Tough guy? Players’ coach? Packers’ Matt LaFleur balancing both in first season


Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Dec. 21.

GREEN BAY, Wis. — As Robert Tonyan trotted back to the Lambeau Field sideline early in last Sunday’s win over the Chicago Bears, he did not know what awaited him.

The Green Bay Packers‘ backup tight end had just misconstrued what quarterback Aaron Rodgers wanted him to do on a failed third-down play. As Rodgers gave him a public chastising, he saw coach Matt LaFleur approach.

Tonyan wondered whether LaFleur would chew him out or pat him on the butt.

“He came up to me,” Tonyan said, “and he was like, ‘Relax. I expect a lot out of you, but relax and go have fun and just play. Why are you thinking so much?’ He just wanted me to go out there and play football.”

It was exactly what a player such as Tonyan — a talented-yet-still-striving-to-find-his-way, second-year pro — needed.

“That was so good, and I talked to him after the game and I was like, ‘Thank you for coming up to me and saying that,'” Tonyan said. “He said it again: ‘I expect a lot from you, so just play.’ I was thinking out there and flying around and getting too hyped.”

Call LaFleur a players’ coach or call him a tough guy. Either one seems fine with him.

Call him an equal mix of both, and he’ll let out a big chuckle.

“Who says that?” said LaFleur, who turned 40 last month.

For starters, perhaps the most vocal player in his locker room.

“He’s both,” outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith told “Yeah, most definitely.”

And Smith knows tough guys. He signed with the Packers after four years with the Baltimore Ravens, where he played for John Harbaugh.

“He was one, for sure,” Smith said of Harbaugh. “I would just say Coach Matt is a special coach, and that’s why he’s in the position he’s in now at such a young age.”

‘You’ve got to support these guys’

Getting LaFleur to accept that premise isn’t easy, in part because he never set out to be either a players’ coach or a tough guy.

When the Packers hired him in January, he was a 39-year-old, first-time head coach with an open mind.

Source : ESPN