GREEN BAY — As promised, Matt LaFleur has taken a methodical approach to putting together his first staff. And while the Green Bay Packers’ 39-year-old head coach has assembled a group that skews young, it appears he got most of the coaches he was targeting.
When he was introduced on Jan. 9, LaFleur made it clear that he intended to take his time with hirings. He didn’t dismiss out of hand the idea of keeping coaches from his predecessor Mike McCarthy’s staff, but as it turned out, he did end up moving on from many of McCarthy’s longest-tenured lieutenants.
LaFleur acknowledged several times that he would lean on team president Mark Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst for a measure of guidance during the hiring process, even though he had final say on his staff.
“There are a lot great people here, and you win with people,” LaFleur said during his introductory press conference. “We have to continue to bring great people in here, and that starts by assembling a great staff – and evaluating the roster after that, and adding whatever key pieces we can. I feel lucky to have the support of (Murphy and Gutekunst), and I think you guys will be happy with the product we put on the field.
“We want to be very intentional about what we do (in the hiring process), so it’s hard to put a timeline on anything. But we feel like there are a lot of good candidates out there.”
LaFleur’s staff might’ve looked slightly different had his friend Kyle Shanahan, the San Francisco 49ers head coach who worked with LaFleur in Washington and Atlanta, not kept him from interviewing or hiring two of his right-hand men – LaFleur’s younger brother, Mike, who is the 49ers wide receivers coach/passing-game coordinator, and Mike McDaniel, the 49ers run-game coordinator.
“It’s certainly a challenge because a lot of the guys that maybe you’ve worked with in the past that you’ve always envisioned, ‘I’m going to have these guys on my staff,’ a lot of these guys are locked up by other clubs and you can’t always get guys out of contracts,” LaFleur said during an interview on ESPN Wisconsin late last month. “Thankfully, there’s a lot of great coaches out there and we feel confident we’re going to put together a great staff.
“I’ve had a long relationship with both those guys (McDaniel and Mike LaFleur). I’m not talking about a personal relationship but more of a working relationship. I’ve got a lot of respect for them. They’re great coaches. It was just one of those deals where they’re invaluable to Kyle, as well.”
But with the team expected to introduce a completed staff sometime in the not-too-distant future – and certainly before the annual NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis kicks off later this month – what the group lacks in experience it should make up for in youthful enthusiasm.
In Hackett, LaFleur has a fellow 39-year-old son of a coach who has experience as a coordinator. While Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone fired him in November, Hackett is the same guy who coordinated a Jaguars offense that finished 2017 season ranked sixth in the NFL in yards per game (365.9) and fifth in points per game (26.1). Although LaFleur will call the plays, he said he’ll lean heavily on Hackett in game-planning.
“He’s so organized, and that’s one thing I really valued in him,” LaFleur said of Hackett. “He’s got experience as an NFL playcaller so he knows what’s it like. I thought he did an incredible job in Jacksonville despite what may have happened this past season. There was a lot of adversity there that he had to fight through.
“I just thought it was a great fit. I’ve never worked with him, so there’s certainly going to be a learning curve there. I’ve always had a great respect for him and have always been impressed with his football knowledge.”
Getsy, a college quarterback who coached wide receivers in Green Bay in 2016 and ‘17, returns to the Packers after one year as Mississippi State’s offensive coordinator. Sirmans returns for a fourth season and is the only holdover on offense. Whitted, who played receiver in the NFL for nine seasons, comes from Colorado State, where he spent seven seasons. Outten, who’ll be coaching a position for the first time after being a quality control coach, and Stenavich, whose NFL experience is limited to two years as the 49ers’ assistant line coach, are the least experienced of the bunch.
LaFleur made it clear during the interview process with Murphy, Gutekunst and director of football operations Russ Ball that he wanted to keep Pettine as his defensive coordinator, and that’s precisely what happened.
Pettine, the head coach of the Cleveland Browns in 2014 and ’15, made it clear shortly after McCarthy’s Dec. 2 dismissal that he wasn’t interested in being a head coach again, but said he did want to come back for a second year running the defense so he might reap the benefits of spending 2018 installing his scheme and acclimating his players to his approach.
“I want a defense that is ball-hawking, that is going to create turnovers, that plays fast and physical, and really eliminates explosive plays,” LaFleur said of his vision for the defense. Montgomery, Simmons and Downard are also holdovers from McCarthy’s staff, which should also help with continuity on a defense that despite injuries showed promise that wasn’t reflected in the stats, which had Green Bay ranked 18th in total defense (354.4 yards per game) and 22nd in scoring defense (25.0 points per game). Olivadotti is the most experienced position coach after a long career in Washington, while Smith is very familiar with Pettine and his scheme, having played for him in Baltimore and coached for him with the New York Jets.
Although Mennenga spent last year in the college game as Vanderbilt’s special teams coordinator, he spent the previous seven seasons as the Browns’ assistant special teams coach, even working under Pettine when Pettine was Cleveland’s head coach. He will have his work cut out for him after last year’s group, coordinated by Ron Zook, finished dead last in the 32-team NFL in longtime pro football columnist Rick Gosselin’s annual rankings. LaFleur retained Drayton from McCarthy’s staff after Drayton was Zook’s assistant last season, his first year in Green Bay.
“I think on special teams, I don’t want to be, I want to be sound,” LaFleur said. “I want to attack matchups on special teams. And we always talk about ‘penalty-free aggression.’ We want to make sure that we are playing aggressive, but we’ve got to be smart. We don’t want to put ourselves in negative situations.”