NY Jets, Mike LaFleur Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
The NY Jets honed in on their target, Robert Saleh, most recently the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, and signed the Lebanese leader of men to a five-year contract to become the head coach and leader of the Jets franchise.
This coaching hire is out of the ordinary for many reasons, the most glaring one being the decisions were actually made by the Jets front office.
Led by general manager Joe Douglas, president Hymie Elhai, and owner Chris Johnson, this time, the Jets did not hire an outside consulting to recommend a coaching staff. The success of that process has been well documented and summed up by the “same ol’ Jets’ moniker.
Coaches and players familiar with Saleh sang praises for his leadership and applauded the Jets for a rare offseason transaction that has netted positive reviews throughout the New York media and fans alike. While Saleh’s hire alone renders warranted enthusiasm, the lead may have been buried.
Although not yet official, Mike LaFleur, according to the always reliable Adam Schefter, has presumably been hired as the new offensive coordinator for the NY Jets — an unsurprising hire and promotion from the previous passing coordinator position in San Francisco under Kyle Shanahan
Who exactly is new NY Jets’ offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur?
First, to address the elephant in the room (on the page?) — yes. Mike LaFleur is Matt LaFleur’s brother, the current head coach for the Green Bay Packers, and previous offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans and Los Angeles Rams.
Nevertheless, Mike LaFleur is not a product of nepotism, but instead, a fruit from the Mike Shanahan coaching tree.
LaFleur earned his way to team captain and three-time letter winner at Elmhurst College (NCAA Division III) as a quarterback in 2006 and 2007 and starting safety in 2008, and commenced his coaching career as an offensive assistant in 2009 for Elmhurst, his alma mater.
He continued to quickly, but steadily climb the coaching ladder as he accepted an offensive assistant position with St. Josephs (NCAA Division II) from 2010-2012, and then finally was given his first shot as offensive coordinator with Davidson, an FCS school, in 2013.
LaFleur’s natural progression led to the NFL, wherein Kyle Shanahan hired Mike to become an offensive coaching intern for the Cleveland Browns in 2014.
Although it is clear that Mike has earned his stripes and is a football junky (at least on the offensive side of the ball), to understand the philosophy of the new Jets offensive coordinator, it is important to understand LaFleur’s coaching roots.
Next: Mike LaFleur's Coaching Tree
Mike LaFleur’s coaching tree
The legendary Mike Shanahan, who won three Super Bowls (one as a defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers and two as head coach for the Denver Broncos), spent 14 years as head coach in Denver and was accompanied by Gary Kubiak for 11 of those years as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.
Kyle Shanahan, the current coach of the San Francisco 49ers and son of Mike Shanahan, was an offensive quality control coach in Tampa Bay before getting a gig with the Houston Texans, wherein Kyle moved up in the ranks from wide receivers coach to offensive coordinator from 2006 to 2009.
Matt LaFleur, the current Packers head coach, joined Shanahan in Houston as an offensive assistant in 2008. The coach of the Houston Texans during those years? Gary Kubiak.
There was also a familiar face on the defensive side of that Houston Texans staff — a man by the name of Robert Saleh — defensive intern in 2005, defensive quality control coach from 2006 to 2009, and assistant linebackers coach from 2009 to 2010.
That was before he joined the Legion of Boom in Seattle as a defensive quality control coach from 2011 to 2013, which also further elaborates the Richard Sherman connection.
The @nyjets got a great one! Congrats to them!
— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) January 15, 2021
And maybe K’Waun Williams?
Two years after Mike Shanahan left the Denver Broncos, he returned to the NFL as the head coach of Washington in 2009, and brought on his son to be the offensive coordinator.
Shortly thereafter, Matt LaFleur and Sean McVay were hired to Washington’s offensive coaching staff from 2010 to 2013.
During the Jay Gruden era in Washington, McVay was promoted to offensive coordinator, Shanahan was hired as the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, and he brought the LaFleur brothers along with him to his offensive staff, Matt as the quarterback coach, and Mike LaFleur as an offensive assistant.
Have you found the pattern yet? Kyle Shanahan was then hired in 2017 to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers and brought Mike LaFleur with him as an offensive assistant and wide receivers coach.
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Per Pro Football Focus, out of the 32 NFL teams, offensively, Washington ranked eighth in 2012, the Atlanta Falcons eighth in 2015 and first in 2016, and the 49ers were ranked fourth on offense in 2019.
Mike LaFleur is a direct byproduct of the Shanahan and Kubiak tree that brought forth Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan, and Matt LaFleur — and in fact, Kyle blocked Matt LaFleur from interviewing his brother, Mike, for an offensive coordinator position last year.
The current state of the NFL has Shanahan’s fingerprints all over it. According to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings, Rams, Packers, Titans, and Raiders were the top seven NFL teams in 2019, who ran the outside run zone.
Kubiak is the offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings, McVay and Matt LaFleur are head coaches for the Rams and Packers, who faced each other in the 2020-21 NFC Division Playoffs as the youngest head coaching matchup since Don Shula and John Madden in 1970.
Arthur Smith, the newly hired head coach of the Falcons, was on Matt LaFleur’s offensive staff in Tennessee, and Tom Cable who coached under Alex Gibbs, the famous offensive line coach from the Shanahan/Kubiak/Broncos days, is the current offensive line coach for the Las Vegas Raiders.
Next: What to expect from LaFleur's offense?
What to expect from Mike LaFleur’s offense with the NY Jets
The offense is on an upwards and positive trend as Saleh is bringing Mike LaFleur to become his offensive coordinator.
And they have their work cut out for them with Sam Darnold entering the fourth year of his rookie deal, six picks within the first 100 and three picks within the first 34, including the No. 2 overall selection.
Regardless of who is under center, LaFleur and the Shanahan tree have their own offensive philosophy.
Shanahan and LaFleur run a West Coast style offense predicated on outside zone runs, play-action plays, along with pre-snap motions and trick looks to try and gain an advantage on the defense — basically the antithesis of the Adam Gase/Dowell Loggains offense.
The fact that Darnold was not allowed to call an audible at the line of scrimmage over the last two years is absolutely criminal — but I digress.
The outside zone run, which was created and sharpened by the Shanahans, are running plays to the outside, wherein the offensive linemen are tasked with playing laterally, are predicated around two versatile players in the backfield that can block and catch, such as two running back sets (see: Rams) or a fullback and tight end (see: 49ers).
Additionally, this offense requires disguises behind the line of scrimmage and strong offensive tackles, which is all set with Mekhi Becton and George Fant, at left and right tackle respectively.
Since 2012, Kyle Shanahan offenses have ranked in the top-10 three times for total yards and percentage gain off play-action plays. Kyle and Mike’s willingness to adapt to their game-plans is the refreshing start that Jets fans should be looking forward to.
Per Pro Football Focus, in 2019, when San Francisco had the fourth-ranked offense, Shanahan called the lowest percentage of zone concepts and simultaneously dialed up his highest percentage of run gap schemes (28.1 percent).
Reason for optimism
Whether the quarterback of the 2021 NY Jets is Sam Darnold or Deshaun Watson, with Joe Douglas in the front office, Robert Saleh as head coach, and Mike LaFleur as Offensive Coordinator, there are finally adults in every room in the organization.
This will allow the NY Jets to, Take Flight, if you will.