When Dan Quinn was assembling his staff in 2015 after he took the job to become the Atlanta Falcons head coach, he had been keeping a close eye on what the Washington Football Team had been doing.
Of all teams Quinn would be watching, why Washington one might ask?
The answer is actually pretty simple – Kyle Shanahan and Matt LaFleur, that's why. Shanahan was the offensive coordinator and LaFleur was the quarterbacks coach from 2010-13. Quinn, the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator at the time, took particularly liking to the way Shanahan and LaFleur utilized Robert Griffin III.
So, when it was time to pick who would run his offense with Matt Ryan at quarterback, Quinn knew two guys he wanted to call. And those two coaches went on to help make the Falcons one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history. LaFleur spent two seasons with Ryan as his quarterbacks coaching and was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 2016 under his leadership.
"His versatility for all different quarterbacks and systems, he's really on it," Quinn said of LaFleur. "He's clear about the position, clear about the standards for it and I think you're seeing that through his time where he's been, the quarterbacks have played well. That hasn't dropped off one bit, obviously."
For only the second time in his career, Quinn will square off against a head coach who spent time on his staff in Atlanta. The first time occurred in December of 2019 when the Falcons upset Shanahan's 49ers on the road. Next up, the Falcons will head to Lambeau Field to take on LaFleur's undefeated Green Bay Packers on Monday night.
After losing Super Bowl LI to the New England Patriots, many of Quinn's offensive assistant coaches left Atlanta. That's typically what happens when a team has a lot of success. Shanahan was hired to take over as head coach in San Francisco and he took three offensive assistants with him: Mike LaFleur, Mike McDaniels and Bobby Turner.
Matt LaFleur also took his talents to the state of California, just a little further south. LaFleur opted to join Sean McVay, whom he coached with in Washington, as the offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams in 2017. This was the first time LaFleur assumed a coordinator title although it was McVay who called the plays for the Rams on offense. The duo of McVay and LaFleur helped Los Angeles reach immense success in their second stint working together.
After one season with McVay, LaFleur left to join Mike Vrabel and the Tennessee Titans as the team's offensive coordinator in 2018. For the first time in his career, LaFleur would be calling the shots on offense. His game-planning and work with Marcus Mariota was so impressive, the rest of the league took note. Under LaFleur's leadership, Tennessee had the highest expected completion percentage in the league last season at 68.7 percent speaking to his work with quarterbacks and how to put them in positions to succeed.
When the Packers were in search for a new coach with a future Hall of Fame quarterback on the roster in Aaron Rodgers, they knew they needed to bring in the right guy to maximize the talent they have.
The Packers took a chance on LaFleur and he was named head coach on Jan. 8, 2019. LaFleur became the first head coach in Green Bay's history to take his team to the playoffs in his first season. He enters Monday's contest with a 16-3 record and has his team playing better than ever.
Although LaFleur's quick rise through the coaching ranks might surprise some, for those who have worked closely with him, his success isn't surprising.
"I always knew he was very good in terms of situational football," Ryan said. "We talk about those things all the time in the quarterback room, what we're going to do in situations and how we're going to handle them. He was always spot on. That was always a trait that transitions well to being in that spot. I always thought he had a clear idea of what he wanted from guys in terms of his offense and what he expected at certain positions. I think you're seeing that with what they're doing in Green Bay."
The marriage between the Packers' run and pass game is where you see LaFleur's touch most. Rodgers ranks No. 6 in passing yards with 887 and has thrown nine touchdowns with zero interceptions. Running back Aaron Jones has been one of the biggest surprises this season and has developed into one of the best all-purpose backs in the NFL. On 50 carries, Jones has rushed for 303 yards and four touchdowns. He's also added 10 receptions for 95 yards.
Atlanta will certainly have to play its best football on all three levels to knock off LaFleur's Packers on the road. And even though these head coaches won't speak this week until right before the game on the field, there's a mutual level of respect. LaFleur credits Quinn for teaching him a lot about how to build a culture and an environment that players can thrive in.
"I learned so much from DQ just in terms of allowing the guys to come to work and have fun, have a blast," LaFleur said. "We are so fortunate to be in the position that we are in. He was the first guy that I was really around that embraced that style of environment and that has played a big impact just on how we go about our business here with the Green Bay Packers."
Julio Jones was a limited participant at practice, according to the team's official injury report, but he is back on the field. Take a look at the best images from practice in this gallery, presented by Quikrete.