Packers Make Final Decision on Future of Mike Pettine

Mike Pettine Fired/Retained

Getty Head coach Matt LaFleur of the Green Bay Packers calls plays on sidelines during the game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on December 23, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The Green Bay Packers will have a new leader of their defense for the 2021 season.

According to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will not be returning for a fourth season in Green Bay after the team decided to allow his contract to expire. Pettine was in the final year of his deal with the Packers and, therefore, did not need to be fired in order for a change to be made.

Pettine was originally hired to the role in Mike McCarthy’s final year in 2018 and became one of the most prominent holdovers on head coach Matt LaFleur’s staff when the latter took over in 2019. According to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, though, Pettine had opted not to sign a contract extension during the 2020 offseason and went into the final year of his deal with no guarantees.

Pettine now becomes the second of LaFleur’s top three assistants to depart this offseason after special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga was fired earlier in the week and replaced with Maurice Drayton, who has served as the Packers’ No. 2 special teams assistant since Ron Zook’s final year in 2018.

The Packers officially announced Mennenga’s dismissal and Pettine’s departure Friday night.

“We want to thank Mike for his commitment to the Packers for the last three seasons,” LaFleur said Friday in a statement. “He was an important part of our success. As a first-time head coach, he was also an invaluable resource for us during our time together. We wish Mike, Megan and the rest of their family the best moving forward.”

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Not Enough Highs for Pettine’s Defense

Pettine’s defense improved in some areas and regressed in others during the 2020 season. While the Packers gave up the seventh-fewest passing yards per game (221.2) and ninth-fewest total yards (334), they struggled to replicate their 2019 success in the pass rush despite the evolution of 2019 first-round Rashan Gary and the continued presence of Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. They also finished with seven fewer takeaways than the previous season.

More impressionable than the numbers, though, has been the defensive lapses that have plagued the Packers in some of their biggest moments in the past two seasons. Pettine’s defense allowed 27 first-half points in last year’s NFC championship as well as a whooping 285 rushing yards before it was finished, adding humiliation to the disappointing loss.

The defense didn’t crumble completely in this year’s conference championship, but it was hard to call it much of an improvement. The Packers allowed Tampa Bay to manufacture touchdowns on three of their first five drives, which allowed them to establish control of the game early on. There were also several bad coaching decisions, including a baffling one that put Kevin King in man-to-man coverage against a speedy receiver with six seconds before halftime.

Pettine’s now-infamous call, of course, resulted in Tom Brady slinging a touchdown pass to Scotty Miller that pushed the Packers into an 11-point hole at halftime.

“Yeah, it was man coverage,” LaFleur said Sunday’s postgame, almost incredulously. “Definitely not the right call for the situation, and you can’t do that against a good football team.”

Packers Planning on “Full-On” Coordinator Search

The Packers moved fast when it came to finding a new boss for their special teams, but it doesn’t sound like LaFleur is interested in hurrying the search for his next defensive coordinator.

According to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, LaFleur will undergo a “full-on” search to find Pettine’s replacement with the intention to interview “a number of people” before filling the position. One such candidate could be Packers defensive backs coach Jerry Gray, who was hired last offseason after spending six seasons in Minnesota in the same role.

Gray has spent more than two decades coaching NFL defenders, working with defensive backs not only in Green Bay and Minnesota but also in Seattle (2010), Washington (2006-09) and Tennessee (1999-2000). He has also twice served as a defensive coordinator, once with the Buffalo Bills (2001-05) and again with the Titans (2011-13).

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