Firing Him Was Easy; Now Comes Hard Part for Packers To….


For Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur, firing defensive coordinator Joe Barry was the easy part, so to speak. Now comes the difficult part.

Finding the perfect replacement.

As a coach, you only get to hire and fire so many coaches. You only get to pass the buck so many times. At some point, maybe it’s not the coaches’ fault for this failure or the other. Maybe it’s the head coach’s fault for hiring them in the first place.

So, is LaFleur officially on the clock, despite a stellar 56-27 record, four playoff berths in five years and an obvious role in getting Jordan Love ready for stardom?


When LaFleur was hired in 2019, he named Nathaniel Hackett his offensive coordinator, retained Mike Pettine as defensive coordinator and selected Shawn Mennenga as special teams coordinator. Starting with those three and including whoever is hired to replace Barry, LaFleur will have hired eight coordinators.

The results aren’t great.

Nathaniel Hackett, 2019-2021

While the shine on Hackett’s star certainly has faded through his abbreviated season as Denver’s head coach in 2022 and a dismal, quarterback-impacted year as the Jets’ offensive coordinator in 2023, there’s no denying LaFleur and Hackett made magic with Aaron Rodgers for three seasons.

Green Bay finished fifth in the NFL in scoring during his three seasons, including first in 2020, and the Packers became the first team in NFL history to record three consecutive regular seasons of 13-plus wins.

Adam Stenavich: 2022-current

It was a bit unorthodox to promote an offensive line coach to coordinator, and the early results were a bit dubious with the Packers ranking 14th in scoring and 17th in total offense with Rodgers in 2022. However, after a slow start to this season, the youth-filled offense started rolling during the second half of the season.

How much of that success is LaFleur’s brilliance as a play-designer and play-caller and how much of that is Stenavich X’s and O’s ability is a question only LaFleur can answer. That’s not a knock on Stenavich; that’s the obvious question for any coordinator who isn’t calling the shots.

Regardless of who gets the credit, it’s hard to quibble with the improvement this year.

Mike Pettine, 2019-2020

Opting for continuity at the start of his program, LaFleur kept Pettine, who was hired the previous year by then-coach Mike McCarthy. Under LaFleur, Pettine’s defenses finished ninth in points allowed in 2019 and 13th in 2020 before the two sides went their separate ways.

LaFleur stuck with Pettine after the 2019 NFC Championship Game in which Green Bay’s defense was demolished by the 49ers for 285 rushing yards. Pettine opted to go into 2020 without a new contract. In his final game, he was part of the botched call that left Kevin King matched one-on-one against Scotty Miller for a pivotal touchdown just before halftime of the 2020 NFC Championship Game loss to Tampa Bay.

Joe Barry, 2021-2023

This hire will live infamy. Green Bay was Barry’s third run as a coordinator. In 2007 and 2008, the Lions ranked last in total defense and points allowed. In 2015 and 2016, Washington finished 17th and 19th in points allowed and 28th in total defense in both seasons. (It should be noted the Lions were last in points allowed without Barry in 2009, as well, and Washington was significantly worse in points allowed without Barry in 2014 and 2017.)

Nonetheless, with LaFleur wanting to run a version of the Vic Fangio defense, he went with a familiar face, Barry, who had been the Rams’ linebackers coach.

“I’m really proud of my scars,” Barry said during his introductory news conference in 2021. “I really am. I think in life, you’re hardened in life by tough experiences. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think you can learn a lot from having success and being in a good place. But I think when true growth takes place, I think it’s when things are really, really hard.”

In a vacuum, Barry’s defenses were good enough. The Packers during his three seasons ranked 12th in points allowed (just 12 points out of 10th) and 12th in total defense (about 240 yards out of eighth). And his units played well enough to win the season-ending losses to San Francisco in 2021, Detroit in 2022 and San Francisco in 2023.

However, when it was time for that emphatic stop to win games, Barry too often got too conservative. With a trip to the NFC Championship Game on the line last week, Brock Purdy drove the 49ers right down the field to the decisive touchdown. It was a fitting ending.

Shawn Mennenga, 2019-2020

Rick Gosselin’s rankings are the gold standard for special teams. They take into account more than 40 categories to provide a full picture.

In 2019, the Packers ranked 26th. That was bad; 2020 was worse, with Green Bay falling to 29th.

Maurice Drayton, 2021

Naturally, when your special teams are terrible, you promote the assistant. That’s what LaFleur did by hiring Drayton, who had been an assistant special teams coach since 2018.

“After being around him for two years now, I think it was a matter of time before he was going to get one of these other opportunities that presented themselves outside of this building,” LaFleur said at the time. “So, did not want to lose a guy like Mo Drayton.”

Drayton was filled with energy and exuded confidence. None of those traits mattered as Green Bay finished 32nd in Gosselin’s rankings. That the Packers were eliminated from the playoffs because of a blocked field goal and a blocked punt was the most predictable thing ever.

Rich Bisaccia, 2022-current

Finally, the Packers opted to go with experience with Bisaccia, the longtime coordinator and beloved interim coach of the Raiders. Not only did Green Bay hire an experienced leader with a history of turning around bad units, but general manager Brian Gutekunst opted to spend money on special teams.

Dallin Leavitt, Rudy Ford, Eric Wilson and Keisean Nixon were among the players signed (and retained) because they were proven performers on special teams.

Last year, the Packers moved up to 22nd in Gosselin’s rankings – a 10-point jump fueled by the surprise All-Pro prowess of Nixon as a kickoff returner. It’s fair to question why Bisaccia didn’t turn to Nixon earlier, though important to recall Nixon didn’t return kicks in college or with the Raiders, either.

This year, just about the only free-agent dollars spent by Gutekunst were in keeping the special teams together. However, the Packers fell to 29th. Nixon was the All-Pro returner again – though that was mostly by default since most teams have stopped returning kicks with any frequency – the young kickers had their predictable struggles and penalties were a constant nuisance.

“I think the culture in that phase and the mindset is where it needs to be,” LaFleur said last week. “I think we’re tough, I think we’re competitive.”

The Packers are an ascending team that appears ready to make its move in 2024. LaFleur must hire the right man to run the defense. Given the talent on the defensive side of the ball and the draft capital to fill at least most of the holes, this is a big-boy job.

With the exception of Philadelphia, which reportedly has grabbed Fangio, one executive thought the Green Bay opening would be the most attractive to any available coordinator, so long as the money is there (which, based on the hiring of Bisaccia, probably is) and LaFleur is willing to get out of the way (which LaFleur presumably would prefer to do, anyway, so he can focus on the offense).

There can be no botching this hire. With all of Love’s young receivers playing on rookie deals, there’s a small period in which the window of opportunity appears to be open to the max. Hire the right man, and there’s a Super Bowl to be won. Hire the wrong man, and the fingers won’t be pointed solely at the coordinator.

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