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Matt LaFleur Is Picking Friends Over Winning

Friends over winning

NFL coaches are notoriously devoted to the guys they brought with them. The group of coaches is commonly referred to as the “Coaching Fraternity.” This leads to an ever-shrinking talent pool. Coaches hire friends, children, or friends recommended by other friends. The other problem is that it makes it much harder for many of these insulated people to fire their staff. Coaches sometimes have to choose between keeping their friends or winning. Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur made a choice to hire a friend when he needed a qualified defensive coordinator. After two seasons of failure, LaFleur is sticking by his friend at the cost to his own record.

Matt LaFleur Is Picking Friends Over Winning

Mike McCarthy Made The Tough Call

Mike McCarthy was hired as the Green Bay Packers head coach in 2006. He led the team through the end of the Brett Favre era. The Packers went 6-10 in the 2008 season and faced a grumpy collection of fans. Brett Favre’s departure, combined with the losing season, had fans seeking answers. Mike McCarthy knew he had a good young quarterback, but he also made changes to his staff.

McCarthy fired six coaches from his staff including his defensive coordinator Bob Sanders. These were all people who were part of his first staff as a head coach. Each coach had been with him through the crushing NFC Championship loss against the New York Giants a year earlier. The 2008 Packers defense was actually 13th in DVOA, but had surrendered too many points.

This was a bigger change than just a few names. McCarthy committed to a defensive coordinator who had previously been a head coach and one who ran a completely different defense. The Packers switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4.

Change was necessary and McCarthy did what needed to be done to change things. McCarthy valued winning over coaching with friends. Green Bay jumped to the second-ranked DVOA defense in 2009 and stayed there for 2010. The change led to a Super Bowl win.

Keeping Friends Seen As an “Ethical Stand”

Not all Coaches can make such a big change. Famously, Mike Munchak chose to be fired rather than make significant changes to his staff. Some of the disagreement was when he was told to fire Bruce Matthews and Chet Parlavecchio. There was more to the firing, but a refusal to fire two of his best friends was a huge part of the discussion, according to both sides.

Chet Parlavecchio joined the Titans with Munchak and afterward, he returned to coaching high school football. He never coached in college or pros again. Bruce Matthews spent a short stint with the Houston Texans before joining former teammate Munchak in Tennessee. After being released, he volunteered to coach his kids in high school.

The big point is neither of these guys were highly regarded coaches who should have been protected. Both were friends he wanted to bring along. Parlavecchio played with Munchak at Penn State and Bruce Matthews was a teammate with the Houston Oilers. Being fired with friends was better than winning.

Matt LaFleur Stuck in the System

Matt LaFleur entered his tenure as Packers Head Coach with an experienced defensive coordinator. He fired Mike Pettine after some disappointing defensive performances. LaFleur hired Joe Berry and the defense dropped from 17th in 2020 to 22n in 2021. In 2022, the defense rebounded slightly to 20th.

Joe Barry and Matt LaFleur were together on Sean McVay’s staff with the Los Angeles Rams. Both joined the Rams staff in 2017. Barry has maintained relationships with Jon and Jay Gruden as well as Norv Turner. Joe Barry, famously, got his first defensive coordinator gig because his father-in-law was Detroit Lions head coach Rod Marinelli. Fun fact, Joe Barry’s father was also a part of that coaching staff.

Matt LaFleur has owed much of his stature to having been a friend of Kyle Shanahan. He followed Shanahan from Houston to Washington to Atlanta. Then, he joined fellow former Shanahan assistant Sean McVay in Los Angeles. While Kyle Shanahan has been successful, he also got most of his opportunities from being Mike Shanahan’s son.

LaFleur Needs to Change His Staff

The system of keeping your friends around is killing football. Keeping this fraternity locked in has prevented new talent from being discovered. In a time where players are coming from all walks of life and all different areas around the country, teams are still sticking with these small cliques. One of the major parts of the problem is head coaches getting sole decision-making authority over staff. Head coaches have shown over and over that they would rather lose with friends than move on with strangers.

Matt LaFleur and Joe Barry have both deeply benefitted from this system. This is certainly why they think the system works. The hiring of Joe Barry was a failure in the system. Keeping Barry is another failure in the system. The hiring is a feature of the system and not a bug. So long as Matt LaFleur refuses to change his staff, he is picking friendship over winning.


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