Twenty-eight wins in two seasons, apparently, isn’t all that impressive.
Yet Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur, in what can only be a display of peak offseason takery, still hasn’t garnered the respect from many in the NFL media.
Two shots, one far more ridiculous than the other, were fired in LaFleur’s direction in the last week. Both were courtesy of CBS Sports.
The more recent was a list from CBS NFL writer Cody Benjamin, who ranked the 32 head coaches entering the 2021 season. LaFleur landed at No. 9. Not terrible, but there are certainly some gripes with the list.
More ridiculous was Jason LaCanfora’s article, which also appeared on cbssports.com, listing several head coaches he considers to be on the “hot seat.”
Among those coaches are those currently in pressure cookers, like Chicago’s Matt Nagy and Dallas’ Mike McCarthy, Texans newbie David Culley, and then … LaFleur.
First, a caveat: It’s the end of June. There’s nothing on the NFL calendar until training camps begin in a month, which translates to the ultimate dead period for NFL news. And that lends itself to obsessions over lists and rankings, and who is the greatest this, or who is the greatest that.
None of it means anything, other than to stir up conversation. But if there has to be a ranking of NFL coaches, we might as well look at it objectively.
Objectively, there’s no way in the Football Gods’ green earth that there are eight coaches currently better than LaFleur.
Yes, there are head coaches with a shinier trophy case, but how long should the likes of Sean Payton or Pete Carroll warrant credit for Super Bowls won a decade ago? Can you ignore the fact that LaFleur’s team beat Payton’s team last year, or that his team beat Carroll’s team in a playoff game the year before that?
If the NFL is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, lists should reflect that. Sure, maybe you give an edge to Bruce Arians or Andy Reid for capturing rings the last two seasons and having a track record of success. And obviously it’s hard to argue with Bill Belichick near the top of the list.
Payton, Carroll, John Harbaugh, though? No. Their benefits of the doubt were lost when each suffered early playoff exits the past two seasons.
There isn’t a single coach that can match LaFleur’s win total since he was hired. There’s not a single coach that can claim two straight appearances in conference championship games, except LaFleur. While many are quick to highlight contemporaries like Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, LaFleur’s team has actually been the most consistently stellar of the three.
The argument against LaFleur, obviously, is that he has Aaron Rodgers and others don’t. In the NFL — we’ve seen this constantly with Belichick and Tom Brady — it’s a constant tug of war deciding who deserves more credit for wins and losses between the head coach and quarterback.
Really, it should be both. Rodgers is a future Hall of Famer who achieved a lot of his success while LaFleur was still a fresh-faced position coach, but it’d be revisionist to argue that LaFleur benefitted from peak Rodgers when he arrived in 2019. It was LaFleur’s coaching, his system, and his people skills that turned Rodgers back into Superman.
What holds back LaFleur at this point is lack of a track record. However, if we’re not afraid to anoint Josh Allen as the second-best quarterback in the NFL after one year of high-level play, why can’t the same logic apply to coaches?
Regarding LaCanfora’s take that LaFleur should have even an inkling of worry about his job status, you’ll not find a more ridiculous thought this offseason.
LaCanfora’s argument is, essentially, that because LaFleur is the new guy in town in contrast with general manager Brian Gutekunst and president Mark Murphy, he has the most to lose if the situation with Rodgers continues to sour.
There’s been a lot of losers in this offseason spat between the front office and the franchise quarterback, but if anyone has come out clean in this public relations battle, it’s been LaFleur.
The ultimate decision-maker to determine who coaches the Packers is Murphy, who was patient with the last head coach (until he wasn’t), and there’s no reason to think he’d have a quick trigger with LaFleur. So no, LaFleur’s seat is more likely as cold as the bleachers of Lambeau Field.
There’s still a lot to learn with LaFleur. How does he fare without a Hall of Fame quarterback (because that time is coming sooner or later)? How does he bounce back from some abnormal decisions in last season’s NFC Championship Game loss to Tampa Bay? The success or failure of hiring Joe Barry as defensive coordinator will also fall on LaFleur’s shoulders.
If we’re basing lists and rankings on the right things though, like recent merits, there can only be one conclusion: That LaFleur is one of the best in the business and will be in Green Bay for a long time.