The last time Mike LaFleur called plays, his Davidson College Wildcats lost 47-14 to Campbell on Nov. 23, 2013.
The Jets are hoping for better results.
LaFleur is the team’s new offensive coordinator, a job that has been a sinkhole for the last decade. New head coach Robert Saleh brought LaFleur with him from San Francisco, hoping the baby-faced 34-year-old can bring some of the magic of the Kyle Shanahan system to Florham Park. But LaFleur is calling plays for the first time in the NFL and the first time since that year as Davidson’s offensive coordinator when the Wildcats went 0-11.
“It’s going to be a little bit different when we get out there for the first preseason game all the way to obviously Carolina [in Week 1],” LaFleur said Wednesday. “You’re always prepping for it. I’ve had the unique responsibility of being the passing game coordinator in San Francisco to just be hand-in-hand with Kyle all the time and to really kind of dive into his mind in terms of how he’s looking for play calls. I talk to my brother quite a bit about how he’s handling the 40-second clock. When we go out to the practice field, you make sure you come out prepared and know what you want to attack and how you want to attack it and get those calls in fluently and just kind of train yourself for that first game.”
LaFleur comes from a coaching family. His brother Matt is the head coach of the Packers. His father Denny was a longtime coach at Central Michigan, among other places. His maternal grandfather was a high school coach in Michigan in the 1960s and 70s. His mother, Kristi, was one of the top competitive cheer coaches in Michigan and also coached basketball and softball.
Saleh got to know “Mikey LaFleur,” as he calls him, in 2004 when he and Matt LaFleur were young assistants at Central Michigan. They lived near the LaFleurs’ home in Mount Pleasant, Mich. and Mike LaFleur remembers Saleh coming to the house with Matt to eat meals and go swimming.
When Matt went off to play quarterback for the Omaha Beef in the National Indoor Football League, Saleh would hang out with Mike and his girlfriend.
“Me, Mike and Lauren, who’s his wife, became best friends and we’d go to Doozy’s, get some ice cream, and watch the Detroit Pistons during the playoffs,” Saleh said Wednesday. “I’ve known him for a long time.”
The two got to work together with the 49ers from 2017-20 when Saleh was the defensive coordinator and LaFleur served as the passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach. When Saleh began formulating who he would want on his staff, he zeroed in on LaFleur.
“First and foremost, I’ve been very, very fortunate, I don’t know how many years it’s been in the league but over half of my years in the league has been attached to this Shanahan system. Dating all the way back to [Gary] Kubiak, who was running a version of a Poppa Shanahan’s [Mike Shanahan] system and going against that system, it is always the hardest one to go against. The way they strain you in the run game, the pass game and the way they attack your rules, is very hard.
“And then getting a chance to work with him over the last four years, watch him present in front of the group, watch him interact with Kyle, listen to him talk to the quarterbacks and the receivers. It was really a no-brainer. He’s been more than ready and just really excited for him to get this opportunity.”
LaFleur now gets a chance to put his spin on the Shanahan offense that has become popular across the NFL with his brother running it in Green Bay, Sean McVay running it with the Rams, Arthur Smith with the Falcons and Zac Taylor with the Bengals.
“Everyone’s taken it their own direction,” LaFleur said. “You do it based on the roster you’ve got. You try to find the skill set that all these guys have and match that up. … It will develop into our system.”