Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur doesn’t like talking about himself publicly. He seems to get uncomfortable when the topic turns to him. LaFleur would rather focus on Zach Wilson and the 10 other players on offense
LaFleur pulled back the curtain a little last week and opened up about what his first season as an NFL coordinator meant to him.
The 35-year-old LaFleur revealed in private conversations with his wife and family that he talked openly about wanting the challenge of running an offense and seeing how he would handle it — physically, mentally and emotionally.
The Jets and LaFleur got off to a very shaky start last year, but then the young, inexperienced coordinator settled in. He got more creative throughout last season and proved to himself that he was ready to be the primary play-caller and withstand all that comes with it.
“This is everything I’ve wanted personally,” LaFleur said. “I hate to use the word ‘I.’ but it’s everything I wanted. I wanted to be in front of that room through the good, through the bad, and see what my body would go through, and I enjoyed it. I really enjoyed it and I couldn’t wait for these guys to get back and get working with them.”
LaFleur, who started his NFL life in 2014 as an offensive intern with the Browns, said his body held up fine. His mind did, too.
“Some people don’t want to do this,” he said. “I wanted to see what kind of heart rate I’d have when I got in front of the room on a Monday after we didn’t play well. You’re in front of 30 or so grown men that want to figure out how we are going to win in this league.
“When you win in this league, it suits everybody, most importantly the players. When you’re not winning, as a leader and as a coordinator, you have to figure that out and figure out verbally how to talk to them, motivate them, and get them to believe. That’s what I wanted before the season and that’s exactly what went on throughout the season. I liked how I responded to it personally.”
LaFleur spent two years as an offensive assistant in Atlanta and four with the 49ers as a wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator. Robert Saleh hired LaFleur to run an offense for the first time and lead one with a rookie quarterback.
It definitely was a baptism by fire for LaFleur, the younger brother of Packers coach Matt LaFleur.
The Jets’ offense was — to put it bluntly — awful at points last season. They scored two touchdowns over the season’s first 13 quarters and went nine straight without getting in the end zone.
LaFleur and Wilson looked overmatched. Under heavy criticism, LaFleur reflected on everything he learned while working for Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta and San Francisco. LaFleur didn’t let doubt creep in for himself or the offense and worked through those struggles.
“The biggest thing is his ability to handle pressure and stress,” Saleh said. “To be out on your own and your first taste of stress is the New York media — especially early in the season when things weren’t going great for him — for him to walk in head up and with conviction and strength that he projected was pretty awesome.
“I think the offense did nothing but get better as the year went on. Second year, he’s only going to get better. So excited to see him grow.”
LaFleur can’t wait for Year 2 as the Jets' offensive coordinator and seeing how he can build on last season.
Expectations are much higher for LaFleur, Wilson and the Jets’ offense this season. Not only is it Year 2 for many of them, but the Jets added more toys for LaFleur to use in this style of the West Coast offense and more weapons for Wilson.
The second-year quarterback returned bigger, stronger and has shown a greater command of the offense and the huddle.
Wilson’s play could be the difference between the Jets ending their 11-year playoff drought and going through another losing season. But LaFleur said he doesn’t feel any pressure to get Wilson to another level.
“Pressure, no. Urgency, yes,” LaFleur said. “The urgency to get it done the right way and in an urgent matter, we have to get better every single day starting right now.”
The Jets improved at all the skill positions. They drafted wide receiver Garrett Wilson and running back Breece Hall. They signed tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin and drafted another in Lindenhurst’s Jeremy Ruckert in the third round. Tight end is a big part of the system and will be more utilized this year.
LaFleur’s focus is finding ways to best use everyone and distribute the touches in this all-inclusive offense.
“There is only one ball and I’m sure we’ll have that conversation in the room at some point,” LaFleur said. “Ultimately, if you have the right guys, organically, it will all figure itself out and they’ll understand. Guys just want to move the ball and have success.
“That’s a very good problem to have. We’re young. Guys are still learning how to play. But we got pieces to work with and it will be a fun challenge getting this thing to mesh together.”