GREEN BAY — The fresh start began with a fresh coat of paint outside the locker room. And a new seating chart in the meeting room.
New coach Matt LaFleur hasn’t won a game yet as the Green Bay Packers coach, but during the first week of the offseason program, he certainly won the first week by making a positive first impression. Although perhaps the team’s facilities and maintenance staff isn’t quite as excited about him, given the increased workload he gave them.
“It is exciting. It feels like the first day of school and you have a bunch of new teachers around. There’s been a lot of little changes,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers explained during an ESPN Wisconsin interview last week. “They painted the walls in the hallways a bright white. It’s always kind of been a little bit dimly lit. And just little changes like that have been good. They put up some murals, some sayings in the big team room. They changed some things around.”
Including where everyone sits in during team meetings — something that, for Rodgers, constituted a major change. Until Monday morning, he’d sat in the same spot in meetings, a chair he’d chosen as a rookie in 2005 based on its proximity to his quarterbacking predecessor, Brett Favre. But in the first official team meeting, LaFleur informed everyone in the room that their familiar seats were no longer theirs.
“(He said), ‘It’s a new start, so we’re going to switch seats.’ And I’d been sitting in the same seat for 14 years,” Rodgers said. “When I got here in ’05, I wanted to be in Brett’s hip pocket — I don’t think I’ve ever told this story — (so when) I walked in the team room for the first time, which was in the offseason, I wanted to see where Brett sat and not sit next to him, because I thought that would be weird, but I sat right in front of him and to the right.
“He was in the back row, so I’ve been in the second row (from the back) in the fourth chair forever. (Linebacker) A.J. Hawk sat next to me for nine years. (Former quarterbacks coach Alex) Van Pelt sat next to me for a few years. (Athletic trainer) Pepper Burruss has been next to me for a few years. I told Pep (on Monday) morning, I said, ‘Got to go. Got to move down closer,’ so I moved down next to some of the linemen.
“I think stuff like that is good. You’re in a routine for so many years, doing the same thing. It’s different voices, (and) it was fun.”
Fun and energy seemed to be the operative words during the first week of meetings and strength-and-conditioning workouts, as Rodgers teammates who spoke with reporters at midweek — defensive tackle Kenny Clark, wide receiver Davante Adams and inside linebacker Blake Martinez — all pointed to a much-needed new vibe.
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“I think there’s more brightness — more fun, I guess, throughout the environment in our locker room,” Martinez said. “I know we have new things in the players’ lounge, new kinds of arcade games, those types of things that just make it more lively, more exciting. I guess that’s the biggest change.”
Added Clark: “It’s been really good. Coach LaFleur is a really cool guy. (I) got a chance to chop it up with him a little bit. Just excited for the direction that we’re going in and excited about our coaches.”
Of course, the Packers haven’t even had a full-fledged practice yet — that’ll come during the team’s bonus minicamp April 23-25 — so the excitement has to be tempered by the reality that after nearly 13 years with Mike McCarthy in charge, some things were bound to grow stale. And painting inspirational catchphrases on the walls and playing musical chairs in the meeting room don’t guarantee success.
For the record, since legendary coach Vince Lombardi stepped down following the 1967 season, only three of the nine full-time head coaches who followed him won their season opener: Phil Bengston in 1968, Forrest Gregg in 1984 and Ray Rhodes in 1999. Their combined number of playoff appearances? Zero.
But don’t tell the players that right now. They’re too excited about their fresh start.
“It’s just a totally different program now. Everybody is pretty juiced up,” Adams said. “Everybody has the right mindset at this point trying to get better and just attacking this thing one day at a time and buying into the new coaching staff. We have a few guys back from last year, some familiar faces that’s good to see. We’re trying to rally behind LaFleur and his new guys and get this thing rolling the right way.
“(They made a) very good first impression. I liked where this thing is headed.”