Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur has a lot on his plate. LaFleur has the Packers sitting at 7-3 and playing for the right to be the top seed in the NFC in this year’s playoffs. If that wasn’t enough pressure, he also has to determine if Mike Pettine will continue to be his defensive coordinator. The chances of LaFleur making a move on Pettine during the season are slim to none. Disrupting the flow of this season with a staff change just isn’t going to happen. However, the chances of LaFleur making a chance at the season’s end is very possible. With that in mind, we will take a look at possible candidates to replace Mike Pettine for 2021.
An Early List of Possible Candidates to Replace Mike Pettine
Mike Pettine has been the Packers defensive coordinator since the 2018 season. Pettine was hired leading up to 2018 by former Packers head coach Mike McCarthy. When LaFleur was hired in 2019, he chose to keep Pettine in charge of the Packers defense.
LaFleur’s decision to retain Pettine seemed like the proper move at the time. Pettine did an admirable job in 2018 and got more out of Green Bay’s defense than most expected. Most felt keeping Pettine could build on some momentum the Packers defense showed that season.
In the off-season prior to 2019, general manager Brian Gutekunst loaded up on the defensive side of the ball. He signed outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, safety Adrian Amos, and outside linebacker Preston Smith to free-agent contracts. He also spent two first-round picks on safety Darnell Savage Jr. and outside linebacker Rashan Gary. Gutekunst did everything he could to make sure Mike Pettine had the talent to be a top ten defense.
But that hasn’t been the case. While the Packers have the talent, Pettine has failed to coordinate a defense that could step up if the Packers’ offense faltered. His defenses have struggled mightily against the run. They also have regressed in tackling and overall, have been a major disappointment.
Unless Pettine can turn around the defense this season, it is doubtful he will return in 2021. The chances of a turnaround seem very unlikely. If Pettine hasn’t adjusted by now, it is difficult to see it ever happening. LaFleur will need to make a change. Here are some possible names that could be in the running to replace Pettine after this season.
LaFleur and Wade Phillips both served as assistants under Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay back in 2017. LaFleur only spent a season with the Rams, but still, there is a connection between him and Phillips.
Phillips is a former head coach and a longtime defensive coordinator in the NFL. While he wasn’t successful as a head coach, he is well thought of as a defensive coordinator. Similar to Mike Pettine, Phillips runs a 3-4 style defense. That continuity would be a plus for what the Packers currently have on their roster.
At 73 years old, Phillips would be the oldest assistant on the Packers coaching staff. LaFleur is pretty tight with McVay, so the fact that McVay fired Phillips after the 2019 season might damage Phillips chances of being the Packers next defensive coordinator.
In 2015, in Dan Quinn’s first season as the Atlanta Falcons head coach, he hired LaFleur as the quarterback’s coach. Coaching in the NFL is a who do you know business, so the connection LaFleur has with Quinn could help Quinn’s chances.
But hiring your former boss doesn’t always bring good results. McCarthy hired Mike Nolan, his former boss, as the Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator this season and the results haven’t been good.
Before becoming the Falcons head coach, Quinn was the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks. His success there led to him being hired as the Falcons head coach. It isn’t a given that Quinn will want to go back to being an assistant. Instead, he might wait for another head coaching job.
When there was speculation that Mike Pettine might not be retained after last season, Kris Richard was a name we threw out as a possible replacement.
Similar to Quinn, Richard comes from the Pete Carroll coaching tree. Richard was a longtime assistant under Carroll, first as cornerbacks/defensive back coach, then as the Seahawks defensive coordinator.
Richard’s most recent job was as the Cowboys defensive backs coach/passing game coordinator. He also was the Cowboys defensive play caller. He held that position from 2018-2019. The Cowboys defense during his tenure was at best uneven. Like with Phillips, he is currently out of the NFL.
The Baltimore Ravens are a franchise that is known for their defense. Chris Hewitt has been a part of the Ravens defense since 2012.
Hewitt served as the Ravens defensive backs coach from 2012-2019. This season, he is the Ravens pass defense coordinator. Hiring an assistant, one with such a long tenure at that, from a team that has had such success on defense would seem like quite a hire for LaFleur. The Ravens currently are eighth in total defense.
Hewitt does have a connection with the current Packers as well. Milt Hendrickson, the current director-football operations for the Packers, was a part of the Ravens front office from 2005-2018. There is no doubt that Hendrickson knows Hewitt well and can let LaFleur know what Hewitt could bring as a defensive coordinator.
Aubrey Pleasant is currently the Rams cornerbacks coach under LaFleur friend Sean McVay. This season, the Rams are first in total defense and second against the pass. The success the Rams have had against the pass has a lot to do with the work that Pleasant has done with their cornerbacks.
Pleasant also worked under Phillips from 2017-2019. As stated earlier, Phillips is well thought of in NFL circles, so working under him is a major plus for Pleasant and his resumé. Pleasant seems to be an up and comer with a lot of potential. If we were to name any of these candidates favorites to replace Mike Pettine, Pleasant would be our choice.
Putting Jim Leonhard on this list isn’t a “homer pick”. Just because he is the defensive coordinator at the University of Wisconsin doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be on this list.
Leonhard played ten seasons in the NFL. An undersized safety, Leonhard carved out a nice career as a defensive back. He played so long because of his intelligence which helped overcome his small stature.
Leonhard has been the Badgers defensive backs/defensive coordinator since 2017. Since taking over as the defensive coordinator, the Badgers have fielded defenses that have been one of the best in college football. He runs a 3-4 NFL style of defense. While as an NFL player, he played under Rex Ryan and implements a similar style of defense. Pettine was a long time assistant under Ryan, but unlike Pettine’s defenses, Leonhard’s defenses have been successful.
It is unknown if Leonhard wants to make the jump to the NFL. There is also a question if his college success will carry over to the NFL.
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