On Wednesday, many Green Bay Packers fans got their wish. Defensive Coordinator of the past three seasons, Joe Barry, had been fired. Although there were some spikes in the defense’s performance towards the end of the season, it just wasn’t enough to save Barry’s job. The debate rages on whether the improvements were due to Barry or possibly due to communication changes orchestrated by head coach Matt LaFleur as the timing seemed to match up. But, nonetheless, Barry is out, and now the Packers are looking for their third different defensive coordinator in the last five years. Will they go with a young and innovative candidate? Or someone experienced and seasoned?
When Matt LaFleur took over the Packers in 2019 as Head Coach, he was labeled a “young and innovative offensive mind.” One thing that’s for sure, is that his new views helped rejuvenate the Packers’ offense. They also rejuvenated Aaron Rodgers bringing him two more MVP awards before his eventual departure from Green Bay. Even though some think that in a way, Rodgers still ran a chunk of the offense. Now today, one could argue in Rodgers’ absence, that LaFleur finally has a chance to show his full capabilities as a game planner and play-caller. But then what does he do for the defensive side of the ball? Does he match what he brings to the table? Or does he perhaps counter it with the opposite?
Bringing in Youth and Innovation
There’s been a trend in this league the last 10 years. That’s been an influx of young and energetic coaches. Coaches getting hired on the younger side of 45 and finding success with their new ways of taking over a team. But there’s been a caveat to that statistic. The majority of them are offensive-minded. Their defensive counterparts are getting younger as well, but not quite as. There still seems to be some value to the older defensive minds. However, nothing says “new direction” quite like a new coordinator that perhaps has never held that title before or is only around a decade or so older than the players themselves.
Three years ago, before Joe Barry was hired, Wisconsin fans were rejoicing that Badgers’ defensive coordinator, Jim Leonhard was being interviewed for the defensive coordinator position with the Packers. Leonhard coached a dominant Badgers defense that was very blitz-heavy, and he had some creative ways of pulling it off. A match made in heaven, right? Two young innovative minds under one roof. Well, it’s said that the Packers offered Leonhard the job, but he decided to turn it down and return to Wisconsin. Many say Leonhard believed he’d eventually become head coach of Wisconsin, so he decided to stick it out, only to end up not coaching at Wisconsin in any capacity in 2023. Leonhard remains a top candidate amongst Packers fans, but that may not pan out the way they think.
Other young minds include Brandon Staley, former head coach of the Chargers whom LaFleur has worked with before, Jesse Minter the current defensive coordinator of the Michigan Wolverines, and a former Packers great, Al Harris.
I have to admit, I would love to see Al Harris return to Title Town as this savior defensive coordinator and help us get to the promised land once again. But I’m not so sure. Visions of Harris and Charles Woodson mugging receivers at the line of scrimmage still dance in my head like sugar plums on Christmas eve. If Harris could teach our corners to play like that, you wouldn’t be able to wipe the smile off my face each game. But unfortunately, that could be where it would end.
Harris has stated himself that he doesn’t think he’s ready or has the skillset to be a complete defensive coordinator. He sees himself more as a position coach right now. But that won’t stop some fans from wanting him to take over still.
Perhaps we’d be better off with a seasoned veteran.
Go with a Veteran
There have been a number of veteran coordinators mentioned for the Packers to hire to take over the defense as well. Wink Martindale, former Giants coordinator, Mike Zimmer, former Vikings head coach, Rex Ryan, former Jets and Bills head coach. Even Bill Belichick has been mentioned after he was turned down for the Atlanta Falcons head coach position.
For the most part, some of these names are laughable. Zimmer seemed to hate LaFleur with a passion when they’d play each other. Rex Ryan hasn’t been a coach since 2016 and hasn’t exactly endeared himself to Packers fans after completely ruling out Jordan Love being a successful Quarterback. And then there’s the Belichick want. I would have to admit, Belichick in Title Town as the defensive coordinator would be pretty outstanding, but come on now, there’s no way he’ll accept anything outside a head coaching gig.
But a veteran name like Martindale may be a little intriguing. Hear me out. Joe Barry proved to be a guy that needed a little hand holding. LaFleur was constantly having to dive in to defensive coaching and find some answers. Imagine if LaFleur can find a veteran defensive coach that he doesn’t have to hand-hold. A guy that while he’s doing what he’s good at, running the offense, he can look over at the defense and think “they’re well-taken care of, nothing is needed from me.”
I’m not huge on names, but I will personally say I think the Packers need a bit of a veteran coach on the defensive side of the ball that is a bit blitz-heavy and that can maximize the potential of anyone in that defensive locker room. They can leave LaFleur to know the defense is well taken care of and go on to what else he wants to do.
Regardless of who is hired, young or old, we will all be ready to get on that bandwagon behind them to hopefully lead us to a Super Bowl.
Greg Meinholz is a lifelong devoted Packer fan. A contributor to PackersTalk as well as CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter at @gmeinholz. for Packers commentary, random humor, beer endorsements, and occasional Star Wars and Marvel ramblings.