and seven.
One can argue that there are four keys to a team’s passing success or failure: the quarterback, the play caller (usually the head coach), the offensive coordinator, and the quarterbacks coach. Also of importance are the offensive quality control coach, the receiving corps, and the offensive line. It is therefore difficult to determine how much credit LaFleur should get for his various roles as a QBs coach (6 years), offensive coordinator (2 years), offensive quality control coach (2 years), and play caller (1 year).
Regardless, the fact that LaFleur has been one of the four key people to several very successful pass attacks over the last ten years is a promising sign that the Packers’ 2019 air game will be one of its strongest in years. While he must share the credit with others, the mere fact that he was a member of the small group that produced some fearsome pass attacks gives him valuable first-hand experience with guiding quarterbacks on numerous NFL teams.
Two quarterbacks, a declining Donovan McNabb and an injured Marcus Mariota, failed to excel with LaFleur on their coaching staffs. Matt Schaub exceeded his own talent in 2009. Some highly talented quarterbacks, however, showed marked and sudden improvement with LaFleur on the scene.
Matt Ryan is of course the best example. Ryan went from being a very good veteran QB to the league’s MVP in two years’ time. I’m repeating some quotes here, but this is what Ryan had to say when he learned LaFleur had been hired by the Packers:
I think (LaFleur and Rodgers) will work well. From my experience with Matt, he was great to work with. He was really good at striking the balance between being supportive and having your back and coaching you hard and getting the best out of you.
Robert Griffin, the second player drafted in 2012 was an immediate success, prior to a series of devastating injuries that have stunted his career. Griffin is a big fan of Green Bay’s new head coach:
The Packers got a great one. Matt’s a great coach and a better guy. . .And he never abandoned me while he was in Washington or after he left. I loved playing for Matt. He is all the things that NFL owners and executives are looking for right now – young, innovative, ambitious. . Most importantly, he knows how to win – and ultimately, that’s something Aaron and everybody in between can jump on board with.
The backup QB to Griffin was Kirk Cousins, who has been a starter the last four years – three with the Redskins and last year with the Vikings. In those last four years, Kirk’s passer rating has ranged from 93.9 to 101.6. When the Packers’ announcement was made, Cousins talked glowingly of the staff that he played under in Washington:
LaFleur’s promotion to head coach reminds me how lucky I was to work with Coach Shanahan’s staff when I first entered the NFL. There are now 3 head coaches, not including Mike Shanahan, that played a role in my development.
Jared Goff, the top draft choice of 2016, also specifically gives LaFleur a lot of the credit for his rapid rise in the NFL:
Matt was really good for me. I think he’s built for long-term success. He has a system he believes in. He’s going to be a really good fit for what Aaron does. They can move him around. The zone run scheme is really good. The protection scheme keeps it simple. I think he’ll do a good job in Green Bay.
Most coaches would be thrilled to coach just one ultra-talented quarterback in a career. Mike McCarthy was fortunate in having two such quarterbacks.
How much top talent has Matt LaFleur been associated with in his quite brief NFL career? Ryan was the third overall draft pick in 2008. Griffin was drafted second overall in 2012. Mariota was the second overall pick in 2016. Goff was the first player chosen in 2016. Griffin and Mariota were Heisman trophy winners. History tells us that Aaron Rodgers should have been the first overall draft choice in 2005.
Rodgers is the fifth elite quarterback LaFleur has connected with in the short span of ten years. I’m reminded of the 1956 movie featuring Paul Newman as boxer Rocky Graziano. The title, “Somebody Up There Likes Me” applies equally well to LaFleur.
I’d say that Matt LaFleur landed in the perfect place to begin a successful pro head-coaching career.