You could’ve argued that Matt Lafleur deserved to win coach of the year in either of the last two seasons. In 2019, he turned around a losing team and got them to the NFC championship game. Sure, there was some luck involved. In 2020, that team got even better and was dominant enough to earn its 13-3 record. Now after winning the NFC North for the third time in a row, let’s take a look at LaFleur’s case for coach of the year.
The Case For
There are a lot of arguments for LaFleur winning coach of the year. He kept the team together amidst Aaron Rodgers uncertainty. He kept the team together while 4 pro bowlers and several other players missed significant time with injuries. Despite a slow start, the team’s offense now has the second best DVOA in the league.
In each argument, the case is based on Lafleur’s ability to lead the team through hard times and uncertainty. Sticking to the plan when possible and adjusting when necessary. For many NFL coaches, it’s stick to the plan or give up.
LaFleur has each of the qualities it takes to be a great coach. He has the respect of his players, he has the ability to design a great gameplan, and he has the ability to adapt in game. Last season the Packers had a top 2 or 3 offense in the league. The other teams near the top sat on their laurels and have struggled this season with the rising amount of 2-high shell defenses. The Packers have transformed their offense to keep it near the top.
The Case Against
Over the last two seasons, the case against boiled down to, “Well, he has Aaron Rodgers.” Where was that argument over the team’s losing season the last two years with Mike McCarthy? It takes a great coach to manage and turn around a hall of fame player.
Really, the case against should be that when faced with a bottom of the league special teams and middle of the league defense at the end of last season, LaFleur blinked. He promoted an internal special teams coach to coordinator and hired a familiar face as defensive coordinator.
14 games in and we’ve seen enough to questions both decisions. The special teams is clearly the league’s worst and despite some flashes, the defense is bottom 10 in DVOA. Za’Darius Smith and his bad back can only do so much.
The team will, once again, need to survive in the playoffs on the back of its offense. I can see a way that the defense improves with the return of Smith and Jaire Alexander and some settling down, but at this point what else can even be done about the special teams? It seems obvious that a special teams gaffe will lose the team the NFC championship game.
In the end, I still think LaFleur deserves the award. I think voters will point to injuries as the cause of the Green Bay’s meh defense and will ignore special teams. And to be fair, the other candidates haven’t shown a lot lately. Kliff Kingsbury’s Cardinals just lost to the Lions. Bill Belichick’s Patriots lost to the Colts in a game when Carson Wentz had 57 yards. Mike McCarthy doesn’t call plays on offense, does anyone know what he really does for the Cowboys?
Mike Price is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in Utah. You can follow him on twitter at @themikeprice.