What will make a successful first season for new Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur?
Now that a champion has been crowned and for all intents and purposes, the 2018 season is officially over, we can now start to look ahead to 2019.
There will plenty of new for the Packers in 2019, but most of all a new head coach in charge.
Matt LaFleur takes over from Mike McCarthy after jut two years as an offensive coordinator and only one season as a play caller. LaFleur may have been considered a bit of a long shot for the job much in the same way McCarthy was when he was hired in 2006.
He lacks longevity as an NFL coach and seems as much a response to Sean McVay, as have many other hires in the NFL this offseason.
But the Packers deserve credit for this hire, as well as LaFleur. Had LaFleur stayed in LA, he would not have any experience calling plays and would probably still have been a head coach this offseason anyway.
You don’t need to look any further than the hiring of Zac Taylor in Cincinnati to confirm that theory.
As it is, LaFleur did spend a year in Tennessee calling plays for a defensive-minded head coach, and along the way experienced a roller-coaster of a year that saw the Titans fall just short of a playoff berth.
Now LaFleur comes to Green Bay looking to rejuvenate a stagnant offense and try to get a team that missed the playoffs two seasons in a row back into the postseason. While retaking the North and clinching a postseason berth is the ultimate goal, the truth is, despite the recent success of first-year head coaches, asking for the playoffs seems like asking for a lot.
So, what would be considered a successful first season for LaFleur?
Looking back at the Packers’ last four head coaches, there is an eerily similar pattern to their first seasons in charge. Each coach came in, kept their team competitive for the entire season while falling just short of the playoffs.
Mike Holmgren and Mike Sherman finished their first seasons with equal 9-7 records, while Ray Rhodes and Mike McCarthy finished 8-8. Each coach took their teams down to the last day of the season before being eliminated.
Each coach had their own challenges, but McCarthy may have had the toughest of all. Rhodes and Sherman had their franchise quarterback in place and just needed to return to winning ways.
Holmgren became a coach after over 20 years of losing football with a ton of expectations, but a fan base that would have been happy with just beating the Bears at the time (yes, Packers fans born in the 90s or more recently, playoffs were not always expected or anticipated).
McCarthy was inheriting a difficult situation working with a near-the-end of his career Brett Favre and another quarterback he passed up as the first overall pick the year prior. The Packers had just missed the playoffs for the first time in years and were in a bad situation salary cap wise. Despite the obstacles, McCarthy still found a way to keep his team competitive all season.
LaFleur’s task may not be as difficult, but he still has a tough task ahead.
Expectations for the team have grown since the last hire. The Packers have an all-world quarterback in his prime, yet have missed the playoffs two years running. Many have even said the quarterback won’t play for the new coach or may be difficult to coach. There are questions across the roster and they may not all be able to be answered in one offseason.
The Packers also play in a tough division. The Bears have a young head coach and quarterback while also boasting a top-tier defense. The Vikings are only a year removed from winning the division, and also have a top-rated defense with an $80 million quarterback leading the way. The Lions didn’t finish with a winning record but they still swept the Packers for the second time in as many years.
Still, the Packers have enough salary cap space to make serious runs at significant upgrades to the roster. In addition, the Packers also hold two first-round draft picks, and 10 overall in the upcoming draft.
And with all the talk that has been surrounding Aaron Rodgers lately, one might assume that famous chip on his shoulder may have grown and he may be on a mission to prove doubters wrong.
So, what might a successful first season look like for Matt LaFleur? Getting the Packers back into playoff contention while giving the offense a new coat of paint would go a long way in making a great first impression.