The Houston Coaching Pipeline That Brought 49ers Shanahan and Packers LaFleur to the NFC Title Game
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is a well-connected man in the football world. Dating back to his father’s coaching days, the family name has been in the league for almost 40 years so their network in the industry is extremely strong. The young head coach has made plenty of connections on his own which includes Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, the 49ers’ opponent for the NFC Championship.
LaFleur broke into the NFL in 2008 with the Houston Texans. At the same time, Shanahan was entering his fifth season as a coach in the league and was promoted to his first offensive coordinator role. Given the timeline, the latter likely hired the former and their relationship began.
The two coaches were very effective together during their time with the Texans. In 2008, Houston finished the season with the fourth-best passing offense in the league and an 8-8 record which, at the time, was the best season in the organization’s short history. The following year, quarterback Matt Schaub would go on to lead the league in passing yards and the Texans eclipsed the .500 mark for the first time in franchise history.
While LaFleur was only an offensive assistant in Houston, a role lower than position coach, he must have caught Shanahan’s eye as the two coaches moved to Washington D.C. together and the assistant received a promotion to quarterbacks coach. During their four years coaching the Redskins, the duo helped the team win one division title in 2012 when Robert Griffin III was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. However, their biggest accomplishment in the nation’s capital might be the development of Kirk Cousins, who they spent two years with.
After a year apart in 2014, the coaches would reunite in the same roles for the Atlanta Falcons. Under LaFleur and Shanahan’s tutelage, quarterback Matt Ryan would blossom into the league’s Most Valuable player in 2016 and the team would go on to win three-quarters of the Super Bowl. Of course, the final frame of that game will forever remain in infamy.
The championship shortcoming would be the last time the duo coached together as Shanahan would go on to become the 49ers’ head coach and LaFleur would eventually make his way to the Packers’ sideline. Between their three stops, the coaches very successful together and know each other very well which should make for an interesting matchup on Sunday.
LaFleur and Shanahan appear to remain close to one another as the former spoke about how the latter helped shape his approach to the job back in November. The respect between the 49ers’ head coach and the Packers’ is obviously mutual as here is what the mentor had to say about his mentee via the Washington Post:
“I got so comfortable with Matt,” Kyle Shanahan, who referred to LaFleur as his “right-hand man" in Houston, said during the 2011 preseason. “It got to the point where he always knew exactly what I wanted. I didn’t have to tell him stuff. He knew how I thought, knew what I wanted the quarterback to do, knew everything.”
Also, Kyle hired Matt’s brother, Mike, as San Francisco’s passing game coordinator so clearly, the LaFleur family name is one that the Shanahan family trusts. The coaches’ great relationship is certainly a story-line to keep an eye on for years to come.
Both Matt and Kyle have become two of the great young minds in the NFL, and this weekend everyone gets to see if the student has become the master or if the mentor will remain superior. As if a trip to Miami isn’t enough motivation, a little friendly rivalry certainly adds to the magnitude of the contest.