Green Bay Packers

Matt LaFleur Should Earn Consideration for Coach of the Year

Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch (USA TODAY Sports)

The quality of coaching talent in the NFL is at an all-time high. Aside from a few duds, teams are doing their due diligence and hiring excellent young candidates who are showcasing new and innovative ways to lead their respective teams to success. Parity across the league is palpable. The phrase “any given Sunday” has added credibility that hasn’t been present in years.

It is late enough in the NFL season to start considering prospective winners for the end-of-season awards. The Coach of the Year race, in particular, is wide open. Many teams have overcome adversity to establish themselves as Super Bowl contenders. As far any of the big awards are concerned, they are typically given to the teams with the best records at the end of the regular season.

In this sense, the criteria for Coach of the Year comes down to a few simple questions:

  • How did the team perform last year versus this year?
  • Did the coach do anything new and innovative that specifically helped this team win?
  • Was the coach overshadowed by a bevy of talent on the team?

The questions above are just some that (presumably) go through the heads of the media members who vote for the AP NFL awards. Questions like these are often aggregated into more general categories writers consider when they cast their final votes. In truth, there are often two simple categories of players/coaches who win MVP/COTY:

  • The best player/coach on the best team
  • The player/coach that did the most with the least and, if missing, would leave the team in disarray

Two years ago the COTY was John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens. Harbaugh fits into the former category. He was the coach of a team that went 14-2 on Lamar Jackson‘s talent alone. It is well-documented that Harbaugh is a hell of a coach, and he complemented Jackson’s abilities well. The Ravens put together one of the most prolific offensive dynamos since Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs put Patrick Mahomes on the map.

Last year’s COTY was Kevin Stefanski of the Cleveland Browns. He slots into the latter category. The Browns were previously one of the most miserable franchises in all of pro sports, and Stefanski helped stabilize the team enough to get them back into the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Without Stefanski’s leadership, the team may not have seen Baker Mayfield ascend out of mediocrity and help ease an ailing city’s perennial anguish.

As for the current NFL season, there are plenty of coaches that fit into the former category. Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals comes to mind. The Cardinals have ascended to 10-2 and sit atop the NFC standings. Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots have won seven consecutive games and beat the Buffalo Bills without throwing the ball more than three times. These two coaches are at the forefront of the collective consciousness and are worthy of consideration for the award.

However, it may be time to admit that Matt LaFleur has not been given enough consideration.

The Green Bay Packers sit at 9-3 and are poised to win the NFC North again. They’ve had team success. Green Bay has never lost back-to-back games in the LaFleur era. This year, the team’s only losses come from a shallow outing in Week 1, an Aaron Rodgers-less tussle against the Chiefs, and an away game against the Minnesota Vikings that many should have seen coming. They are 5-0 at home and are showing no signs of slowing down.

While the special teams have remained a disaster, LaFleur has done an excellent job surrounding himself with coordinators and support staff who allow the team to thrive. Hiring Joe Barry has proved to be far better than expected, and Nathaniel Hackett has catered himself well to LaFleur’s offensive vision.

It’s also worth considering that the Packers have dealt with an exceptional number of injuries to key players on both sides of the ball. So far, Green Bay has weathered absences from David Bakhtiari, Jaire Alexander, Za’Darius Smith, Aaron Jones, Davante Adams, Kylin Hill, Elgton Jenkins, Kevin King, and even Aaron Rodgers. Injuries seem to mount for this team every year, and LaFleur’s ability to keep the team on track is impressive in a league full of parity.

LaFleur’s performance this year earns him a blended result of the two categories above. He is a great coach on a great team, but Green Bay is not the best team in the NFL right now. He has made a palpable impact on the Packers, but this is also the same team that has been to the NFC Championship game two years in a row. Running up against a coach that is 10-2 with his starting QB missing three games, as well as another coach who has dragged a rookie QB to seven-straight victories to sit atop the AFC, does not bode well for LaFleur’s chances for the award.

Considering how the Mike McCarthy era ended in Green Bay, LaFleur has made a positive and lasting impact on the team’s trajectory. While he may not have the resumé items in 2021 to win COTY against candidates like Kingsbury and Belichick, he has solidified himself among the NFL’s best. This year has proved that his coaching chops are no fluke, nor are they a byproduct of Rodgers’ talent alone. LaFleur is the real deal, and he should get the recognition that he deserves.

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