LaFleur accepts offer to become Packers coach
By TERESA M. WALKER , AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Green Bay Packers are turning to fast-rising offensive whiz Matt LaFleur to aid Aaron Rodgers and end a two-year absence from the postseason.
LaFleur accepted an offer Monday to become the next head coach of the Packers, according to a person familiar with the decision. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because neither the Packers nor the Titans had announced the decision.
The 39-year-old LaFleur spent this season as offensive coordinator for the Titans, his first calling plays in the NFL. He takes over for Mike McCarthy, who was fired during the season following a stunning home loss to Arizona on Dec. 2. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin went 2-2 to close out the season as the Packers failed to reach the playoffs for the second straight year with a 6-9-1 record that was the second straight under .500 for the storied franchise.
He was offensive coordinator with the Los Angeles Rams in 2017, leading a group that paced the NFL in scoring and was 10th in total offense under coach Sean McVay, who called the plays on offense. LaFleur was the quarterbacks coach in Atlanta for two seasons, including when Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was the NFL MVP in 2016. LaFleur also has coached with Washington and Houston, and was the quarterbacks coach for Notre Dame in 2014.
He will be charged with returning the Packers to the playoffs on a regular basis. McCarthy’s tenure of 12-plus seasons was by and large successful, highlighted by the 2010 Super Bowl season and nine playoff appearances.
Still, the once potent offense that could make up for other deficiencies slowed in 2018, a tumultuous year that began with Rodgers leading a stirring comeback victory in the opener over the Bears. The two-time NFL MVP returned after halftime from a left knee injury that nagged him the rest of the season.
Rodgers’ 62.3 percent completion rate was his lowest since 2015 (60.7) and his 25 touchdown passes were a low for a season in which he played at least 15 games, though so were his two interceptions. Injuries to Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison forced the Packers to turn to rookies perhaps earlier than expected, though Davante Adams emerged as an elite receiver.
The relationship between LaFleur and Rodgers will be closely watched after the sometimes tenuous moments between the star QB and McCarthy. They characterized their relationship as close, but with ups and downs that come with two headstrong competitors who had worked together for more than a dozen years.
The Packers reportedly interviewed several candidates with head-coaching experience, including Philbin, Chuck Pagano, Adam Gase and Jim Caldwell. The instead opted for LaFleur, who had never called plays before this season and until now has never been in charge of an entire roster.
It is just one element of an offseason of change ahead in Green Bay.
Clay Matthews, one of the last remaining links to Green Bay’s Super Bowl-winning season, is a free agent after finishing with a career-low 3½ sacks in his 10th season with the Packers but the first under the tweaked 3-4 scheme installed by first-year coordinator Mike Pettine.
Cobb is also a prominent free agent for Green Bay, and a steady, experienced target for Rodgers — if he returns.
The running game could be a strength next season behind Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones, who led the NFL in yards per carry before suffering a knee injury in mid-December. The coordinator’s job could be in flux, too. Philbin is well-liked by Rodgers and the 16-year NFL coaching veteran and he won respect from players for his even-keeled and straightforward demeanor in the transition following McCarthy’s firing.
Pettine’s defense showed flashes in his first year on the job. First-round draft pick Jaire Alexander displayed the potential of playing like the top cornerback the Packers desperately need. Injuries struck the defensive line, which was one of the team’s strengths coming into the season, and the Packers lacked a consistent rush at outside linebacker outside of surprise sacks leader Kyler Fackrell (10½).
Tennessee has changes coming, too. The Titans went 9-7 and missed the playoffs, ending the season ranked 27th in scoring and 25th in total offense while injuries took a toll. Quarterback Marcus Mariota will soon be working with his fourth offensive coordinator in five seasons.
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