#CoachingCarousel: Matt LaFleur

Nov 3, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) talks with quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Atlanta Falcons defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 43-28. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 3, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) talks with quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Atlanta Falcons defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 43-28. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the season the Bears have had plenty of ups and downs, sometimes they look like a great team and others like a lock for a top 5 pick. The roster is laced with talent but somehow they can barely put it together. That all comes down to one thing, coaching. They are consistently underprepared and make entirely too many bonehead mistakes week in and out. This has been a trend throughout the tenure of John Fox and with another losing season forming this very well could be the end of his Chicago career.

With that being said, there will be several options for his replacement, but with a fresh number 2 overall pick in Mitch Trubisky, I believe a prime option is a young offensive mind. This strategy is paying dividends for the Los Angeles Rams and their top pick QB from last year, Jared Goff, and new head coach Sean McVay. Enter Matt LaFleur, the Rams’ offensive coordinator, and prime candidate for the Chicago Bears head coach position. LaFleur is 37 years old and has been coaching since 2003, and everywhere he goes quarterbacks flourish. He started his coaching career at his alma mater of Saginaw Valley State and worked his way through the college ranks as an assistant at Central and Northern Michigan. He got his first Coordinator job at Ashland University, before moving to the NFL as an Offensive Quality Control coach for the Houston Texans. While working with the Texans, LaFleur helped coached the receivers and quarterbacks in 2008 and 2009. In 2008 he worked with the receivers when Andre Johnson led the NFL with 115 catches and 1,575 receiving yards, and receiver Kevin Walter totaled 60 catches for 899 yards and eight touchdowns. In 2009, Matt Schaub led the NFL with 4,770 passing yards and 396 completions and ranked fifth with 29 touchdowns and seventh with a 98.6 passer rating. Under their guidance, Houston’s offense finished first in the NFL in passing (4,654 yards) and fourth in total offense (6,129 yards). While in Houston LaFleur built a close relationship with his coordinator Kyle Shanahan, and when Shanahan followed his father to the Washington Redskins, LaFleur joined him as quarterbacks coach.

While in Washington LaFleur oversaw the success of several quarterbacks in Rex Grossman, Robert Griffin III, and Kirk Cousins. In 2011, his second season as quarterback coach, LaFleur helped veteran quarterback Rex Grossman set a single-season career high in completions (265). Under LaFleur’s tutelage, Grossman also set career highs for yards per game (242.4) and completion percentage (57.9) and helped establish career years for receiver Jabar Gaffney and tight end Fred Davis. Then, in 2012, when the Redskins drafted both Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins, LaFleur was instrumental in their development and success. Griffin III, who became the first Redskins rookie quarterback selected to the Pro Bowl, led Washington to its first NFC East title in 13 years. He established Redskins rookie records in pass completions (258), passing yards (3,200), passing touchdowns (20) and rushing yards by a quarterback (815). Griffin III set NFL rookie records for passer rating (102.4), percentage of passes had intercepted (1.3), and rushing yards by a quarterback (815). On top of overseeing Griffin III’s spectacular 2012, LaFleur developed fourth-round pick and current starter Kirk Cousins, whose play was crucial in Washington’s seven-game winning streak to win the division title. With Griffin III sidelined by an injury, Cousins led the Redskins to an eight-point fourth-quarter comeback and a win in overtime vs. Baltimore in Week 14. Cousins returned a week later against Cleveland in his first ever start, passing for team-season-high 329 yards and two touchdowns in a Week 15 road victory. When Kyle Shanahan became the offensive coordinator for the Browns, LaFleur spent the year as quarterbacks coach for Notre Dame tutoring quarterback Everett Golson to passing 256/427 a 60% completion rate 3445 yards, 29 TDs to 17 INTs, and a passer rating of 143.6. In 2015 when Kyle Shanahan was hired as the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons he hired LaFleur on as his quarterbacks coach and in 2016 quarterback Matt Ryan had his MVP season passing 373/534 for 69.9% completion rate, 4944 yards, 38 touchdowns to 7 INTs, and a passer rating of 117.1 and the Atlanta Falcons won the NFC championship earning LaFleur the offensive coordinator job he has today for the Los Angeles Rams.

LaFleur has shown a knack for getting the best out of his quarterbacks and even receivers at this point and with not only Jared Goff’s emergence, the entire Rams offense looks transformed under his tutelage ranking second in scoring, fifth in passing yards and fifth in overall yards. At age 37, LaFleur has made plenty of stops and is showing right now he has the chops of NFL coach. One of the biggest draws of the Bears future open position will be a budding core on offense headlined by Mitchell Trubisky but including studs like running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen and a strong offensive line. Although this year’s second-round pick did not play for him, Lafleur’s familiarity with Ashland University could work wonders with Adam Shaheen.

He knows how to balance the run and pass effectively as seen in all of his stops and with the Bears having set the foundation to build upon, Lafleur may be able to take both Mitch Trubisky and the rest of the Bears offense to another level. Sean McVay, when asked upon hiring LaFleur said “Detail oriented, good communicator, been around some of the most productive offenses over the last couple of years: “You look at what Atlanta was able to do. A lot of the things that we do philosophically will be very similar,” and considering the lack of discipline and consistent miscues by the Bears, that description sounds like a recipe for success. Throw in the fact one of the more frequent comparisons for Trubisky as a more mobile Matt Ryan, you could expect Lafleur to find a way to bring out Trubisky’s full potential.

With all that being said there still are negatives to consider. In the NFL this will be LaFleur’s first and only year as a coordinator and play calling duties still belong to Sean McVay, so there is no clear evidence of his play calling ability. Another issue is who he could bring in as his coordinators. Vic Fangio has built a solid unit on defense and it is important to find a fit that can run that side of the ball autonomously. While Fangio may be a candidate to retain, his defenses in Chicago have shown an inability to force turnovers and a lack of discipline on the field, so a change could be beneficial. LaFleur’s youth to grow with Trubisky and young GM Ryan Pace has the potential for long-term stability, but it all hinges on how long a commitment the Bears want to give a first-time head coach and how quickly he can bring wins to a franchise spending far too long in the division cellar.

Ryan Pace has shown he is not afraid to be bold with the aggressiveness to get Trubisky this off-season that a move for LaFleur can be an even bigger risk with an even better reward if pulled off. With an off-season to bring on some weapons, the Bears will have both the cap space and draft capital to fill in the remaining roster holes, so bringing in Lafleur could be the final piece of the puzzle to change the Bears from pretenders to contenders.

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