By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
Green Bay’s search enters home stretch; Bears say good-bye to the postseason
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers can do something they haven’t done in what feels like forever. They can claim a ‘W’ on the same Sunday that the Bears lost a heartbreaker.
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The thought occurred while Chicago kicker Cody Parkey took aim at a 43-yard field goal attempt with 10 seconds to play to win the game. An Eagles’ player grazed the football, causing it to clank off the left upright, carom downward into the crossbar and bounce harmlessly back into the field of play at Soldier Field.
The miss sealed the Bears’ 16-15 loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles in their NFC wild-card round game.
It also elicited smiles in Green Bay, no doubt, as the Packers’ coaching search inched closer to its conclusion.
So how can the Packers claim victory Sunday? That’s easy.
They can hire either of the candidates they interviewed that day: Adam Gase, the former Dolphins head coach, or Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur.
I prefer LaFleur to Gase, but I’ll take either over the rest of a field that includes several retreads and rejects
The other half of the Patriots’ contingent – defensive coordinator Brian Flores – is mostly an unknown. What I do know is that the Patriots’ last defensive coordinator, Matt Patricia, is going to flame out with the Lions mostly because he thinks he’s New England coach Bill Belichick, but he isn’t.
Perhaps Flores is his own man, and he should be praised for working with Belichick. But until a Belichick disciple can prove there’s life after the hoodie I wouldn’t go there.
Chuck Pagano and Jim Caldwell are first-rate men, but it’s like buying a “new” suit off the used-clothes rack. They’re comfy and the price is right, but they lack that “wow” factor.
So why choose Gase?
I’m intrigued by Gase’s background, experience and success. He’s been around winners. He’s also been through difficult times and managed to keep it together.
When Ryan Tannehill was healthy, Gase found a way to get the most out of his quarterback and his offense. That was true even when the Dolphins’ offensive talent was sorely lacking.
Gase, 40, is an offensive whiz by all accounts.
The handful of times I’ve watched Miami it appears the offense somehow figured out a way to get more with less. I’d be curious to see what Gase can do with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, especially when he went 7-9 with a beat-up Tannehill and a journeyman named Brock Osweiler.
He also coached Jay Cutler to his best season in 2015 with the Bears, and he’s been with Kyle Shanahan and then Sean McVay – two of the hottest names in coaching right now.
Gase has a low-key personality.
The question is whether it’s too subdued to be an effective head coach. Frankly, I don’t subscribe to the theory that a good coach needs to own a fiery disposition.
Look at the impassive Belichick.
While Gase would be a strong hire, I’m even more intrigued by the Titans’ LaFleur.
The 39-year-old LaFleur spent eight years with Shanahan and one with McVay and the Rams in Los Angeles.
His first full-time play-calling gig didn’t produce great numbers – the Titans’ offense ranked 25th in yards and 27th in points – but Tennessee was beset by massive injuries on offense.
Still, he managed to squeeze a lot out of running back Derrick Henry despite the limitations.
LaFleur is a disciple of the West Coast offense, which integrates the zone blocking scheme used by Mike McCarthy. The transition from McCarthy to LaFleur would be simplest for Rodgers and the offense. That’s not a reason to hire LaFleur, but it certainly doesn’t work to his disadvantage.
LaFleur was a Division II quarterback at Saginaw Valley State. He comes by his status in the NFL honestly. He wasn’t the son of a great player, or the nephew of a legendary coach or GM, or any of that.
Packers president Mark Murphy and GM Brian Gutekunst have their work cut out for them. This is a critical hire at what appears to be something of a crossroad for the Packers.
They have been slowly, steadily in decline the past two seasons. Hiring Gutekunst was the first step toward changing the trend. Getting the right coach is the next step, followed by free agency and the draft.
It’s a tall task.
It’s time to hire LaFleur, or Gase if you must, and get after it.