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GREEN BAY, Wis. — With Rich Homie Quan’s “Type of Way” blasting through the speakers at Ray Nitschke Field, the man in charge of maximizing the rest of Aaron Rodgers’ Hall of Fame career pulls up in a white golf cart as players warm up for a Tuesday morning practice. He smiles, extends his hand to a visitor and offers a seat next to him.
“Hey, I’m Matt,” he says, cheerfully.
The visitor is here to inquire about the coach and Rodgers’ relationship. Big shock.
The initial question of how the two will get along is legitimate, especially after the fate that befell Rodgers’ last coach, Mike McCarthy, who won a Super Bowl in the 2010 season but was fired in December after a disappointing 6-9-1 season full of reports about the two’s dissolving relationship.
And it became a bigger story in Packers camp since Aug. 6, when Rodgers publicly critiqued the value of the joint practices that LaFleur — who at 39, is only four years older than Rodgers — scheduled in his first year as the Green Bay Packers’ coach.
LaFleur insists he isn’t worried much about that.
“I mean like honestly, all you can do is laugh at it at the end of the day,” LaFleur told Yahoo Sports. “I mean, I know what’s real and what’s not, and I don’t even concern myself with any of that noise out there. I feel good about where we’re at, I think he does the same. Everyday, we continue to grow together and I think our communication has been right on point.”
LaFleur even told reporters shortly after Rodgers’ comments that he agreed with some of his quarterback’s points, essentially diffusing the situation. And when asked what he wished people knew about he and LaFleur’s relationship, Rodgers gave a sarcastic response.
“I mean, I think he said it best the other night when he made a crack about it — we have a great line of communication,” Rodgers said, before amping up.
“I’m not sitting up here wishing people [knew, like], ‘Oh I wish you just knew. I don’t care. I don’t need to go out and prove to anybody how great Matt and I are getting along … we’re having a great time, we’re communicating, and the conjecture is for clickbait news stories you guys can put on your websites. Not you guys, I mean … I like most of you people around here.”
The latter part of the response prompted chuckles — Rodgers’ tone actually came across far more good-natured than it might sound on paper — but LaFleur has reason to believe the rest of it (particularly the part about their relationship) rings true.
What the partnership looks like on-field
After watching things combust with McCarthy last year, the Packers’ hope is that LaFleur’s personality — bright, innovative and laid-back (yet passionate) about football — will make him a perfect partner for the bright, competitive and intense Rodgers, who was asked this week how important it is for a head coach and quarterback to have open and frank dialogue.
“It’s very important,” Rodgers said. “You have to set aside your ego and sensitivity, and communicate honestly about your feelings and then know who the boss is.”
And when asked how his dialogue is going with LaFleur, Rodgers smiled.
“It’s been great,” Rodgers said. “Because I know who the boss is — him.”
As the new boss, LaFleur will look to update the offense while pulling heavily from the winning formula used by Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay, who is young, offensive-minded and quarterback-centric — the prototype head coach in today’s NFL.
LaFleur will almost certainly use lots of pre-snap motion, play-action and runs from under center to confuse defenses, while also encouraging Rodgers to unleash his renowned creativity and improvisation post-snap.
“I think that’s great [he has it], because you don’t feel the pressure to have the perfect play call every time,” LaFleur told Yahoo Sports. “There’s some things that are gonna happen where, it’s football, you’re not gonna have the best look and when you have a guy that’s capable of getting you out of that look into a better look, then certainly you embrace that.”
Yet, there are some things that a quarterback of Rodgers’ stature simply cannot be expected to relinquish — like his control of the play-calling in the two-minute drill.
“He’s been calling two-minute for a long time,” said LaFleur, who will allow Rodgers to keep doing so.
What’s more, Rodgers has an independent streak, especially when it comes to changing the play at the line of scrimmage. Yet, plays get called to set up other plays down the road, and LaFleur — who will call the Packers’ offensive plays — prides himself on putting his guys in the best position to score. That’s why they will often call two plays in the huddle, with Rodgers having the ability to choose the best after scanning the defense.
LaFleur hopes their constant communication means the two will be on such a similar wavelength that Rodgers won’t feel the need to audible much.
“If there’s something that a quarterback doesn’t feel very confident in, then I’m not going to call it — period, no matter [how much I like it],” LaFleur said. “I’ll do the best job I can at telling him and showing him why I like what I like it and making sure he gets the adequate number of reps at that so he feels comfortable.”
What the partnership looks like off-field
Two months after he was hired, LaFleur flew to Scottsdale, Arizona, during March Madness, to visit Rodgers.
The two went out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant — “I just wanted to hang out with him and see what he’s all about,” LaFleur said — and since then, they have also had “some good conversations with scotch involved,” LaFleur noted with a laugh.
When asked how often they’ve done that, LaFleur laughed again.
“Probably not enough,” LaFleur said, “but we’ve done it a couple times. It’s always good. It’s relaxing, and it’s again, guys just hanging out, getting to know one another.”
The last time they did that was in the middle of June, he said, before they left organized team activities for the summer. Their bond remains solid, as teammates say the two appear to have a good working connection.
“The offense runs through Aaron obviously, because he’s one of the most talented players to ever play and everyone looks to him,” center Corey Linsley told Yahoo Sports. “His demeanor has been outstanding. I think he’s bought in 100 percent.”
The NFL remains a performance league, and all it takes is adversity hitting — which could come in the form of a losing streak — for issues to rear their ugly heads. LaFleur is fully aware of that, and even that looming truth isn’t enough to shield his optimism about where he, Rodgers and the Packers are headed in 2019.
“Listen, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, I really feel confident about our relationship, where it is, where it’s gonna go,” LaFleur said before wrapping up the interview and speeding away on his golf cart.
“Right now, this is true for every team in the NFL — nobody’s been through any adversity. But I feel like we’ll be able to get through anything.”
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