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Dougherty: Matt LaFleur's brother is available for hire. Should the Packers' coach bring him on board?


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GREEN BAY − The New York Jets fired offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur last week.

This is Matt LaFleur’s younger brother, who Matt tried to hire when he became Green Bay Packers coach in 2019 but was blocked by Mike’s employer at the time, the San Francisco 49ers.

Now that Mike LaFleur is a free agent, we can only assume Matt is again considering bringing him in.

If so, the Packers coach should think long and hard before making the offer. Because adding family to a head coach’s staff, while surely attractive to the man in charge, is perilous as well.

“My dad used to say this,” said one recently retired, long-time NFL assistant coach, “don’t ever go into business with family because you end up making decisions with your heart, and if you make decisions with your heart, you’re going to end up with heart disease.”

Now, nepotism is hardly uncommon in the NFL. Many coaches, including some of the game’s most successful, have partaken in it.

Hall of Famer Don Shula had both his sons (Mike and Dave) on his Miami Dolphins’ coaching staff at various times. Others who hired their son or sons include Bill Belichick (Steve), Andy Reid (Britt), Mike Shanahan (Kyle), Pete Carroll (Nate and Brennan), Jim Mora (Jim), Buddy Ryan (Rex and Rob), Bum Phillips (Wade), Wade Phillips (Wes) and Mike Zimmer (Adam).

In a more direct parallel with LaFleur, several head coaches in the last 20 years also have hired their brother.

Jon Gruden had his brother, Jay, on staff for all seven seasons he was coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Marty Schottenheimer brought in his brother, Kurt, for his first two head-coaching jobs (Cleveland and Kansas City). It’s also worth noting that in 2008, the San Diego Chargers fired Marty after a 14-2 season because he insisted on bringing in Kurt as defensive coordinator there, too. General manager A.J. Smith adamantly opposed the move, and when Schottenheimer wouldn’t give in – his contract gave him final say over the coaching staff – Smith and owner Dean Spanos fired him.

Rex Ryan didn’t hire his twin brother, Rob, when the former was head coach of the Jets from 2009-14, but Rex as Buffalo’s head coach brought in Rob as assistant head coach. Both were fired after their one season together (2016).

It’s also bears pointing out that Norv Turner was a head coach in the NFL for 15 seasons and an offensive coordinator for 12 and yet never hired his brother, Ron, who was an NFL assistant for eight years during that span.

In the abstract, it’s easy to see why Matt LaFleur would want to hire his brother. It’s not like Mike isn’t qualified – Kyle Shanahan is as good a coach as there is in the league, and four years ago he thought enough of Mike to block him from joining Matt with the Packers.

Also, while the Jets offense clearly struggled this season (No. 29 in the NFL in scoring), and second-year quarterback Zach Wilson played poorly and lost his starting job, all signs are that Mike LaFleur was fired because of pressure from owner Woody Johnson, and not because coach Robert Saleh wanted it.

Matt LaFleur surely would welcome the comfort level of having his brother on staff. As head coach he could trust him implicitly. He’d have unwavering loyalty, a shared vision of the game, and someone he could count on to always convey a unified message to staff and players. He also might view Mike as someone he could rely on to tell him uncomfortable truths.

But there is real peril as well.

Coaching staffs are large. Not counting the strength and conditioning staff, the Packers last season had 23 assistant coaches. Adding family to the mix can complicate an already complicated dynamic.

“If Mike screws up, is he held to the same standard as others, or does he get a hall pass?” said another long-time NFL assistant. “Or do he and his brother have the wives out for dinner on a Friday night, are they sitting there talking about the rest of the staff and evaluating, ‘This guy’s not very good, that guy’s not very good,’ things that wouldn’t happen on a staff if his brother wasn’t on it?”

There’s also the effect Mike could have on staff chemistry and communication. Coaches, like the rest of us, need to occasionally blow off steam about their jobs, but other assistants could be reluctant to do so when Mike is around. They also could feel stifled in airing disagreement with Matt’s decisions in small-group settings around the office.

“Every family dynamic is different,” said another long-time assistant coach in the league. “But I think it’s hard to have complete transparency and trust on a staff when you think that every time something is said in a meeting it’s going to go right to the head coach.”

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This isn’t to say there’s universal objection in the league to hiring a family member as an assistant coach. An agent I talked to last week who has some coaching clients wasn’t opposed to Matt LaFleur hiring his brother.

“I don’t think it’s that big of a deal if he comes in in some kind of advisory role and you’re paying him next to nothing because the Jets are paying his salary for at least a year,” the agent said. “It’s not the end of the world.”

But I suspect you’d have trouble finding many people in the league who think it’s a great idea – the aforementioned agent also said, “If it was my family, I’d say, ‘Yeah, why don’t you go with someone else.‘”

In the end, it’s hard not to think the main reason many coaches hire family to their staff is because they can. But that doesn’t mean they should.

Matt LaFleur often stresses in news conferences the premium he puts on chemistry, in the locker room and on his coaching staff.

That's worth thinking through before offering his brother a job.

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