Ever since Robert Saleh was hired and this new coaching staff began its reconstruction, the incredibly key mystery man within this core has been offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur.
On May 27, 2021, the younger brother of Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur finally addressed the New York Jets media.
Who is Mike LaFleur?
As a disciple of the Mike Shanahan-Gary Kubiak coaching tree and close colleague of San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, LaFleur has a built-in reputation as an offensive strategizer.
This is an impressive circle, which has also bred recent success stories like Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay and Atlanta Falcons hire Arthur Smith among others.
Although the LaFleur brothers have a close connection, Mike has tighter coaching ties to Kyle Shanahan. Mike and Kyle have been together since the 2014 season with the Cleveland Browns, journeying to the Falcons and Niners from there.
Saleh has also been linked to both the Shanahan and LaFleur families over the years as a good friend and respected colleague, leading to the partnership with the Jets.
LaFleur spoke on the influence of both Saleh and his brother Matt on his career: “Matt and Robert were [graduate assistants] together, and I remember the first time Saleh came over to our house… Mt. Pleasant [Michigan] is not a very big town, and Matt and Saleh lived about a mile down the street in an apartment.”
The Jets offensive coordinator even joked that Saleh and his older brother would come over to his parent’s house to watch their cable and utilize the pool. He noted that although Saleh was always a “really close friend,” his respect for him as a co-worker grew in San Francisco.
Mike LaFleur on Saleh’s work ethic: “He’s very very smart, but he’s an incredible worker and he’s really good with the players and he’s truthful.” He called the decision to work with Saleh a “no brainer.”
In terms of his brother Matt, LaFleur touted his work ethic, saying it’s something he’s “always looked up to.”
Later, LaFleur attributed a lot of his initial foundation to his first three years as a coach, as well as his senior year of college playing safety. He said that his defensive perspective as a player was “the only thing that gave [him] a chance that first year” calling plays.
LaFleur praised Jets quarterback coach and passing game specialist Greg Knapp because he’s a coach that always wants to grow and learn more, which is how he aspires to be.
LaFleur’s Variation of the West Coast Offense
As Mike LaFleur put it: “I don’t know if it’s the best offense in the world. I do think the people that I’ve learned from are some of the best in the world for sure.”
He then used a word that we heard rookie Zach Wilson use when describing the same west coast scheme, “detail.”
Diving deeper, LaFleur pointed out that “what’s cool and unique about this offense is, yes it’s the west coast system and we’re trying to run the outside zone and do the play-action stuff off it, but we fit it to our players.”
That’s surely music to most Jets fan’s ears. An offense that is fit to the players, not one that forces players to adapt to a system that isn’t working, like what we saw with Adam Gase.
Overall, this offense is expected to focus on outside zone runs, play-action boots, and exploitation of speed and defensive mismatches.
LaFleur’s First Impressions on Zach Wilson
The media inquired about Wilson, asking LaFleur what stood out about him both pre-draft and now, in OTAs. The coordinator highlighted his talent as a “natural thrower” in college, but also complimented the quarterback’s ability in the pocket, under pressure, and his off-script decision-making when things began to break down around him.
LaFleur also appreciated that Wilson had some experience under center, compared to other quarterback prospects that he’s coached in the past.
Now in OTAs, LaFleur described Wilson as a “[film] junkie” that goes above and beyond studying tape. The coach praised the rookie’s mental capacity, joking that he’s generally two steps ahead of where he needs to be in terms of digesting new information.
That type of intelligence will be necessary for Wilson leading a west coast system, which is known for its long and wordy verbiage, but LaFleur added that Wilson has done “really good with the words” and that they “try and challenge all three of [their quarterbacks].”
When asked about Wilson’s unteachable traits, LaFleur went straight to his various arm angled throws, saying: “There’s not many guys that can do all the different things he can do with his arm slot.” He compared this rare skill to Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers, two impressive comparisons that we’ve heard for Wilson in the past.
LaFleur also echoed that Wilson’s dedication in the film room and his leadership traits as a former basketball point guard are pretty unique as well.
Usage of Skill Position Players in System
As important as the quarterback is, skill position players are also crucial in this scheme. LaFleur talked about the running backs in particular, as well as wide receivers Corey Davis and Denzel Mims.
For the running back room, LaFleur made it clear that there is no one particular style they look for in a player, saying “they come in so many shapes and sizes.” This is consistent with his history in San Francisco and Atlanta. Both teams used a committee system at the position.
He noted that “there’s definitely an element of being able to put your foot in the ground and go north and south,” but didn’t hint at which running back may be leading the way in camp so far.
When asked about Davis, LaFleur talked about his knowledge of the system from his days with Matt LaFleur and Arthur Smith in Tennessee. He also gave kudos to the wide receiver’s physicality, separation and fearlessness on the field.
LaFleur spoke on Mims in a similar sense, but also noted that he’s “bigger” and “looser” in person, comparing the second-year pro to NBA superstar Kevin Durant in terms of his body type.
Although the focus is generally on Coach Saleh, there’s a ton to be excited about with LaFleur and this revamped Jets offense. What do you think of LaFleur’s media day? Comment us on Facebook at @HeavyOnJets or on Twitter @obermuller_nyj or @BoyGreen25.