Rodgers, LaFleur, and the nature of conflict

It’s officially summer, which means the weather and the football takes are both heating up.

As is becoming an unfortunate trend during these offseason lulls, national sports media is once again on an Aaron Rodgers witch hunt. I think most Green Bay Packers fans, especially those that read this wonderful site, don’t buy into the offseason gripes, but many outside of the fandom don’t know any better. For those who haven’t seen, last week, a conversation between Aaron Rodgers and analyst Mike Silver went viral for all the wrong reasons.

Regarding Matt LaFleur’s offense and Rodgers’ freedom at the line of scrimmage, the quarterback said, “I don’t think you want to ask me to turn off 11 years. We have a number of check with mes and line-of-scrimmage stuff. It’s just the other stuff that really not many people in this league can do. That’s not like a humblebrag or anything; that’s just a fact. There aren’t many people that can do at the line of scrimmage what I’ve done over the years,” After naming a few examples, he continued, “There are a few of us who’ve just done it; it’s kind of second nature. And that’s just the icing on the cake for what I can do in this offense.”

Many, especially click scavengers, focused on the “11 years” fragment, citing tension between Rodgers and his head coach. In the wake of previous Rodgers/McCarthy drama, pundits have used this “tension” to paint Rodgers as an arrogant, tyrannical mastermind, craving control and refusing to yield to a new system. I won’t link examples, so I hope you’ll indulge me; I don’t like giving exposure to this type of journalism and even mentioning it fuels them. But if you Google “Mike Florio+Aaron Rodgers” you’ll find what I refer to.

With the full context of the quotation, it’s clear that Rodgers is more acknowledging the challenge of working with a new system and a new man in charge, just like when any employee must face workplace changes. Rodgers isn’t taking shots at his head coach via the media. Rather, he is simply responding to questions and relaying his experiences thus far. For his part, LaFleur sees the situation the same way.

“We’re running a system I first picked up while working with Kyle in Houston a decade ago, and we’ve never really had a quarterback who’s had complete freedom to change plays at the line, because that’s not really the way the offense is set up. But, I mean, this is Aaron Rodgers. He’s had a lot of freedom to make those calls, and deservedly so. Now, how do we reconcile that, and get to a place where we put him in the best position to succeed?” LaFleur was quoted in the same Mike Silver piece.

Within this context, a clear picture is painted: two intelligent men with different backgrounds coming together and bringing their experiences together. Developing this new relationship is a process, and there will be growing pains. Last week’s Locked On Packers podcast covered this excellently.

For my part, I don’t want to speculate on whether or not a conflict exists; I’m not in the locker room. I want to focus on the context of the conflict itself.

Drama stirs interest. The Skips and Cowherds of the world know this and rely on it. It doesn’t matter what their actual opinion is: hot takes bring in interest. So when athletes and coaches/executives/other athletes have disagreements, they are almost always displayed in a negative manner through narrative framing. But conflict isn’t a negative phenomenon in its own right. Communication theory, in fact, makes these assumptions regarding the nature of conflict: “(a) conflict is natural; (b) conflict is good and necessary; and (c) most conflicts are based on real differences” (Deetz and Stevenson 1986).

The only way for this offense to grow and for Rodgers and LaFleur to excel is to embrace conflict and come to satisfying conclusions. Rodgers didn’t become a future Hall of Famer by being a “Yes Man.” His ability to go off script and make celestial plays is unmatched. LaFleur isn’t trying to fill in a “Shanahan system color-by-numbers” playbook. He wants to create his own offense by combining what he’s learned with the team he has.

Both men need to communicate with one another to find common ground and the best way to make their experiences and philosophies come together. This will inevitably lead to dissension and conflict, but from these disagreements they can come to a better understanding and create a stronger offense.

LaFleur’s offense should make life easier on Rodgers, and having Rodgers able to create a monstrous play out of nothing when needed makes life better for LaFleur. The sum is greater than both of its parts. Take the commonly cited practice touchdown Rodgers threw to Jimmy Graham. The play was off script, but LaFleur didn’t dislike it. He was excited. It was a picturesque example of how these two schools of thought can operate in harmony.

Winning is the elixir of life in sports. If Rodgers and LaFleur can create something special and win games, no one will care what disagreements they had in their early relationship.

Matt Hendershott is a Packers fan and Miller High Life enthusiast from Northwest Ohio. He has a Master of Arts in Media and Communication from Bowling Green State University. You can follow him on Twitter @MattHendershott.
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