<
>

Packers adjusting to biggest staff overhaul in Matt LaFleur's tenure

INDIANAPOLIS -- Somewhere within the Indiana Convention Center, most of the Green Bay Packers coaching staff has gone about its business this week at the NFL combine.

If not within the massive 566,000-square-foot convention center itself, then at the team’s home base for the week: the Westin Hotel, or after hours at the staff’s preferred nightspot: Prime 47 steakhouse a few blocks away.

But in the six weeks since the Packers began their offseason, the entire group hasn’t been in the same room at the same time. Ever.

Other than waiting for quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ decision on where/if he wants to play next season, this offseason has been defined by the changes to Matt LaFleur’s coaching staff. They’re the most extensive changes since he put his staff into place before the 2019 season.

A year after LaFleur made one major addition and one promotion, there are nine significant changes that have reshaped the staff: four new hires and five promotions.

“I would certainly say there's gonna be an adjustment period,” LaFleur said. “After the season, and then going to coach the Pro Bowl, [LaFleur gave] the staff time off. We haven't had everybody in the building.

“We just finished hiring three quality controls that'll get announced soon, so the staff is nearly complete, but that's kind of something that we're gonna start to learn each other and go through our process in the upcoming weeks.”

Here's a look at the impact the coaches could make:

Special teams

Rich Bisaccia, a NFL special teams coordinator for 20 years, is the marquee move. He replaced Maurice Drayton, who was fired as coordinator after one disastrous season that included the playoff meltdown.

Drayton had been promoted from assistant special teams coach, but this time LaFleur went outside the organization. LaFleur had no previous experience with Bisaccia, but Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst does. His father coached with Bisaccia in college at South Carolina.

“Watching his career and the success that he’s had, we’re excited to have him here,” Gutekunst said. “He’s obviously going to have a lot of influence on what we have in that area. We’re definitely going to have to do some different things to become better in that area, because it’s certainly something that’s kind of dragged on here longer than we wanted to.”

It might not matter how good Bisaccia is if Gutekunst doesn’t get him better players, or if LaFleur doesn’t allow him to use the top half of the roster more on special teams. Both subjects have been discussed already this offseason.

Gutekunst said last week they might have to keep more players who have specific special teams skills, even if they’re not able to help out at a position on offense or defense.

And LaFleur, in his first comments since he hired Bisaccia, said this week he will be allowed to have a larger say in his pool of players available for special teams.

“I think that was all a part of it,” LaFleur said. “I know that he and Gutey had a lot of conversations as well. We’re really fortunate to have a guy of that caliber. If you’d ask the coaches around the league, he’s regarded as one of the best in the business. So anytime you can get a guy like that, that’s a big-time win for us.

“Now ultimately, we all have to go out there and perform. But just in terms of the presence that he brings and the experience that he brings and the leadership that he brings, I think it’s really going to benefit us.”

Offense

While Adam Stenavich was promoted from line coach to coordinator -- replacing Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett -- the biggest change was at quarterbacks coach, where Tom Clements returned five years after leaving the Packers. He last coached in Green Bay in 2016, but has long been one of Rodgers’ favorites.

LaFleur said Rodgers had a “significant role” in getting Clements to come out of retirement.

Hackett’s high-energy presence will be difficult to replicate, and he worked as closely on game plans with LaFleur as anyone. But Stenavich, who also served as run-game coordinator last season, is well thought of as a technician.

“Certainly he’s got as big an influence as anybody in our run game, and what we’re able to do with that,” LaFleur said. “Not only what we’re calling on game day, because I’m always asking him, ‘Hey, what do you like?’ So I’m always leaning on him in that regard, but I think where he’s going to grow the most is just how he sees the pass game now.”

Luke Butkus, Stenavich’s assistant the last three years and the nephew of Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus, became the line coach.

“He's a loyal guy that just rolls up his sleeves and goes to work every day, does a great job of developing a relationship with our players,” LaFleur said. “I think, in a heightened role, that is gonna continue to grow and develop. He's gonna have more of an input in some of the things we do schematically now. So we gotta get him up to speed on that, which I think he's got a great grasp.”

The other changes on offense were: John Dunn promoted from senior analyst to replace tight ends coach Justin Outten, who became Hackett’s coordinator in Denver; Connor Lewis promoted from special teams assistant/game management specialist to assistant quarterbacks coach; and Ryan Mahaffey from quality control to assistant line coach.

Lewis is a name to watch as an up-and-coming coach.

“I've yet to meet somebody in my time in the NFL that's as knowledgeable as he is with all the rules,” LaFleur said. “He's a guy that I'm listening to constantly on the headset on game day. Situationally, he's got such a great grasp. He does a great job of studying everything that's going on throughout the course of the league.

“You wanna try to learn from everybody's mistakes, and he does a great job of getting up there and articulating to our team and presenting to our team, so I just think why wouldn't you want that in the quarterback room?”

Defense

A year after the arrival of coordinator Joe Barry, who kept the rest of the defensive staff intact, the Packers lost one of their most recognizable defensive coaches. Mike Smith was given permission to leave for a similar job (outside linebackers coach/pass rush specialist) with the Minnesota Vikings, where he reunited with former Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Rashan Gary, who had the best season of his career, was among the players who credited Smith for success.

Jason Rebrovich replaced Smith after being out of the league last season. While he had never worked with LaFleur, he came highly recommended from Hackett and receivers coach Jason Vrable, who had worked with him in Jacksonville and Buffalo, respectively.

“He’s a guy that is going to bring a lot of energy and a lot of juice,” LaFleur said. “He’s going to demand a lot from the players. I think he’s going to build those connections. You always kind of vet people that you know and trust and have worked with, and he’s worked with a couple of our guys. Shoot, he worked with Hackett and Vrable, and those guys spoke the world of him.”