Mark Murphy and GM Brian Gutekunst have taken a hands-off approach as Matt LaFleur builds his coaching staff

Mark87

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https://theathletic.com/784285/2019/01/24/when-it-comes-to-hiring-assistants-packers-coach-matt-lafleur-is-calling-the-shots/?redirected=1


Once the smoke cleared from a 13-minute diatribe by president Mark Murphy, and once he’d survived a barrage of questions regarding his communication with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Matt LaFleur, the newest coach of the Packers, was asked about compiling his staff.

Which assistants did he plan on retaining? Which ones should clean out their desks?

That was when LaFleur, the 39-year-old newcomer whose nerves rippled through the media auditorium at Lambeau Field, described the hiring process as his top priority in Green Bay.

“As soon as possible,” LaFleur said when asked how rapidly the coaching staff would come together. “We want to be very intentional about what we do, so it’s hard to put a timeline on anything.

“But we feel like there are a lot of good candidates out there. We are going to move as fast as possible, and that starts immediately after this press conference.”

Flash forward two weeks, to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, and LaFleur is still sifting through the wreckage of a regime that disintegrated when former coach Mike McCarthy was fired in early December, following a cataclysmic loss to the Cardinals.

He has parted ways with interim head coach Joe Philbin, quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti, pass game coordinator Jim Hostler, offensive line coach James Campen, assistant offensive line coach Jeff Blasko, wide receivers coach David Raih, tight ends coach Brian Angelichio, defensive pass game coordinator Joe Whitt Jr., defensive assistant Scott McCurley, special teams coordinator Ron Zook and allowed linebackers coach Patrick Graham to accept a promotion from the Dolphins to become their defensive coordinator. He has reportedly retained running backs coach Ben Sirmans, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery and secondary coach Jason Simmons.

And while it’s easy to recognize a pattern among the majority of coaches dismissed by LaFleur — they had some of the longest ties to McCarthy — the rationale behind those decisions wasn’t exactly how it seemed. This was not an example of Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst clearing the cobwebs from a coach they personally fired by dictating to LaFleur which assistants must be fired. Rather, this was LaFleur calling the shots himself.

“It’s all been up to Matt,” Gutekunst told The Athletic Wisconsin this week. “You’d probably have to talk to him a little bit more about how he comes to a conclusion, but I’ll say this: It’s been impressive how thorough and just thoughtful that he’s been as he goes through all of this. He’s spent a lot of time with all the candidates, not only the ones we already had in-house but the guys that he’s brought in.

“The amount of time and thoroughness, not only individually but how he vetted them and how we’ve gone about that has been impressive. … I know he’s put a lot of work into it.

“Certainly I sat down with him and talked to him about some of our coaches. I thought we had an excellent group of coaches, and you never like to see those guys walk out the door. But at the same time when there’s change, there’s change. And there’s going to be some change and that’s just part of it.

“I was there for support. With Matt, if he needed help vetting any potential candidates or giving him suggestions of names and things like that. But really it was up to Matt and his guys to kind of put that staff together as we’re going forward.”

It was around this time last year, after the Packers missed the playoffs, that McCarthy himself had cleaned house in an attempt to inject fresh blood into the organization. He parted ways with defensive coordinator Dom Capers, defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, safeties coach Darren Perry, offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett and quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt, whose departure clearly irked Rodgers. Wide receivers coach Luke Getsy, another coach respected by Rodgers, accepted a job as offensive coordinator at Mississippi State.

The influx of replacements created a hybrid staff for McCarthy’s final season. Some of his assistants, like Campen and Whitt, had been with the organization for more than a decade and became synonymous with the players they coached, from All-Pro offensive linemen David Bakhtiari and Josh Sitton to promising young cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Kevin King.

While many of the other assistants were subjected to what felt like a one-year layover in Green Bay as the Packers missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season and McCarthy was axed, thrusting their own futures into uncertainty.

When LaFleur arrived in mid-January, he vowed to meet with each member of McCarthy’s staff and determine which assistants meshed with his vision as head coach.

“I think it’s going to be a feel thing,” LaFleur said the day he was introduced. “Certainly when I look at our staff, there’s a few things that stick out in my mind. Number one, we need to hire good people. If you’re a quality coach, there’s a lot of quality coaches, (but) if they’re not good people, they’re not going to be part of this organization. …

“We want great communicators and teachers, and then they better be experts in the field. And those are the three things that I’m going to try to get a feel for with each candidate, and certainly I’ve got a lot of respect for this profession and just the hard work. And I want to talk to everybody here first before we start moving on and going in different directions.”

A common theme emerged among the coaches LaFleur retained and the new assistants he hired: youth.

LaFleur’s holdovers from McCarthy’s staff included Simmons (age 42), Montgomery (39), Sirmans (48) and Pettine (52). The list of coaches he’s reportedly hired includes offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett (39), quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy (34), offensive line coach Adam Stenavich (35), tight ends coach Justin Outten (35) and linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti (45).

The Packers are still searching for a wide receivers coach and special teams coordinator, and there may be additional openings for an assistant offensive line coach, an outside linebackers coach, a defensive pass game coordinator and a special teams assistant.

The status of Maurice Drayton, who was Zook’s assistant special teams coach under McCarthy, is unknown.

“(LaFleur) interviewed a really diverse group,” Gutekunst said. “I think he’s putting together a really diverse group of coaches. I think it was just, like I said, he put a lot of time into it, he was really thorough, and for him it was really about fit, you know?

“I think he really likes idea guys, guys who bring some ideas to the table. I’m excited. I haven’t had a chance to really sit down with a lot of these guys yet, but over the next few months certainly I’ll get to know them better. But I know he’s excited and I know the Packers as an organization are really excited to see what comes.”

Many of McCarthy’s former assistants quickly found new jobs, or were at least interviewed by other teams:

• Philbin interviewed with the Bills, Browns and Vikings, according to ESPN.
• Graham will be introduced as defensive coordinator of the Dolphins following the Super Bowl.
• Hostler was hired as wide receivers coach by the Panthers.
• Raih was hired as wide receivers coach by the Cardinals.
• Campen was hired as offensive line/associate head coach for the Browns.
• Blasko followed Campen to Cleveland as his assistant.
• Whitt was hired as pass game coordinator/secondary by the Browns.
 

Cheesedog

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Good stuff!!! Methodical in his searches. No knee jerk splash hires just to bring in a good name. Find people that fit and fit with others.
 

rpiotr01

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Legacy media in GB still carrying a torch for MM and his long-term assistants. Their sources must've really dried up.

Anyway, very glad to hear that ML is being given free reign to hire his own people, come weal or woe. Hope it's true.
 

Mark87

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Legacy media in GB still carrying a torch for MM and his long-term assistants. Their sources must've really dried up.

Anyway, very glad to hear that ML is being given free reign to hire his own people, come weal or woe. Hope it's true.
Yup they can't stand not knowing everything.
 

Wolfman

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What about Rizzi? I thought that’s who Lafleur wanted but was told he’s too expensive. Could just be a rumor mill, I guess. I hope they get somebody good for that role. Special Teams have been ridiculously bad.
 
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