Have you seen those fun posts based on some Net Gen Stats? As of October 10, they went like this: “Bill Belichick would need to win 310 consecutive games to match Matt LaFleur’s win percentage.” Now that MLF has added another regular season win, he stands at 31-7, a win percentage of 81.6, so Next Gen will need to adjust its number accordingly.
While the Belichick comparison is fun and games, it does strongly suggest that the Packers have a rare talent in the former quarterback from Saginaw Valley State in Michigan.
I believe that except for George Seifert, who inherited the Super Bowl champion 49ers in 1989, no other new head coach has gotten off to such a successful NFL start. Lest we forget, LaFleur took over for a team coming off of two consecutive losing seasons.
Recent New NFL Head Coaches
The media is agog, right? Hardly. They are too busy forecasting who will be the next great NFL coach. They got all excited this year when college legend Urban Meyer became head coach of the Jaguars. The Jags, who just won their first game of the season, are pretty pathetic, but on the other hand they’re always in a great position to draft future NFL stars: they selected QB Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick this year, and had the 9th and 7th overall selections in 2020 and 2019. We’ll see if Meyer, and Lawrence, catch fire in the pros.
In 2020 the big-name candidates were Mike McCarthy and Matt Rhule. Big Mike, who most agree inherited a better roster than did LaFleur, went 6-10 last season. Rhule is currently 8-14 with the Panthers. At this early stage, it looks like Kevin Stefanski, who had many coaching jobs with the Vikings from 2006-2019, has been the best of the class of 2020, going 11-5 in 2020 and 3-3 so far this season.
In 2019, John Harbaugh was named AP NFL Coach of the year; he got 27.5 votes while Matt got 3. Last season Kevin Stefanski. got 25 of the 50 votes – and Matt again got three.
In 2019 Bleacher report had the two top new head coach candidates as Chuck Pagano and Jim Caldwell. Pagano instead stayed out of coaching and retired, at age 60, earlier this year. Caldwell, who the Packers interviewed to succeed McCarthy, wound up taking a leave of absence over health issues, and hasn’t returned to the NFL since. It’s a tough and emotionally draining business.
Maybe Kliff Kingsbury is the real deal. He became an NFL head coach the same season as LaFleur, and he’s led Arizona to a 6-0 record so far this season. In his first two seasons with the Cardinals, however, he failed to achieve a winning record – his current record is now 19-18-1.
Both the media and most NFL owners seem to have very low success rates when it comes to predictions concerning NFL head coaches. If memory serves, however, Packers management had LaFleur as their clear top choice from early on in their selection process. At any rate, let the national media yawn – Packer fans are, and should be, quite satisfied with their unassuming 41-year-old coaching phenom.
Boy Next Door
What accounts for Matt LaFleur’s success? I’d say it has less to do with his football knowledge and tactical theories, but more to do with his personality and leadership traits. This is not to overlook that he’s plenty smart when it comes to the X’s and 0’s of the game.
Matt isn’t a stern taskmaster like Lombardi; he’s one of the guys, and the players have responded to that. Also s important, however, is that he’s an effective and honest communicator. Recently, the media gave Matt some flack over his comments about the shoulder injury to Jaire Alexander. By not relaying a diagnosis for several days, or saying whether surgery would be required, many journalists thought he was playing games, and trying to hide the truth of the matter. It now appears, however, that it did take a number of days for a medical diagnosis to be obtained – in fact, the doctors still haven’t determined whether surgery will be required. I believed Matt then and I believe him now, as he’s proven to be a straight shooter with the fans and the media. Additionally, I never saw any good reason for Matt to flim-flam about Jaire’s condition.
A bigger controversy that comes to mind is MLF electing to kick a late field goal rather than going for it on fourth down in January’s NFC championship game. That was a flip-a-coin decision – had he made the other choice and still lost the game, he would have had almost as many critics. When members of the media blamed Matt for losing the game, Matt explained his thinking and even acknowledged that it might have been the wrong call. Maybe it was, though I don’t believe so. Either way, I’m not going to be eager to second-guess a coach who’s been so right so often.
Despite the unprecedented disruptions that the Rodgers drama has caused, Matt has not wavered. He once again has this team, and his prickly star player, united and inspired. I’m starting to find it hard to imagine that Rodgers would want to part ways with so talented a head coach, and one who has faced up to his star’s discontent, and dealt with it soundly and fairly.
As for Matt’s humility and his lack of interest in being the center of attention, I can’t think of a less self-absorbed sports figure – he’s right up there with Bart and Jordy! His quiet self-confidence, his discipline in the face of adversity, and his attention to all facets of the job of coaching (I suspect that this includes special teams, which he’ll help get worked out), I think will make it likely he’ll eventually be right up there with Lambeau and Lombardi in the hierarchy of great Packers coaches. The three L’s!