When the San Francisco 49ers take on the Green Bay Packers for the NFC Championship game on Sunday night, there are more than a few close family connections and rivalries taking place on the field. While 49ers’ head coach Kyle Shanahan‘s father, Mike Shanahan, will be in the box at Levi’s Stadium to cheer him on, his Dad will also feel pride watching Packers’ head coach Matt LaFleur lead his team in the playoffs.
Shanahan and LaFleur are actually extremely close friends. Adding to their fun rivalry, LaFleur’s brother Mike LaFleur is Shanahan’s passing game coordinator with San Francisco.
In fact, it was Shanahan who nearly a decade ago first recommended LaFleur for a job with his father, while Mike the head coach of the Washington Redskins between 2010 and 2013. While Shanahan also wanted to work with his dad, Mike, who during his NFL career won 170 games and three Super Bowls, insisted his son coach elsewhere before joining him on the sidelines. When Shanahan went on to work as an offensive coordinator with the Houston Texans in 2009, LaFleur was hired as his assistant.
Robert Saleh, who’s Shanahan’s current defensive coordinator with the Niners, first brought LaFleur into the fold while they in Houston. They were both graduate assistants at Central Michigan, and it was Saleh who vouched for the then-unknown LaFleur to Shanahan. When Mike and the Redskins were in need of a quarterbacks coach, Shanahan recommended LaFleur for the job.
LaFleur told SI of those years that “Kyle was the kind of the leader back then,” LaFleur “Mike oversaw everything, but Kyle had great foresight. He has got an uncanny ability to anticipate things.”
LaFleur Credits Mike Shanahan For the Coach He Is Today
LaFleur coached with Shanahan from 2008 to 2016. After Shanahan joined and left the Redskins, together they worked for the Texans and the Atlanta Falcons before LaFleur was hired by Los Angeles Rams’ head coach Sean McVay, who also worked with both men back in Washington.
Hired to be the Packers head coach in 2018, LaFleur credited Mike for shaping him for the job. “He was the most focused person I’ve ever been around,” LaFleur said. “He could sit there and watch tape for hours without getting up, without getting water or coffee or a piss break. His focus was just second to none that I’ve been around. It opened up my eyes to how it needs to be done. Granted, we didn’t have the success that we would have liked to [in Washington], but there’s no doubt in my mind why he was such a successful coach.”
Mike Shanahan Has Love & Respect For Both His Son & LaFleur
While speaking with ESPN earlier this week Mike said of his two proteges, “You could tell right away how comfortable they were with each other because they had already spent so much time together in Houston. I had some pretty good coaches with me. I had Kyle and I had Sean, I had Matt and I had Chris Foerster. I was lucky to have coaches that kind of fed off another. They studied the game and they just knew they would eventually be coordinators, head coaches. You’re never sure how fast it’s going to come, but you knew they were going to get to the next level.”
Mike also gave a shout out to McVay. “Sean, Matt and Kyle were all very young when they got their first opportunity,” he said. “But they were ready. They really were. Not only offensively but defensively was well. To be at the point where they’re at so early in their careers and gotten these opportunities, not only did they have to know their jobs but other people’s jobs as well to get comfortable in this position, and I know all three of those guys definitely do.”
Shanahan is grateful for the time he spent with LaFleur and his father. “It really started in Washington,” Kyle said. “It all goes back to my dad. You’re a product of your environment, and when you get your opportunities it becomes your own.”