From 2010 to 2013, Sean McVay (tight ends) and Matt LaFleur (quarterbacks) served as offensive assistants in Washington under Mike and Kyle Shanahan. LaFleur went to Notre Dame in 2014 when Mike was fired, then returned to the NFL in 2015 to coach Matt Ryan in Atlanta under Kyle and the Falcons quarterback then won MVP with him in 2016.
Another award for LaFleur’s “By Proxy Trophy Case” after helping Robert Griffin III win Offensive Rookie of the Year over Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson in 2012.
McVay stuck in Washington as the offensive coordinator when pre-Football Team name hired Jay Gruden as head coach, brother of Jon, who gave McVay his first job with the Bucs in 2008. After three seasons in that role, McVay was hired by the LA Rams in 2017 and he picked LaFleur to be his offensive coordinator.
Those two helped the Rams go from 32nd in offensive DVOA to sixth, and from 32nd in points to first.
LaFleur then spent one year with the Titans before being named as head coach of the Green Bay Packers in 2019. The Packers improved from 6-9-1 the year before to 13-3 and lost in the NFC Championship game.
There was nothing especially unusual about Green Bay’s offense last season though.
Aaron Rodgers was fairly typical Aaron Rodgers, at least the version of himself he’d been in the last five years. Aaron Jones led the NFL with 16 rushing touchdowns, but wasn’t exactly lighting it up in every area and that’s probably why he didn’t attract enough attention to make the Pro Bowl. Davante Adams was also about as normal as he is — which is that he’s great — but he did miss four games.
This year’s Packers offense does look special. Although Adams has missed time already again.
Three years after he was McVay’s offensive coordinator, LaFleur has Green Bay at first in scoring and yards after putting up 85 points and 1,010 yards through two games. They’ve scored 43 on the Vikings and 42 on the Lions, with Rodgers passing for six touchdowns and no interceptions and Jones leading the NFL with 234 rushing yards and four total touchdowns.
Adams has 17 catches on 20 targets for 192 yards and two touchdowns but left Week 2 with a hamstring injury.
Unsurprisingly, the Packers rank as the most efficient offense in the NFL and are first in Estimated Points Added per play. What may be more surprising is that McVay has his team in second place even though there were many doubts about how they’d improve so quickly by subtraction.
Among teams that have played 2 games, the top 5 offenses by EPA/play:— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) September 21, 2020
2. Rams (!)
4. Jaguars (!!!!)
Rams quarterback Jared Goff is off to a great start and did a number to his numbers by finding Tyler Higbee three times for touchdowns and again going an entire with almost no significant mistakes. McVay has found success this season in part due to once again plucking an offensive coach from Washington, this time with offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, Jay Gruden’s replacement for QB coach Matt Cavanaugh, who replaced McVay as OC.
And LaFleur isn’t the only former McVay assistant finding success.
Jedd Fisch spent 2018 and 2019 as an offensive assistant on the Rams and he’s currently accepting “Congratulations!” balloons as Cam Newton’s QB coach with the New England Patriots this season.
John Fassel predates McVay with the Rams, but it’s worth noting that the Dallas Cowboys won this week because of their special teams play.
Greg Olson also isn’t really a McVay disciple but he served as QBs coach in 2017 he’s the offensive coordinator in Las Vegas now and there’s reasonable optimism for the Raiders offense to be more than favorable. They scored 34 points in Week 1 and face the Saints on Monday Night Football. That’s also, of course, where Jon Gruden coaches.
I can’t say that Zac Taylor has had “success” with the Cincinnati Bengals yet. They’re 2-16 since he arrived and they’ve been the least effective passing offense in the league despite a plethora of desirable weapons. However, Taylor is starting a rookie at quarterback and Joe Burrow is the best project an offensive coach could ask for right now.
The Bengals have scored 30+ points in three of their last four games after not doing that once in Taylor’s first 14 tries.
The most successful coaches among them right now though are McVay and LaFleur. Which seems normal until you remember that McVay is 34 and his success has produced opportunities not only for LaFleur and Taylor but for coaches he’s never even met before that might have gotten a better job than they would have because teams are not afraid to go “young” — and might even find it preferable now.
This year, Kevin Stefanski and Joe Judge were hired as head coaches at the age of 38. That’s the same age Brian Flores was when hired by the Dolphins last year. Kliff Kingsbury was 40 when hired last year and Matt Nagy was 40 when hired in 2018.
Among the youngest offensive coordinators in the league are Joe Brady (30), Kellen Moore (32), Tim Kelly (34), Shane Steichen (35) and O’Connell (35).
Perhaps not feeling as confident in innovation on the defensive side of the ball, there are not many defensive coordinators who’d fall into this age range or close to it. The youngest is Minnesota’s Adam Zimmer, who shares the position with 60-year-old Andre Patterson and is, of course, the son of the head coach.
That actually means that the youngest defensive coordinator works for the youngest head coach: Brandon Staley at 37. San Francisco’s Robert Saleh, working for Kyle Shanahan (who started as a 29-year-old offensive coordinator and helped the 49ers reach the Super Bowl in 2019), is 41. There’s also the Giants Patrick Graham, also 41, who was hired by the 38-year-old Judge.
McVay should feel somewhat responsible for this youth movement on offense and for Green Bay’s parallel success to start the 2020 season.
And, of course, his own success.