GREEN BAY — Mark Murphy knew almost immediately that he liked Matt LaFleur. The Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator had an air of confidence to him but it mixed with the kind of humbleness Murphy was looking for in a new coach for the Green Bay Packers. But when the Sunday interview in Nashville was done, and LaFleur asked Murphy, the team’s president and CEO, for a timeline on a decision, Murphy tried to hide his excitement.
“I gave him some bulls— [answer],” Murphy remembered on Wednesday. “‘Well, you know, I believe in hire slowly. We’re gonna move forward with all deliberate speed. We’ll get back to you.’ Then when he left, that’s when we started saying, ‘I liked him. Did you like him?’ We all liked him. [We offered him] the very next day.”
The 39-year-old LaFleur accepted, and in doing so became the 15th coach in the history of a franchise that just played its 100th year of football. But even the acceptance had some drama.
“I called him on the phone,” Murphy said. “I said, ‘Matt, I’m really excited. I want to offer you the position as our head coach.’ And it went kind of quiet. I though, ‘Oh, jeez, did the connection break?’ And the first thing Matt said was, ‘I’m speechless.’”
And on LaFleur’s end?
“When I tell you I was speechless, I was speechless,” the Mount Pleasant, Mich. native said. “There’s just so much tradition here. And I can’t think of a greater place to be a head coach in this league, and really in all of sports. This is a dream come true for me.”
Murphy and the search committee, which included general manager Brian Gutekunst and director of football operations Russ Ball, ended up interviewing 10 candidates after firing Mike McCarthy following an embarrassing loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Dec. 2. It included two during the season, one with interim coach Joe Philbin last Wednesday and then seven in a three-day stretch that covered four cities. But it wasn’t until the last interview with LaFleur that they really perked up.
“Pretty immediately there was an ease and a confidence [with LaFleur],” Gutekunst said. “The vision that he had was in line with my vision and our vision. It just became more apparent, with what we were trying to accomplish with this hire, he was the guy.”
Part of what they were trying to accomplish came from feedback gathered by a leadership council made up of nine players from the different position groups, including quarterback Aaron Rodgers. While there was plenty said in that meeting, one thing really stuck with Murphy.
“I think they wanted somebody that would hold players accountable,” Murphy said. “[They] talked a little bit about how they felt a complacency had set in among some players and coaches. That was something that, as we went through the process, that was kind of in the back of my mind. [Was] there something we could do to shake people up so we don’t have the complacency.”
It’s been a meteoric rise for LaFleur, a college quarterback at Division 2 Saginaw Valley State. He earned his first NFL job in 2008 as a quality control coach with the Houston Texans. That was followed by four years (2010-2013) as the quarterbacks coach for the Washington Redskins. He spent a year (2014) at Notre Dame coaching the quarterbacks before coming back to the NFL to do the same thing in 2015 and 2016 with the Atlanta Falcons.
In 2017, he took a job as the offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams and his profile took a big step up with the development of quarterback Jared Goff. Instead of staying with what was the up-and-coming offense and team in the NFC, he moved on to the Titans where he got to call plays for the first time. They weren’t overly successful on offense, but his willingness to put himself out there stood out to the Packers, who were the only team to interview him.
“If he’d stayed in LA, with the kind of year they had this year, he’d be the hot candidate,” Murphy said. “He’d be flying all over the country talking to everybody. I think the experience he had in Tennessee, no doubt, that’s made him a better coach. We think he’s absolutely ready to be a head coach.”
LaFleur takes over a team that missed the playoffs for a second straight year for the first time since 1991-1992. That it came with Rodgers playing all 16 games made it impossible for McCarthy to stick around. But now LaFleur is being tasked with helping the Packers get the most out of what are likely the final four or so years of Rodgers’ Hall of Fame career. And though Murphy said prior to the search process that Rodgers would not have a role in finding his next coach, Green Bay did have the two-time MVP speak with LaFleur before offering him the job.
“I can not wait to get to work with him,” LaFleur said. “I think he’s equally as excited.”
Rodgers is just four years younger than his new head coach, and after playing 14 years in the NFL it seems like a tough ask for LaFleur to be able to get him to change his ways. But Rodgers has said in the past that he wants to be coached and LaFleur does have some experience dealing with a veteran quarterback, having helped Matt Ryan to an MVP season in 2016 with Atlanta.
“I’m going to draw back on that experience,” LaFleur said. “Again, it comes down to developing that relationship, that trust, especially with a quarterback. Honestly, I’m not going to have any preconceived notions moving forward. I just want to try to develop the best relationship with Aaron because he’s a key piece to the puzzle and a key reason why we’re going to get to where we want to go.”
The idea of where they want to go was used often during the 45-minute press conference. They want to get back to winning. They want to get back to the playoffs. And they want to get another Lombardi Trophy in the building.
“There’s one goal here,” Gutekunst said. “Always has been one goal. That’s to win world championships.”