Matt LaFleur and the Green Bay Packers have found their next defensive coordinator. One week since firing Joe Barry after three frustrating years that saw a defense with up to eight former first round picks underperform, Jeff Hafley, the now former head coach at Boston College, has been hired to lead the Packers’ defense.
Hafley’s name was one that was not known to Packers fans or media who cover the team up until it was announced that he was being hired. Instead, names of current NFL defensive coaches were leaked in regards to who had been interviewed by the team. These names include Denver Broncos defensive backs coach Christian Parker, former Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley, and Baltimore Ravens coaches Dennard Wilson and Zach Orr.
Additionally, a late report after the announcement that Hafley is to be hired said that LaFleur also interviewed former New York Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale.
In total, it appears that LaFleur interviewed eight candidates this time around in his search for a defensive coordinator. When Barry was hired back in 2021, he interviewed nine. Something about Hafley must have stood out among his other interviewees, but what might that have been? Perhaps we will discover what it was as we break down five things Packers fans should know about their new defensive coordinator.
1. Contrary to Rumor, Jeff Hafley Did Not Have a Prior Relationship with Green Bay Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur
The initial report of Hafley’s hiring stated that he and LaFleur have been really good friends for years. Of course, this had many Packers fans worried that it will be another Joe Barry-like hiring with similar dubious consequences on the field. However, multiple Packers insiders have refuted this statement.
FWIW, LaFleur and Hafley aren’t close friends as some have reported. He knows Hafley through his brother, Robert Saleh and Kyle Shanahan, all of whom worked with Hafley. They knew each other but weren’t ever on the same staff or guys who spoke often. https://t.co/jpXeeKkdVL
— Tom Silverstein (@TomSilverstein) February 1, 2024
LaFleur and Hafley didn’t have a relationship before this hiring, by the way. https://t.co/ikR8BxFmEX
— Matt Schneidman (@mattschneidman) February 1, 2024
As illustrated above, LaFleur and Hafley have known each other, but one can hardly call it a close friendship. As Tom Silverstein notes above, LaFleur knows his new defensive coordinator through his brother, Mike LaFleur, New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh, and San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan.
Hafley was the 49ers defensive backs coach from 2016-2018 when Mike LaFleur and Saleh were on Shanahan’s coaching staff.
2. The Green Bay Packers Defense Is About to Get Very Aggressive
One of the biggest criticisms of the Packers’ defense under Joe Barry was how soft they would play late in games. Very rarely would he allow his cornerbacks to play press man coverage as much as they might have wanted, nor did he dial up very many stunt blitzes.
That is about to change under Hafley, who played single-high safety more than any coach in the NCAA last season. This means he likes to stack the box and allow his corners to do or die in man to man coverage. The Packers secondary, when healthy, can stick with most wide receivers in the NFL in coverage.
And as for the defensive front, check out with Mike Golic Jr. had to say about the hire:
— Tim Murray (@1TimMurray) February 1, 2024
“Chaos at the line of scrimmage” sounds like a great plan.
3. Jeff Hafley Is Great at Game Planning and Preparation
No one describes the way Hafley prepares as well as Richard Sherman did when he was asked about Hafley’s coaching back when he played for the 49ers:
Richard Sherman on Jeff Hafley: pic.twitter.com/ViOAZc77dH
— Soren Sodergren🧀🏈 (@Soren_Sodergren) February 1, 2024
“His preparation is some of the best I’ve seen. I’ve had some great defensive back coaches, great defensive coaches, great defensive minds and he’s right up there.
“He’s with his preparation, how he breaks down film and how easy and simple he makes the game plan sound and how easy he makes it for guys to understand. He paints a very vivid picture of what you’re going to see and it’s all about executing.”
This past season especially, it seemed like the Packers defense was very confused about what each individual player’s job was on any given snap. In other words, the defensive scheme was too complicated and/or Barry did not have the ability to properly teach it to the team.
That does not sound like it will be an issue with Hafley.
4. The Green Bay Packers Defensive Will Adapt to Its Opponents
One of the most infuriating things about the Packers defense over the past several seasons has been their inability to stop mobile quarterbacks. In 2023, Barry’s defense allowed Tommy DeVito to have a NFC Offensive Player of the Week performance as they failed to stop the undrafted rookie from running all over them as they blew a fourth quarter lead.
In the same vein, the Packers defense allowed over 200 rushing yards in a game more than any other team in the NFL this season. A big part of that was because of they left the middle of the field open while playing their soft zone.
That will not happen if what Hafley said in this interview carries over to Green Bay:
I sat down with Jeff Hafley just a few days ago in Boston College.
Now, he’s heading to Green Bay.
But before he took the job, told me about the defensive scheme he plans to run.
This is what Packers fans can expect from their new DC ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/nU8PCyGAeP
— Adam Breneman (@AdamBreneman81) February 1, 2024
As one can see and hear, Hafley preaches adapting. If a scheme is not working in a particular game, it is up to the coaches to change course and adapt to their opponent.
That will be a welcome change in Green Bay.
5. The Green Bay Packers Will Probably Draft a Safety in the First Round
Based off of everything we know about Hafley’s defense, it is imperative that the Packers have a bonified free safety that can play “center field” and be a ball hawk. That is one of the most important aspects of Hafley’s style, and the Packers currently do not have one. Darnell Savage, Jonathan Owens, and Rudy Ford are all free agents.
While the 2024 NFL Draft class does not have much high-end safety talent, Kamren Kinchens of Miami is widely viewed as a late first round or early second round pick.
It would not be surprising to see him taken by Green Bay with the 25th overall pick.