Mike LaFleur and Sean McVay go way back.
Well, far back for 30-somethings.
LaFleur was on the periphery of the NFL coaching incubator that was the Washington staff about a decade ago, and he eventually became a part of the same coaching tree.
So when McVay was searching for a new offensive coordinator this offseason, he turned to a familiar name.
LaFleur, 36, is the younger brother of Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur — McVay’s first offensive coordinator with the Rams, who was never shy about challenging his boss.
When necessary, Mike LaFleur said, he can do the same.
“There can’t be a bunch of yes men just not disagreeing at times,” he said. “You work those things out.”
As the Rams attempt to rebound from a 5-12 season, LaFleur is charged with helping McVay reinvigorate an offense that was stagnant even before injuries wiped out the line and claimed quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Cooper Kupp.
McVay remains the play-caller and lead architect of the offense. As he enters his seventh season with the Rams, however, he appears to be loosening his grip.
If McVay is delayed or otherwise occupied because of an unexpected blip in his schedule, LaFleur takes control.
“It’s just really being able to have a partner in crime that you can really partner up and figure out how we put together the Rams offense,” McVay said, adding, “It really has been freeing in a lot of ways because he just kind of goes. He doesn’t necessarily wait. … And I love that.
“I think that’s a reflection of the confidence and security he has, the natural leadership and ability to connect with our coaches and players.”
LaFleur said he is not shy and that McVay encourages him to assert control.
“If he’s not around — I’m going,” LaFleur said. “If he is around, I’m going until he takes the mic.
“But I believe that’s what he wants, so that he can be a head coach.”
LaFleur, who played quarterback and safety at Elmhurst College, began his NFL coaching career as an intern under then-Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. He was an offensive assistant under Shanahan with the Atlanta Falcons, and receivers coach and passing game coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers after Shanahan was hired as the team’s coach.
LaFleur spent the last two seasons as the New York Jets offensive coordinator and play-caller under coach Robert Saleh. After the Jets’ 7-10 finish last season, and with his firing seemingly imminent, LaFleur and the team reportedly agreed to part ways.
McVay hired LaFleur to replace Liam Coen, who left the Rams’ staff after one season to return as offensive coordinator and play-caller at Kentucky.
LaFleur is one of several new coaches on offense, including Ryan Wendell (line), Ron Gould (running backs) and Nick Caley (tight ends).
Stafford, 35 and beginning his 15th season, likes what he sees from LaFleur.
“He’s bringing us some new things, some things that we hadn’t done in the past and then at the same time, really doing a great job of teaching and collaborating,” Stafford said at the start of training camp. “It’s been good to watch him kind of get up there and do his thing.
“And it’s been fun to work with him.”
LaFleur has added “a couple little wrinkles” to the offense, veteran lineman Rob Havenstein said. And he has installed them with a dose of personality.
“I don’t think he’s ever had a bad day in his life,” Havenstein said, chuckling. “He’s always bouncing around having a good time.
“He has great communication, and that’s a real good thing with how young we are.”
LaFleur is aware of the career trajectory enjoyed by many of McVay’s former offensive coordinators and assistants.
Matt LaFleur left the Rams to become the play-caller for the Tennessee Titans and was then hired by the Packers. Zac Taylor coaches the Cincinnati Bengals, Kevin O’Connell the Minnesota Vikings.
Mike LaFleur said he does not allow himself to think about parlaying his job into a similar opportunity. He is too busy focusing on the task at hand.
“I don’t even want to wrap my head around it,” he said. “Whatever happens, happens.”