The Green Bay Packers have their defensive coordinator.
Once again, Matt LaFleur’s top choice for the role came from the college ranks — but, once again, it’s not Jim Leonard joining the team.
Boston College head coach Jeff Hafley is leaving the college ranks to join the Packers as their defensive coordinator.
ESPN’s Pete Thamel reported it Wednesday evening, and the hiring came as a bit of a surprise, mainly because his name wasn’t one of the reported candidates to interview with the team. With a competitive market for coach hirings, Green Bay’s clandestine approach assured that rival teams wouldn’t steal their guy.
Hafley has a diverse coaching background and many ties to LaFleur’s peer group.
He spent two years working for the Cleveland Browns as their secondary coach under former Packers DC Mike Pettine. Following that staff’s dismissal, Hafley joined the San Francisco 49ers as their defensive backs coach under Chip Kelly. Hafley survived the Kelly regime, and two of LaFleur’s closest friends in the league, Kyle Shanahan and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, retained him.
In 2019, he joined the college ranks as a co-defensive coordinator with the Ohio State Buckeyes. Under Hafley, Ohio State had the NCAA’s best defense and coached future NFL players Chase Young and Jeff Okudah. That team made the college football playoffs but lost to future champion Clemson.
That season with Ohio State got Hafley his first head coaching opportunity, taking the helm at Boston College. In his four years in Chestnut Hill, BC had three years of bowl eligibility. Hafley’s accomplishments at BC include having three of their top recruiting classes in program history, their first victory over a ranked opponent since 2014, and their first Bowl Game victory since 2016.
While LaFleur has never directly worked with Hafley, there is a clear connection, especially with two of LaFleur’s closest friends in the business having worked with him.
“He wants to go coach football again in a league that is all about football,” Thamel’s source said, explaining why Hafley would leave a head coaching dig for a coordinator role in the NFL. “College coaching has become fundraising, NIL, and recruiting your own team and transfers. There’s no time to coach football anymore.”
What will Hafley bring to the Packers?
With a history working under Saleh, he’s taken some of those tenets into the college world. Hafley has primarily run a four-down linemen, single-high scheme focusing on getting pressure up front. Hafley ran Cover-1 on 43.1% of plays last season, the fifth-highest in the FBS. Green Bay hasn’t run a 4-3 base defense in a long time, but Rashan Gary and Lukas Van Ness could easily make that transition. And teams rarely stay in base defense, so the 3-4, 4-3 argument isn’t super impactful.
Press coverage has been a priority for Hafley, who likes the ability to cancel route trees, disrupt timing, and challenge the receivers. You can see his breakdown of that style below.
But Hafley has acknowledged that what works in college doesn’t always work in the NFL, saying the two games often feel totally different. For a look at his schematic philosophies, hear it from the man himself:
Packers fans will like his focus on adaptability, his history of aggressive defense, and his youth. Hafley is only 44 but has studied under well-respected coaches and elevated programs.
Thamel suggests that there’s a good chance Green Bay will retain some or all of their current defensive coaches. We’ll see how this shakes out, but it’s one of the few potential negatives. LaFleur already tried to change the top of the operation with Barry, and it didn’t work. LaFleur must believe that the right coach can maximize the organization’s talent, but that remains to be seen.
Still, the one thing we know about Hafley as the defensive coordinator of the Packers is that we know nothing. Hafley hasn’t had a DC role in the NFL and is aware of the differences between the two leagues. Even what we know of his scheme could change in the NFL with the roster the Packers currently have.
Hafley likely wasn’t on the radar for many Packers fans, mainly because this is the first time we’ve heard his name linked to the role. We should get an official announcement and press conference soon and learn more about LaFleur’s third DC. A new DC with an adaptable mindset and a host of top-100 draft picks mean this is an exciting off-season to develop the Packers defense.
And if it doesn’t work out, “Fire Hafley!” has a pretty good ring to it.