Comparing LaFleur’s first staff to those of the past

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Bob McGinn

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By BOB McGINN

When Mike McCarthy assembled his first coaching staff in Green Bay he surrounded himself with coaches that were highly familiar to him.

His successor, Matt LaFleur, didn’t.

In a fascinating about-face, the 39-year-old LaFleur hired just two assistant coaches with whom he had previously worked whereas McCarthy, who was 42 in 2006, brought on board 12 assistant coaches with whom he had once worked.

LaFleur has 16 years of coaching experience, including 10 in the NFL for five different teams. He’s been around.

Yet, when LaFleur completed his club-record 24-man coaching staff, two more than McCarthy’s final lineup, the only two he coached with were Kirk Olivadotti for one season in Washington and Justin Outten for one season in Atlanta. It’s stretching it with Outten, too, because he was only an offensive intern in 2016 during LaFleur’s last season with the Falcons.

Adam Stenavich, the new offensive line coach, was a tackle on Houston’s practice squad during LaFleur’s two seasons as the Texans’ offensive assistant.
Otherwise, LaFleur rolled with his gut and, in some cases, upon the recommendation of defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.

“The thing that we were looking for with these guys, first of all, was just being excellent communicators,” LaFleur said Monday. “Passionate about the game of football. Above all, I would say being high character individuals.

“That was really what was most important to me because I think that’s what you win with. You win with people.”

Sources said one reason LaFleur got the job was his decision to inform team president Mark Murphy that he wanted to retain Pettine. In Pettine, LaFleur not only secured the senior-most assistant on the new staff but also entrée into perhaps some areas of staff-building that would have been difficult for a rookie head coach.

There’s little doubt that LaFleur relied heavily on Pettine. Of the 24 assistant coaches, Pettine had worked with 13 of them during his 15-year NFL career.

Of the 10 members from McCarthy’s last staff that LaFleur kept, Pettine worked with the other nine. He also hired Shawn Mennenga during his two seasons as head coach in Cleveland, worked with Nathaniel Hackett and Jason Vrable in Buffalo and alongside Mike Smith with the New York Jets.

“The fact he’s been a head coach and has sat in this seat, it really affords you an opportunity to bounce ideas off of him,” LaFleur said. “My brother (Mike) worked for him in Cleveland, has a lot of respect for him. Just the guys that I trust in this business all have great things to say about Mike Pettine.”

On the other hand, McCarthy hired a lot of his friends from what at the time was his 19-year coaching career, including 13 in the NFL.

On that first staff were Jeff Jagodzinski, Mark Lovat and Lionel Washington from McCarthy’s one season (1999) in Green Bay; Rock Gullickson, Ty Knott, Winston Moss and Jimmy Robinson from his five years (2000-’04) in New Orleans; Carl “Big Daddy’ Hairston, Kurt Schottenheimer and Mike Stock from his time in Kansas City (1993-’98); Shawn Slocum from the University of Pittsburgh (1989-’92), and Ben McAdoo, both in New Orleans and San Francisco (2005).

McCarthy would end up firing six of the 12: Washington, Gullickson, Knott, Hairston, Schottenheimer and Slocum. Stock was forced out.

Another dramatic difference in the first staffs for LaFleur and McCarthy was age. McCarthy’s 19 coaches averaged 44.4 compared to just 39.1 for LaFleur’s 24.

As a first-time head coach beneath the age of 40, it might have been expected had LaFleur surrounded himself with veterans. At the same time, veteran coaches generally have stronger opinions and could rock the boat if LaFleur’s maiden voyage is bumpy.

“I think we’re going to bring a lot of energy every day,” said LaFleur. “I think we’ll be able to reach our players. That’s what I’m most excited about.

“You’re going to get to know these guys. You will not see egos. These guys are going to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

“I think our players will appreciate that, and they’ll be excited when they get to meet these guys.”

Excluding Ray Rhodes in 1999, who lasted just one season, LaFleur’s staff is younger than the others in the last 40 years. Forrest Gregg’s nine-man staff in 1984 had an average age of 45.8 years, and four years later Lindy Infante debuted with 10 coaches averaging 46.1. Of course, Gregg was 49 and Infante was 48, and there’s little question they were drawn to older assistants.

Gregg’s staff boasted two 20-year NFL coaching veterans, Bob Schnelker and Lew Carpenter, while three others – Dick Modzelewski, George Sefcik and Jerry Wampfler – had at least 11 years of NFL coaching experience.

In 1992, Mike Holmgren assembled a 13-man staff with an average age of 41.5. He had worked previously with four of the coaches: Jon Gruden, Sherman Lewis and Ray Rhodes in San Francisco, and Andy Reid at Brigham Young.

On that staff were five future NFL coaches: Steve Mariucci, Dick Jauron, Gruden, Reid and Rhodes. In fact, Holmgren said the only assistant he wanted but failed to get was Fred vonAppen, who at the 11th hour elected to join Bill Walsh at Stanford.

“I wanted a mix of college and pro coaches,” Holmgren said in February 1992. “And I wanted some maturity and some enthusiasm, too. I’m very happy.”

Holmgren, who was 43 at the time, hired 11 of 13 coaches with NFL coaching experience. In 2000, Mike Sherman’s 16-man staff included 13 with NFL coaching experience (the average age was 41.4). McCarthy hired 17 of 19 with NFL coaching experience and LaFleur, buoyed by 100% in the special teams and strength staffs, finished with 20 of 24.

Just four of Holmgren’s 13 assistants played at least one regular-season game in the NFL. Sherman had just two of 16, McCarthy had seven of 19 and LaFleur has five of 24.

It should be fairly obvious that LaFleur, aside from the strength and conditioning staff, made sure that the assistants he retained from McCarthy weren’t those that had been with him the longest.

Of the 12 assistants cast adrift, five had spent at least 10 seasons in Green Bay: James Campen (15), Moss (13), Joe Whitt (11), Scott McCurley (10) and Joe Philbin (10).

The Packers are off most of the hook financially for seven of McCarthy’s assistants because they’ve landed other jobs. The list includes Jim Hostler (wide receivers, Carolina); David Raih (wide receivers, Arizona); Brian Angelichio (tight ends, Washington); Campen (associate head coach/offensive line, Cleveland); Jeff Blasko (assistant offensive line, Cleveland); Whitt (passing game coordinator/defensive backs, Cleveland), and Patrick Graham (defensive coordinator, Miami).

Five of McCarthy’s assistants are believed to be still seeking employment, including Frank Cignetti, Ron Zook, McCurley, Moss and Philbin.

LaFleur’s holdover hiring of 41.7% (10 of 24) led McCarthy’s 31.6% (six of 19) in 2006 and Holmgren’s 15.4% (two of 13) in 1992.

Meanwhile, on Monday the Packers announced a change atop their strength and conditioning staff when Lovat was demoted to assistant status, a position he held from 1999-’09, and assistant Chris Gizzi was promoted to coordinator.

Lovat, at 49 the second oldest coach on the staff, replaced Dave Redding as coordinator in 2010. By remaining on staff Lovat becomes one of the only assistant coaches in Packers’ history to serve under four coaches. He was hired by Rhodes in 1999.
MIKE HOLMGREN’S FIRST COACHING STAFF (1992)

Offense (6)

Sherman Lewis (9 years of NFL coaching experience/2 years of regular-season playing experience in the NFL): Offensive coordinator; fired in January 2000. Age upon arrival in Green Bay was 49.

Andy Reid (0/0): Tight ends/assistant offensive line; in January 1999, named head coach in Philadelphia. Age 33.

Tom Lovat (11/0): Offensive line; left in January 1999 to take the same job in Seattle. Age 53.

Steve Mariucci (1/0): Quarterbacks; left in January 1996 to become head coach at California. Age 36.

Gil Haskell (9/0): Running backs; left in January 1998 to become offensive coordinator in Carolina. Age 48.

Jon Gruden (1/0): Offensive assistant/quality control; left in January 1995 to become offensive coordinator in Philadelphia. Age 28.

Defense (5)

Ray Rhodes (11/7): Defensive coordinator; left in January 1994 to become defensive coordinator in San Francisco. Age 41.

Greg Blache (4/0): Defensive line; left in January 1994 to take the same job in Indianapolis. Age 43.

Bob Valesente (4/0): Linebackers; left in January 1999 to become secondary coach in Carolina. Age 51.

Dick Jauron (7/8): Defensive backs; left in January 1995 to become defensive coordinator in Jacksonville. Age 41.

Jim Lind (0/0): Defensive assistant/quality control; left in January 1999 to become linebackers coach in Seattle. Age 44.

Special teams (1)

Nolan Cromwell (1/11): Special teams; left as wide receivers coach in January 1999 to take the same job in Seattle. Age 37.

Strength/conditioning (1)

Kent Johnston (5/0): Strength and conditioning; left in January 1999 to take the same job in Seattle. Age 35.

MIKE McCARTHY’S FIRST COACHING STAFF (2006)

Offense (8)

Jeff Jagodzinski (7/0): Offensive coordinator; left in January 2007 to become head coach at Boston College. Age 42.

Jimmy Robinson (16/7): Wide receivers; left in January 2011 to become assistant head coach/wide receivers coach in Dallas. Age 53.

Ben McAdoo (2/0): Tight ends; left in January 2014 to become offensive coordinator of the New York Giants. Age 28.

Joe Philbin (3/0): Offensive line; left in January 2012 to become head coach in Miami. Age 44.

Tom Clements (9/1): Quarterbacks; left in January 2017 when his contract wasn’t renewed. Age 52.

Edgar Bennett (5/7): Running backs; fired in January 2018 after rejecting a demotion from offensive coordinator. Age 36.

James Campen (2/7): Assistant offensive line; fired in January 2019. Age 41.

Ty Knott (4/0): Offensive quality control; fired in January 2009. Age 40.

Defense (7)

Bob Sanders (5/0): Defensive coordinator; fired in January 2009. Age 52.

Carl “Big Daddy” Hairston (11/15): Defensive ends; fired in January 2009. Age 53.

Robert Nunn (6/0): Defensive tackles; fired in January 2009. Age 40.

Winston Moss (7/11): Linebackers; fired in December 2018. Age 40.

Kurt Schottenheimer (19/0): Secondary; fired in January 2009. Age 56.

Lionel Washington (7/15): Defensive nickel package/cornerbacks; fired in January 2009. Age 45.

Eric Lewis (0/0): Defensive quality control; left in January 2008 to become cornerbacks coach at Louisville. Age 30.

Special teams (2)

Mike Stock (15/0): Special teams coordinator; persuaded to retire in January 2009. Age 66.

Shawn Slocum (0/0): Assistant special teams; fired in January 2015. Age 40.

Strength/conditioning (2)

Rock Gullickson (6/0): Strength and conditioning coordinator; fired in January 2009. Age 50.

Mark Lovat (7/0): Assistant strength and conditioning; demoted from coordinator’s job in February 2019. Age 36.

MATT LaFLEUR’S FIRST COACHING STAFF (2019)

Offense (9)

Nathaniel Hackett (10/0): Offensive coordinator. Age 39.

Alvis Whitted (0/9): Wide receivers. Age 44.

Justin Outten (2/0): Tight ends. Age 35.

Adam Stenavich (2/0): Offensive line. Age 35.

Luke Getsy (4/0): Quarterbacks. Age 35.

Ben Sirmans (7/0): Running backs. Age 48.

Luke Butkus (8/0): Assistant offensive line. Age 39.

Jason Vrable (6/0): Offensive assistant. Age 34.

Kevin Koger (0/0): Offensive quality control. Age 29.

Defense (8)

Mike Pettine (15/0): Defensive coordinator. Age 52.

Jerry Montgomery (4/0): Defensive line. Age 39.

Mike Smith (8/2): Outside linebackers. Age 37.

Kirk Olivadotti (16/0): Inside linebackers. Age 45.

Jason Simmons (8/10): Defensive backs. Age 42.

Ryan Downard (3/0): Assistant defensive backs. Age 30.

Wendel Davis (0/0): Defensive quality control. Age 30.

Christian Parker (0/0): Defensive quality control. Age 28.

Special teams (3)

Shawn Mennenga (7/0): Special teams coordinator. Age 48.

Maurice Drayton (3/0): Assistant special teams. Age 42.

Rayna Stewart (2/5): Special teams quality control. Age 45.

Strength/conditioning (4)

Chris Gizzi (5/2): Strength and conditioning coordinator. Age 43.

Mark Lovat (20/0): Assistant strength and conditioning. Age 49.

Thadeus Jackson (9/0): Assistant strength and conditioning. Age 38.

Grant Thorne (4/0): Assistant strength and conditioning. Age 33.

–30–




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