Green Bay Packers

What Will It Take For Matt LaFleur To Win COTY?

Photo Credit: Jonathan Jones-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 season ended with the Kansas City Chiefs winning the Super Bowl in overtime over the San Francisco 49ers.

But it didn’t involve the Green Bay Packers, so who cares?

Before we shift all our attention toward the 2024 season, I have one final gripe about 2023 regarding the Green and Gold. What will it take for Matt LaFleur to get some love for Coach of the Year?

Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski (or rather, Steven Stefanski) won the prestigious award days before the Super Bowl. Houston Texans first-year head coach DeMeco Ryans was just behind him. Both men had legitimate cases for the award, so I’m not just splitting hairs as a homer.

But LaFleur took the youngest offense and a first-time starting quarterback few believed in on a playoff run, and all he got was two third-place votes to show for it?

It’s not the first time LaFleur was snubbed. LaFleur can’t seem to get more than a handful of votes despite leading the Packers on multiple deep playoff runs, helming historically good offenses, and elevating a young team far beyond expectations. What’s keeping LaFleur from getting more love, and what would it take to finally earn the award?

Stefanski has won the award twice since LaFleur became the head coach, and it’s easy to see why. Stefanski led the Browns, who haven’t been good since returning to the league in 1999, to the playoffs in 2020. They even won a game. Yes, it’s a regular-season award, and it should be, but it’s hard to argue against Cleveland’s season overall.

But LaFleur had a monster year in 2020, leading the Packers to a 13-3 regular-season record and the NFC’s No. 1 seed. Green Bay had a historically good season with Aaron Rodgers playing some of his best football. They had a dominant red-zone offense, re-christening it the “gold zone.”

Yet LaFleur finished in fifth place that year, below Stefanski, Sean McDermott, Brian Flores, and Ron Rivera.

Many talking heads believed Rodgers, not LaFleur, drove winning for the Packers in 2020. A future Hall of Famer playing his best football in years overshadowed the coach’s efforts.

LaFleur also received votes in 2019, taking his new team to the NFC Championship after Mike McCarthy failed to reach the playoffs in 2018. He received votes in 2021, where he once again helped Rodgers earn an MVP, and the Packers had a 13-3 first-place NFC finish. But he couldn’t beat out the competition.

The 2022 season was a bad one for the Packers, so it wasn’t surprising that he didn’t win the award.

But 2023 was significant in that LaFleur no longer had Rodgers. LaFleur proved that Green Bay’s success during his head coaching tenure wasn’t solely a product of Rodgers’ talent. The season started out rough. But in the second half, LaFleur led a young offense that could hang with anyone, including the highest point total scored against the eventual Super Bowl champs. Green Bay’s 9-8 regular season record isn’t sexy, but we shouldn’t discount the turnaround and offensive prowess in that stretch.

But Stefanski won, thanks mostly to navigating 700 different quarterbacks, losing their best offensive player (Nick Chubb), and shuffling their offensive line through injuries.

Ryans earned second place thanks to taking a bottom-of-the-division team to a division championship and coaching the offensive and defensive Rookies of the Year. I get it.

The awards seem to go to a coach turning around a bad team early on (see Brian Daboll in his first season with the New York Giants) or a veteran coach punching above his usual weight class (Mike Vrabel in 2021).

Matt LaFleur might ultimately be a victim of Green Bay’s perennial success.

People generally expect the Packers to be a good team. That’s not homerism. Green Bay has been generally good since the early ‘90s, thanks to unmatched quarterback stability. It’s harder to stand out than teams with more defined peaks and valleys.

LaFleur also might still be viewed as a cog in the wheel. The Packers initially didn’t have any Pro Bowlers this year; Kenny Clark was added just before the event. Green Bay’s offense was top five in the league by season’s end, but no individual player received national recognition. Voters may view the entire operation highly without crediting any individual component.

There are also a lot of other good coaches in the league, and new ones emerge every year. It’s hard to stand out.

But LaFleur had at least two seasons where he was snubbed for the award. It seems like he’ll need to replicate the success of his 2020 season with Jordan Love to break through the ceiling. To get there, he will need a product as revolutionary as the 2020 offense led by a QB who no one can argue deserves most of the credit over LaFleur.

Hopefully, Green Bay’s offense can take that next step, with Jeff Hafley’s new defense helping to elevate the team. Having his chosen DC actually be good could significantly help his case. The Packers are only focused on one award — the Lombardi Trophy. That culture is a big reason for Green Bay’s historical success, and LaFleur’s humility and willingness to put the team first are some of his best qualities. But seeing him get a little more personal credit would be nice.

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