Matt LaFleur has big challenge coaching Aaron Rodgers, as new Packers story outlines

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Every coaching job in the NFL is difficult, history strongly suggests, but the task for new Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur appears to be a massive one if we believe what was written in an explosive report about the team’s tension the past several seasons.

In the thoroughly detailed story, Bleacher Report’s Tyler Dunne broke down the deteriorated relationship between former head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers and how it eroded the core of an annual Super Bowl contender.

It’s almost impossible to characterize what held the team back for years, but it’s clear that things started falling apart between the two men almost from the start of McCarthy’s tenure in 2006.

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Good luck, Matt LaFleur

The 39-year-old first-time head coach has bounced around recently (coaching on six different teams in the past seven years), but LeFleur arrives with a reputation of having good offensive acumen and being a QB-friendly coach.

But how thick is his skin?

If the story casts an accurate light of what’s gone down in Green Bay — especially in recent, tension-rife seasons — not only will LaFleur have to come armed with an innovative playbook, but he also must be prepared to deal with Rodgers’ way of doing business. The QB was accused by former and current teammates of changing McCarthy’s play calls as much as 30 percent of the time, often leaving receivers to choose between running the routes the coaches wanted and being in Rodgers’ proverbial doghouse.

Green Bay Packers first-time head coach Matt LaFleur has his hands full if a recent report about Aaron Rodgers is true. (AP Photo)
Green Bay Packers first-time head coach Matt LaFleur has his hands full if a recent report about Aaron Rodgers is true. (AP Photo)

Head coaches are supposed to be in charge of all 53 players, as well as the entire coaching staff, and they must be concerned with myriad other matters: namely relationships with the front office, media relations and demanding fans. They also must coach games, call timeouts, make key decisions on whether to go for it and know when challenge flags must be pulled out.

But there’s also an intangible element to coaching, and it’s spelled out in one very telling quote from Dunne’s story, via a former Packers player who watched the McCarthy-Rodgers relationship fray.

"If you were going to write a headline," the player said, "that would be it right there: How Egos Took Down the Packers."

Coaches seemingly also have to be paid sitters. Managing egos comes with the turf; every coach on the planet, no matter the sport, is aware of this. But now you have a first-year head coach who is in charge of everything and who also must find a way to coax the best out of Rodgers, the team’s highest-paid player by a mile, without kowtowing to him and undermining his own authority.

Uh ... good luck with that?

Does the new guy have a chance?

Perhaps Rodgers isn’t as surly and recalcitrant as the story portrays him, and maybe he will go out of his way to help LaFleur, knowing that time is gradually sifting away to win a second Super Bowl for the 35-year-old passer. Maybe change from McCarthy will help clear the air and force everyone on hand to be on their best behavior.

But there’s also the fear that this is learned behavior, or at least enabled. After all, the Packers gave Rodgers the green light when they signed him to a contract worth up to $180 million, and this was a moment when McCarthy’s power had been somewhat undermined. The team unwittingly chose a winner in the head coach-QB standoff, even if everyone lost in back-to-back sub-.500 seasons the past two years.

Of course, team president Mark Murphy — the man who hired LaFleur — might be trying to usurp some of Rodgers’ control now. Murphy did not consult Rodgers on the hire, the story suggests, and in fact had to deliver the news: Rodgers not only had to accept the choice of LaFleur but also was being asked not to make a tough transition more difficult and to accept coaching from someone only four years his senior but with far fewer NFL credentials.

In one telling portion, Murphy reportedly told Rodgers: "Don't be the problem. Don't be the problem."

How will Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers work with his new coach? (AP Photo)
How will Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers work with his new coach? (AP Photo)

So how does LaFleur handle dealing with Rodgers? One former Packers personnel employee suggests that neither the taskmaster route nor the sycophant approach will work. There must be a balance in how LaFleur pushes Rodgers back to his former greatness and also maintains control of the entire operation.

Like a "really, really hard cheerleader," the ex-personnel man said, which is a coaching description we’ve not heard before.

Mike McCarthy’s failures = Matt LaFleur’s lessons?

McCarthy is not above reproach in the story’s findings, reportedly missing meetings, failing to admonish Rodgers for stepping out of line and, among other things, spending too much time game-planning an offense that Rodgers either didn’t agree with or he eventually would change on his own accord.

The former coach allowed a lot of this tension to exist on his watch. There absolutely should be a place for blame there. LaFleur must find a way to keep that tension from boiling over early and setting the proper parameters for everyone to thrive.

Green Bay can be a great place to coach, and no doubt it’s one of the hallowed NFL franchises. Win there, and you etch a piece of local lore. McCarthy might have gotten fired, but he still brought the Lombardi Trophy home once — which is once more than his two predecessors and the same number as the more revered Mike Holmgren — and McCarthy still lives in the town in which a street is named in his honor.

This has a feeling of either a rousing success or a grand failure when we look back at LaFleur’s tenure in a few years. There might not be a middle ground.

In a sit-down interview with ESPN a few days ago, McCarthy had some advice for LaFleur as he embarked on this challenge.

“Totally embrace the Green Bay community with your family,” he said. “It's a phenomenal place to live. It's a phenomenal place to raise a family. ... Heck, coach your ass off, have fun and enjoy the honor because it goes fast. Enjoy the honor of being the head coach of the Green Bay Packers.

“Make the program your own. That's very important. You were hired here for a very good reason; don't get too far away from that. You have a great group of men in that locker room. I think they're special, and they'll work their butts for you.”

But how does LaFleur make a program his own if the lead singer already has seized some significant measure of control over the band? That — along with all of the other pitfalls of this brutal business — will be the challenge this new coach is facing in a nutshell. And it’s one McCarthy couldn’t crack often enough.

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