Next Packers win marks milestone for Matt LaFleur

Evan Siegle,

GREEN BAY – With first place in the NFC North on the line, on a short week, and a lot of offensive miscues to clean up from the last performance, it’s a near certainty Head Coach Matt LaFleur hasn’t given this particular milestone even a cursory thought.

But here goes anyway.

LaFleur is one win from his 50th regular-season victory heading into Thursday night’s clash with the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field, and if he can get it, a measure of team and league history would come along with it.

Team-wise, LaFleur is on the verge of becoming the second-fastest Packers head coach to reach 50 wins, behind only Vince Lombardi. Thursday is LaFleur’s 70th regular-season game at the helm of the Packers, and his current record stands at 49-20.

Six previous Packers head coaches have won 50 games, and Lombardi got there the fastest, in just 66 contests. Here’s the full list:

Number of games needed for 50 wins
Vince Lombardi 66
Mike Sherman 75
Curly Lambeau 77
Mike Holmgren 79
Mike McCarthy 82
Bart Starr 126

Again, LaFleur has 49 wins in 69 games, so his chances of ranking second in Packers’ annals look pretty good, even if win No. 50 doesn’t happen right away.

If he can get No. 50 Thursday night, though, there’s a larger historical significance in relation to all NFL coaches. Only six previous head coaches, including Lombardi, reached 50 regular-season wins in 70 or fewer games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. LaFleur has a chance to become just the seventh in the 100-plus year history of the league.

Here’s that list:

Number of games needed for 50 wins
Paul Brown 62
George Seifert 62
Guy Chamberlin 64
Chuck Knox 65
Vince Lombardi 66
Don Shula 69

Whenever win No. 50 comes, LaFleur’s early success in the NFL is impressive. Sure, he had a Hall of Fame QB in Aaron Rodgers for those first four years, but there’s more to it than that.

For one, he’s routinely navigated injuries – which the 2023 Packers are dealing with now – quite well, not allowing the team to get knocked off track. Moreover, when the first true adversity hit his tenure last season, with the Packers losing five in a row and seven of eight games, he got things turned around with a four-game winning streak and a shot at a playoff spot in the regular-season finale.

Ask the players what they like best about LaFleur and what they believe has made him successful in the NFL, and the answers point to different elements of his coaching style and personality. Here’s a sampling.

LB Rashan Gary, drafted in 2019, LaFleur’s first year: “What don’t I like about him? He’s a down-to-earth guy.

“He wants everybody to do good, genuinely. As a player, when you feel that from your head coach, you’ve got no choice but to go out there and give 110 or whatever you can.”

S Darnell Savage, also drafted in ’19: “He trusts us, with the schedule, taking care of us at practice. We’re telling him we feel this, we feel that, and he’ll listen to us.

“He’s always upbeat, just controlling everything you can control really, which is your attitude.”

TE Josiah Deguara, a ’20 draft pick: “He’s just a great leader. Personable, has a relationship with a lot of the guys. Treats everyone with respect, so you try to show him the same respect. That embodies it.

“He gets better as a coach each and every year, and he says that himself. He’s working on things that he needs to work on and always self-reflecting, always trying to get better, and we do that as players, so I think that’s why we all respect him.”

Meanwhile, Thursday night’s opponent has a coach trying to make some history of his own, as it pertains to the Packers-Lions rivalry.

Detroit’s Dan Campbell, hired in 2021, has won three of his first four matchups in the series – none more significant than last year’s regular-season finale, denying the Packers a playoff spot. That makes him the first Lions coach to win three of his first four against the Packers since Wayne Fontes back in the late 1980s.

In ’88, Fontes took over as Detroit’s interim coach with five games left in the regular season, beat the Packers twice, and then beat them again in the second meeting in ’89.

As Campbell tries to make it four wins in his first five games against the Packers, he’s trying to become the first Lions coach to accomplish that since the 1950s.

Buddy Parker, whose tenure in Detroit began in 1951, won his first eight matchups against the Packers, but no Lions coach has won four of his first five meetings with Green Bay since. George Wilson almost did it beginning in ’57, going 3-1-1 the first five times he faced the Packers.

Whether or not the Packers are out to avenge last year’s frustrating finale depends on the player. To some, last year was last year. To others, any piece of potential motivation matters.

“Since I’ve been here, Detroit has always been a tough game,” Kenny Clark said. “It’s an NFC North opponent. It’s going to be physical. It’s going to be tough, like it always is.”

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