By Juan C. Lozano | June 26, 2018
Most head coaches – especially first-time head coaches – would be reluctant to hire a coordinator they’ve never worked with before. That was not the case with Tennessee Titans rookie head coach Mike Vrabel, who tapped former L.A. Rams offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur to fill that same role on his staff.
Vrabel, the former NFL linebacker who was the Houston Texans’ defensive coordinator before getting the Titans job, had already identified LaFleur as his OC candidate when he interviewed for the job. LaFleur himself had interviewed for the Tennessee head coaching job before the team ultimately decided on Vrabel.
Rams head coach Sean McVay could have denied LaFleur permission to interview for the Titans’ OC position, since he was under contract and it was considered a lateral move. But McVay and LaFleur have a history together (in Washington from 2010-13 and last year in L.A.). McVay recognized that since he was the play-caller with the Rams, the opportunity for LaFleur to call plays in Tennessee was one he could not deny his friend.
Another NFC West coach was also crucial to the 38-year-old LaFleur’s development. LaFleur worked with San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan in 2008 and 2009 for the Houston Texans, from 2010-2013 with the Redskins and then again in 2015 and 2016 with the Atlanta Falcons. Shanahan also employs LaFleur’s brother, Mike, who is the 49ers’ wide receivers/passing game specialist.
Since joining the NFL in 2008, LaFleur has been part of explosive offenses led by Shanahan and McVay, including the two top scoring offenses in 2016 and 2017. This type of success makes other coaches around the league notice.
Below is a list of NFL teams whose coaching staffs included LaFleur, and where they ranked in NFL scoring:
|Year||Team||Position||Reg. Season Record||NFL Scoring Rank|
|2008||HOU||Off. Quality Control||8-8||17th|
|2009||HOU||Off. Quality Control||9-7||10th|
LaFleur has never called plays on the NFL or major college level. He is still considered young, but definitely not inexperienced. He has coached nine seasons in the NFL, with three of those seasons ending in a playoff run.
The Michigan native began his coaching career as an offensive assistant at his alma mater, Division II Saginaw Valley State (he was a college quarterback that had transferred from Western Michigan). In 2004 and 2005, he was an assistant at Central Michigan in the MAC. In 2006, he was quarterbacks and receivers coach at Division II Northern Michigan. In ’07, he was offensive coordinator at Division II Ashland, before joining the Houston Texans in 2008. He was in the NFL from 2008-2013, returning to the college ranks for a year (Notre Dame’s quarterbacks coach in 2014) before joining the Falcons’ staff in 2015.
LaFleur will be expected to get the Titans offense to the playoffs again in 2018. In order to do so, he must address the following issues with their offense:
• MARIOTA’S PROGRESS: Quarterback Marcus Mariota wasn’t the same quarterback in 2017 that he was in 2016. Perhaps this was due to coming back from a fibula injury or that his young wide receivers weren’t game ready until late in the season. He threw for more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (13). Keeping Mariota healthy will be important especially considering his penchant for running to make plays. It’s important to note that LaFleur will be Mariota’s fourth play caller in his time in Tennessee.
• EXPLOSIVE PLAYS: The Titans used three high picks in 2017 exclusively on the passing game. They used first-round and third-round picks on Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor, respectively, while also selecting tight end Jonnu Smith in the third round. The Titans averaged half a yard less in yards per play in 2017 than they had in 2016.
• RETURN OF THE RUNNING GAME: The Titans’ running game also took a step back last season. They had an inconsistent running game due to an offensive line that slumped as well as their inability to define roles for DeMarco Murray or Derrick Henry. It wasn’t until Murray was injured late in the season that they began to feature Henry more (Henry, the stronger runner a year ago, returns; Murray is currently a free agent). Joining Henry will be free-agent acquisition Dion Lewis, formerly of the Patriots. The smaller Lewis should play an important role in the passing game. The offensive line will utilize a zone blocking scheme.
A successful season for LaFleur and the Titans will likely end with him again being busy with NFL head coach job opportunities this off-season.