After diving headfirst into his new job — without his family — Matt LaFleur gets to ‘be a dad and a husband’ again
GREEN BAY — Ask her husband, and he will say BreAnne LaFleur is the real MVP.
“My wife,” Matt LaFleur said with a knowing smile, “’is a saint.”
While the Green Bay Packers new head coach has thrown himself head-first into his job since his Jan. 7 hiring, BreAnne and the couple’s 5- and 7-year-old sons have stayed back in Nashville, Tenn., to finish out the school year, which ended Thursday.
That’s not necessarily unusual in the NFL, as it’s standard operating procedure for coaches will school-age children to start their new jobs while their families stay behind. And the LaFleurs have surely had ample relocation practice with changing NFL jobs since becoming parents, with Matt, who broke into the pro coaching ranks in 2008 with the Houston Texans, now on his fourth new job in five years — having been the Atlanta Falcons quarterbacks coach (2015-’16), the Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator (2017), the Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator (2018) and now the Packers head coach.
“What it has afforded me (is), I never feel the pressure to come home. You know what I mean?” explained LaFleur, whose boys will be a kindergartener and a second grader next year. “Certainly, there’s sacrifices involved with that, too — especially when you have a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old.
“When we moved from Atlanta to L.A., it took them a little bit to get out there because we didn’t find a house right away. Again, I was putting in a ton of hours. When we went from L.A. to Nashville, they moved right away – because I couldn’t go through two years of that same lifestyle. (But) we decided as a family we’re going to let them finish out the school year (this time). Just with the (head-coaching) role, there’s more responsibility, so we just felt it was best to let them finish up the year, let me focus on this job.
“Family will always come first in my life. I’m lucky I’ve got such a supportive wife that allows me to fully indulge my time into my job. She does a great job raising our kids.”
Maximizing his days
While LaFleur was able to get back to Nashville a few times over the past five months, and his family came to Green Bay during spring break in March, having BreAnne and the boys 682 miles away hasn’t been easy. The short commute to his temporary home (Lodge Kohler) and go-to restaurant (Hinterland in the Titletown district) has been convenient, but the only real upside is how it has allowed him to focus on building his program without having anyone to go home to. Instead of feeling the tug of helping the boys with homework or watching their after-school activities, he’s been able to be in all-football-all-the-time mode for the past five months.
“I’m at Lambeau all day long. (So) there’s plusses and minuses to it, to be honest with you,” LaFleur continued. “The plusses are, I don’t have to worry about rushing through to get done with my work. We put in a lot of hours, trying to make sure everything’s straight in the office, and then the minus is obviously I don’t get to see my family as much.
“I work until I get tired. I mean, it has been long. It really has. But you know what? It’s been a lot of fun too. You can sit there and make lists, (but) I feel like every time I check something off a list, I add two things to it. So it’s a never-ending process. But it’s just part of it.
“I mean, you have to sleep sometime. I’ve tried to maximize my days as much as possible. I’ve certainly put in more hours at the office than I would normally. (Being alone) has afforded me a little bit more opportunity to stay in the office and grind, so when they do get here, I can still try to balance that time that’s needed. (They) need some attention, too.”
Encouraging early signs
While LaFleur and his players acknowledge that it’s easy to be excited about a new regime when you haven’t played — much less lost — a game yet, the getting-to-know-you process has gotten off to a strong start, they say. Players arrived for the offseason program on April 8, and their organized team activity practices resume on Tuesday. The offseason work wraps up with a mandatory minicamp June 11-13, with training camp set to kick off July 25.
In addition to his many administrative duties (scheduling, practice structure, etc.), much of LaFleur’s focus, having made keeping defensive coordinator Mike Pettine his top priority after getting the job, has been on installing the Packers’ new offensive playbook, which is significantly different than that of his predecessor, Mike McCarthy.
Last season, there was a palpable buzz in the Packers locker room among players who watched the Rams’ high-octane offense fuel a pair of high-profile prime-time victories against Minnesota and Kansas City. When LaFleur gave them a 30,000-foot view of the scheme early on in the offseason program, he made sure to play the greatest hits, too — from long touchdowns by Atlanta’s Julio Jones to a host of big plays by the Rams offense that led their team to Super Bowl LIII last year.
“I think what every coach will do in this situation — and it happens whether you’re putting in new plays with the same system or when it’s wholesale changes — the clips that we’re seeing of this offense are big plays.,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “Those are exciting. You look at those and go, ‘Man, this offense is incredible.’ It’s obviously cherry-picked to look as good as possible.
“The plays look great on the film, but it’s going to be incorporating them with the guys that we have and finding who those guys are who run those plays best and putting our best players in position to make an impact in the game. (But) I always like watching the positives. It is kind of funny when you’re pulling up an eight-play reel of a certain concept that’s going in and it’s a 60-yard touchdown, 40-yard explosive pass, 30-yard play, 80-yard touchdown.
“That does make you feel good about the possibilities. But you know that there’s some other ones that maybe didn’t look the same.”
And although much of the external attention has been on how LaFleur’s relationship with the two-time NFL MVP is developing — and rightfully so, since LaFleur was hired because of his quarterbacking background and Rodgers is the player most critical to the team’s success — LaFleur has been in the process of building a rapport with all his players and a coaching staff that consists of a handful of holdovers (including Pettine) and a host of young coaches who hold higher-profile positions they’ve never held before.
“Matt’s been great. He’s full of energy, smart, very detailed and very organized,” said Pettine, whose lone NFL head-coaching job was with the Cleveland Browns in 2014 and ’15. “Having gone through it and just some of the things he’s going through, I laugh knowing (what it’s like). I’ve been able to tell him, ‘Yeah, I’ve been there, done that.’ A lot of it is my advice comes more from figuring out what not to do, but he’s been great. Came in with a plan, but he’s also very receptive. I think he has relied on the coordinators for a lot of training stuff, and I think things are running pretty smoothly.”
LaFleur said he went into the job with a 10-day, 30-day and 100-day plan, but he admitted that 136 days in, he’s had plenty of things crop up that he never even thought about. That’s exactly what the head coaches LaFleur has worked for — from Gary Kubiak (Houston) to Dan Quinn (Atlanta) to Sean McVay (Los Angeles) to Mike Vrabel (Tennessee) — told him would happen.
“Every day has got its own kind of moments where you’re like, ‘Oh, I wasn’t expecting that,’” LaFleur said. “But I think more than anything else you realize how your time, you get pulled away and it just adds up and it takes away from maybe you thought you were going to start football at a certain time and you don’t get to it until the end of the day. So, I’ve just got to make sure that I do a great job of budgeting my time with our staff.
“When you look at the bigger picture, if you look too far down the road it can overwhelm you. Wwhen I got hired, Gary Kubiak gave me some great advice. ‘Hey, it’s going to seem like a lot, but it’ll go down.’ That’s the mindset and approach I’ve taken each and every day. You have to prioritize what you want to get done that day and go full steam ahead.
“I’ve learned you’ve got to make every second count because at the end of it, it still doesn’t feel like enough. We’ve got to have a great plan and work with a great sense of urgency in order to get everything we want to accomplish accomplished. Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is prepare our team for the season and really (ask), ‘How can we get them prepared for Week 1?’ So we’re going to take advantage of every opportunity we get.”
And while those opportunities my decrease slightly when BreAnne and the kids arrive at the end of the week, LaFleur — having grown up the son of a longtime college assistant coach — will be ready.
“I learned that lifestyle at a young age,” said LaFleur, whose father, Denny, was an assistant at Central Michigan for more than two decades. “He wasn’t always around, but when he was around, he was present in everything I was doing. He was so supportive. It cuts into your sleep a little bit, but you still have to be a dad and a husband at the end of the day.”