INDIANAPOLIS — Matt LaFleur had no intention of going to Super Bowl LIV in South Florida last month after Green Bay lost in the NFC title game. In fact, the Packers coach told his wife, BreAnne, a year earlier at Super Bowl LIII that he wouldn’t go to another one until a team he was a part of made it back. But, there he was, inside Hard Rock Stadium to watch his brother, Mike, and the San Francisco 49ers take on the Kansas City Chiefs. It didn’t happen without some prodding, though.
“Between my wife and [Packers president] Mark Murphy there were a lot of voices in my head telling me I need to be there to support him, so I did it,” LaFleur said Thursday at the NFL Combine.
It was actually LaFleur’s third time at the biggest game in American sports in the last four years. He was also there following the 2016 season with the Atlanta Falcons as their quarterbacks coach. It was not a pleasant experience as they managed to lose a 28-3 lead to New England and watched as the Patriots were crowned Super Bowl LI Champions. All of these trips have made him more hungry than ever to get the Packers there.
“That’s always what you’re striving for. That’s what you’re working for each and every day,” LaFleur said. “I know I’ll never be satisfied until we’re holding that Lombardi Trophy.”
To make it happen, most believe the Packers will have to go through San Francisco. It makes sense on the surface. LaFleur lost four games in his first year as coach and two of them were whippings at the hands of the 49ers. That’s led to a lot of questions about how far Green Bay is away from being able to compete with the best team in the NFC. On Tuesday, GM Brian Gutekunst was in the mood to put that notion to rest.
“It’s year-to-year. There’s probably a lot less carryover than people think that there is from year to year. So the challenges that we are going to face this year are really unknown. The way I go about it, the way (LaFleur) goes about it, we’re not looking to catch any particular team. I think we’re trying to build a football club, and develop a club, that can kind of withstand whatever storms come our way.
“We always start with our division and then work beyond that. Again, I think if you focus too much on that you’re going to miss things.”
“Never a doubt” Pettine would be back
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was one of several defensive assistants that LaFleur kept around from former coach Mike McCarthy’s staff last offseason. Players appeared more comfortable in the second year of his scheme and made strides statistically, including going from 25.0 points allowed per game (22nd in NFL) to 19.6 (9th).
But the unit looked lost against San Francisco in the NFC title game, allowing 285 yards rushing and 37 points. 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and his staff seemed to know exactly what was coming on nearly every play and were a step ahead of the Packers at every turn.
While some outside the organization wondered if Pettine’s time might be done after that performance, he was retained.
“There was never a doubt,” LaFleur said of brining Pettine back. “I’m not going to make a rash decision on one game. I thought our defense did a lot of great things. Certainly there’s areas we have to improve upon but it’s not just defensively. It’s on offense and special teams as well.”
The Packers filled one of their coaching vacancies earlier this month with a veteran in Jerry Gray. A longtime NFL defensive back, the former Minnesota Vikings secondary coach was tabbed by LaFleur to handle the position with Green Bay after Jason Simmons left for Carolina.
LaFleur described Gray as a calming, confident veteran that will impact the team throughout.
“I think our players are going to be very receptive to him,” LaFleur said. “He’s just been around this league for such a long time. I think he’s going to bring a lot of value to not only our defensive staff but I think our whole staff and to our team.”
The other coaching position that needs to be filled is at wide receiver after the team let Alvis Whitted go following one season. That came almost a month ago, so, on Tuesday, LaFleur was asked if they were actually planning to hire a replacement.
“We are working through that process right now,” LaFleur said with a smile. “Yes, we will a hire wide receiver coach.”
There was some thought when Whitted was initially let go that Mike LaFleur, San Francisco’s passing game coordinator, could be his replacement considering his contract was set to expire and the team could no longer block him from joining his brother as it did last offseason. But just days later it was reported the 49ers had given Mike a new deal during the postseason and he would be staying put.
“No, that had no bearing,” Matt LaFleur said. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
Another team coming to training camp
There will be another NFL team coming to Green Bay for training camp this summer. Who that team is remains to be seen.
“We have a team, but I don’t know if I can tell you yet,” LaFleur said with a smile. “I’ve got to make sure (with) the (NFL).”