After a horrific decade of New York Jets football, things seem to be pointing up for Gang Green heading into the 2021 season under the leadership of new Head Coach Robert Saleh. Upon the official announcement of Coach Saleh accepting the role, those in the media were eager to throw praise towards the Jets brass for landing their guy and the staff he’d be bringing along. Similarly, Jets fans were celebrating like it was 1969 after learning the news, as it symbolized the end of a disastrous tenure led by former head coach Adam Gase and the beginning of a new era of Jets football that can be summarized in four words: All Gas, No Brakes.
With all the excitement surrounding Saleh and his staff heading into the heart of the 2021 offseason, join me each week as we’ll take a deep dive into the coaches on Saleh’s staff to learn more about their backgrounds, influences and everything in between. This week, let’s take a look at offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur.
A native of Mount Pleasant, Michigan, Mike LaFleur attended Elmhurst College from 2005-2009 and was a three time letter winner for the Bluejays football team. LaFleur played quarterback in 2006 and 2007 before making the switch to safety for his final season in 2008. He graduated from Elmhurst with a degree in physical education in 2009.
LaFleur’s older brother, Matt, currently serves as the Green Bay Packers head coach.
Almost immediately after graduating, LaFleur began his coaching career at his alma mater as an offensive assistant for the Bluejays for the 2009 season. For his next stop on the coaching carousel, LaFleur spent the next two years with Saint Joseph’s College as their offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. His final stop in the college football world was with Davidson College, where he spent the 2013 season as the team’s offensive coordinator, quarterbacks and wide receivers coach.
Following his time in the college ranks, LaFleur would accept his first NFL position as an offensive intern with the Cleveland Browns for the 2014 season under head coach Mike Pettine and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. He spent most of his time working with the offensive line and really made an impact on Shanahan, who would bring him to Atlanta when he was named the Falcons new offensive coordinator in January 2015.
During his two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, LaFleur spent most of his time working with the tight ends and wide receivers as an offensive assistant. Throughout the 2016 season, the Falcons enjoyed tremendous success on offensive led by their star duo of quarterback Matt Ryan and wideout Julio Jones before falling short to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI. Ryan went on to win the MVP and Jones finished the season second in the league in receiving yards, while the WR group as a whole finished second in the league with over 3200 receiving yards.
Following a devastating lost in Super Bowl LI, Shanahan was poached from the Falcons and accepted an offer to become the new head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. LaFleur joined him on his trip to the West Coast and was named the 49ers passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach in 2017. He held this dual role until the 2019 season, when Wes Welker was hired as the new wide receivers coach.
In his first season as the passing game coordinator, the 49ers struggled early on before they acquired quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from the New England Patriots. With Garoppolo under center, San Francisco turned their season around and finished on a high note winning their final five games. The 49ers went into the 2018 offseason looking to build off their successes from the previous year, but their dream of returning to the playoffs quickly turned into a nightmare as they were plagued with multiple season ending injuries, most notably Garoppolo.
The following season, everything finally clicked for the 49ers and they finished the season with a 13-3 record and were the 2019 NFC Champions. They started the season with an 8-0 record and saw significant improvements on both sides of the ball, especially on offense as they finished second in the league in scoring. With Garoppolo finally healthy, the 49ers passing game thrived throughout the year under Shanahan and LaFleur. Garoppolo finished the 49ers 2019 campaign with just under 4,000 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and fell just one vote short of being named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
The 49ers had high hopes for the 2020 season, but similar to their 2018 campaign, injuries quickly added up and killed any hopes for a return trip to the Super Bowl. The team was ravaged by injuries on both sides of the ball and it seemed like almost every week there was another starter being placed on injured reserve.
On January 21st, 2021, LaFleur officially joined new Jets head coach Robert Saleh’s coaching staff as Gang Green’s new offensive coordinator.
What to expect for the Jets?
After years of clamoring for a “young and innovative” offensive coordinator, it finally seems like Jets fans can sleep peacefully with LaFleur calling the shots for the offense. LaFleur, who spent the past several seasons as Kyle Shanahan’s right hand man for the 49ers passing game, is looked at as one of the up and coming coaches in the NFL and the Jets were applauded for finally landing someone who seems to be coaching where the NFL is going.
The Shanahan system has become a dominant force in the NFL, with several teams deploying an offensive style that holds the core Shanahan principles close to the chest. It will be interesting to see how LaFleur is able to put his own marks on the Shanahan system, but we do know a few things that will be at the core of the Jets offense moving forward.
We’ve seen NFL offenses adapt more and more concepts from the college game over the past decade, and perhaps one of the most notable changes has been the use of pre-snap motion and shifts. In 2020, the 49ers led the NFL in shift / motion rate, using some type of movement on 73% of their offensive snaps. And in a system that will emphasize attacking the edges of the defense with speed, using shifts and motions prior to the snap will hopefully cause some confusion on the defensive side and lead to mismatches all over the field.
Most familiar with the Shanahan style of offense know that it was made famous through the use of their zone running game and the concepts that stem from it, like play action, jet sweeps and screens – all of which benefit from the use of pre-snap motion. These plays and concepts all build off one another and that is what makes this modernized Shanahan style of offense so difficult to defend. The 49ers were masters at this over the past several years, having the ability to attack the defense several different ways from the same look.
Running a wide zone play to the right side of the field seems relatively simple for the defense to stop, but say the very next play the Jets run a similar zone run and this time add in a jet-motion for one of the receivers pre-snap. The defense now must keep their eyes on the receiver shifting, while also keeping their eyes on the running back as they know a wide run is possible at any time. Then on third down, what if the Jets stayed in that same formation and kept the jet-motion, but this time ran a play action rollout or a screen pass? Things like this that make the Shanahan offense so successful, even though it sounds relatively simple and straightforward concept. But Jets fans have been left in the dark ages of offense over the past decade, so who knows, we may celebrate like 1969 the first time we see LaFleur call for a pre-snap motion.
Luke Grant had an excellent breakdown of what to expect with the LaFleur / Shanahan offense, including some brilliant points on the play action passing game we should see next season. Check it out below.
Overall, I think Jets fans should be very excited to see what LaFleur and his staff can do moving forward. Saleh mentioned in his introductory press conference that, “Nobody knows (the Shanahan offense) better than he does”, when speaking of what LaFleur will bring to Gang Green. Expect to see a ton of zone running plays and play-action passes, along with some creative ways to play to their player’s strengths and exploit mismatches on defense. Leave the memories of the Adam Gase offense in the past, because what we see on the field in 2021 will look almost nothing like it.