Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur says his years working for Dan Quinn on the Atlanta Falcons’ staff helped him understand how to lead a team that could enjoy itself while contending for championships.
“There was always a loose feeling around the building,” LaFleur said of his two-year stint as Atlanta’s quarterbacks coach. “Nobody was uptight. You felt like you could really cut it loose and just play without hesitation, coach without hesitation. He didn’t micromanage.”
Those lessons have helped LaFleur succeed early in his head coaching career. His former boss isn’t having nearly as much fun.
LaFleur and Quinn face off Monday night as the unbeaten Packers (3-0) host the winless Falcons (0-3). While LaFleur has the league’s highest-scoring offense, Quinn has one of the hottest seats in the NFL.
Atlanta is the first team in NFL history to lose consecutive games in which it led by at least 15 points in the fourth quarter. Falcons players spoke out in defense of Quinn after a 30-26 loss to Chicago, which followed a 40-39 setback against Dallas.
“I definitely believe in this team,” Quinn said. “I appreciate their comments, but more than anything, you do want to fight like hell for what you believe in, and I do believe in this team.”
The atmosphere in Atlanta right now represents a contrast from LaFleur’s memories of his time there.
LaFleur was the Falcons’ quarterbacks coach in 2015-16, the first two seasons of Quinn’s tenure in Atlanta. The Falcons went 11-5 in 2016 and trounced the Packers in the NFC championship game before blowing a 28-3 lead in a Super Bowl overtime loss to the New England Patriots.
“I learned so much from D.Q., just in terms of, you know, allowing the guys to come to work and have fun, have a blast,” LaFleur said. “I mean, we are so fortunate to be in the position that we’re in, and he was the first guy I was really around that, you know, embraced that style of environment. And that has played a big impact on just how we go about our business here with the Green Bay Packers.”
Quinn said LaFleur “was definitely a person I discussed at the time” to take over as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator when Kyle Shanahan left after the 2016 season to become the San Francisco 49ers’ coach. Quinn hired Steve Sarkisian for that spot instead, and LaFleur became the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive coordinator. Sarkisian was fired after two seasons.
LaFleur still brought some of the things he learned in Atlanta with him to Green Bay when he began his head coaching career last season.
“There were so many things that we implemented,” LaFleur said. “The first thing when we got here was putting a basketball hoop in our meeting room. That’s something I had never seen before till we got to Atlanta.”
Green Bay players say LaFleur has found other ways to make their jobs more fun. They note how he conducts games and competitions during meetings or workouts, and that he allows players to celebrate at practice.
“It comes with just letting us be ourselves,” Packers safety Adrian Amos said. “There’s a lot of personality on the team, and this is a group of guys that really enjoy each other’s company. So when you just let people have fun and be themselves, that’s always a good thing, and it builds trust on the field as well.”
LaFleur helped the Packers go 13-3 and reach the NFC championship game last year after finishing below .500 each of the two seasons before his arrival.
A victory Monday would give LaFleur a 17-3 career record and put him in a four-way tie for second place with Paul Brown, Guy Chamberlin and Dick Rauch for most wins by a head coach after 20 games. George Seifert won 18 of his first 20 games for San Francisco from 1989-90.
LaFleur has lived up to the promise he showed in Atlanta while helping Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan produce an MVP season in 2016.
“I always thought he had a clear idea of what he wanted from guys in terms of his offense and what he expected at certain positions,” Ryan said. “I think you’re seeing that with what they’re doing in Green Bay.”
Quinn said he communicated with LaFleur often this summer and that they continue to talk “not weekly but enough to stay involved for sure.” Now Quinn’s preparing to face a team benefiting from that loose approach LaFleur learned in Atlanta.
“I think when you’re looser, you’re enjoying yourself, you’re more in tune to what you’re doing,” LaFleur said. “And you can go out there and play fast and play free and have fun doing it.”
AP Sports Writers George Henry and Paul Newberry in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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