After losing out at a nightclub in downtown Indianapolis after a long day at the NFC Scouting rally in March, Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur found himself in conversation about what was next on his off-season schedule.
Free agency was fast approaching. Off-season training was scheduled to begin in a little over a month, and shortly thereafter it was the NFL draft.
In the midst of it all, LaFleur mentioned one more thing: He was going on a road trip with the Milwaukee Bucks from the NBA.
When it was suggested it would be fun, LaFleur quickly explained: “Actually, it’s a business trip.”
LaFleur is a coach who—despite winning 13 games in each of NFL’s first three seasons, the most in NFL history in the first three years of his coaching career—has never won a Super Bowl, or even participated in one. If he can find any small advantage, he will – even if it means going down the road with a team from an entirely different sport.
“I think he had a great time and enjoyed himself,” said John Hurst, general manager of Bucks. “But there is no doubt that this was an opportunity for professional development.”
‘Are you serious?’
The backstory of the trip was as follows: A month ago, LaFleur and his wife, Brie, were at the Phoenician resort in Scottsdale, Arizona, for a fundraiser for Childhelp, an organization run by a friend of LaFleur’s that helps abuse and in-risk children, and who did it but hit a star pax Khris Middleton.
“I’ve been around these guys for a bit, and I’ve just introduced myself, and I’m saying, ‘What are you guys doing here?'” LaFleur said. “
Turns out, the Bucks stayed there while they were in town to play the Phoenix Suns. LaFleur then texted Horst, whom a mutual friend recognized shortly after he got the Packers job in 2019, and they met at the hotel bar.
It quickly turned into an evening of talking with Horst and his staff along with coach Mike Budenholzer, assistant coaches Darvin Hamm (who would be appointed as the Los Angeles Lakers coach shortly thereafter) and Charles Lee.
“We’ve been kind of getting along with John and some of these guys, talking about philosophy, and he just threw it in there,” LaFleur said. “He’s like, ‘Hey, you should come on a road trip with us. And I said, ‘Are you serious? I’d like to just see how it works. That’s how it started, just a random chance. We talked about it, he shot me a bunch of dates and we made it work.’
They settled on the West Coast cruise. LaFleur was driving from Green Bay to Milwaukee to fly with the Bucks to San Francisco for a game against the Warriors on March 12 and then to Utah to play the Jazz on March 14. While the team was going to Sacramento to complete the trip, LaFleur will be home alone before the game against the Kings to return at Lambeau Field for the start of the free agency on March 16th.
“High School Buddy, College Buddy Meet”
LaFleur went into it with an open mind, and I’m not sure if there was anything strategic that would go from basketball to football. After all, what is the NFL equivalent of deciding whether or not to make a mistake when you increase three points with less than 10 seconds remaining? (“Oh, he wants to,” Budenholzer said with a laugh. “He wants to talk about it.”)
“One of the things that stood out to me about Matt, there seems to be a thirst to keep growing, improving, learning and being his best,” Budenholzer said. “To take that time and maybe get out of the box a little bit and see if there’s anything he can do to improve his team is a huge statement about his character as a coach and as a person.”
He and Budenholzer soon found that they had a lot in common in their professional and personal lives. Both were trained sons. Both coaching teams who are expected to compete for titles. Both operate in a niche profession that requires them to deal with many different entities, from the media to fans to team owners and general managers.
“It’s nice to have someone you can open up to a little bit who has the same perspective, and similar experiences,” Budenholzer said. “Friendship and trust developed very quickly with Matt. It’s kind of rare and sweet to have someone walk in similar shoes.”
Rodgers, who owns a minority stake in the Bucks, said he’s a huge Budenholzer fan and liked the idea of his coach spending time with him, especially given that the Bucks had just won the NBA championship the previous season.
“I love Matt that he’s always trying to grow in the process of what he’s doing,” Rodgers. “Bud and his staff are clearly doing something right. Just a fun week for him to be around a different group of guys to see how they travel, to see how they work together and if there’s anything he can pick from the things Bud says to the guys on a daily basis or some element of leadership and friendship The intimacy of the team, I think it was really helpful to him.”
The relationship with the Bucks and Packers has grown in recent years, partly due to Rodgers’ ownership stake and partly because of the mutualistic relationship between LaFleur and Horst: Justin Sherlock. LaFleur played high school basketball (he says he was “a good guy with 8 or 9 points in the game) with Sherlock in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, and Sherlock became Hurst’s classmate at the University of Rochester in Michigan.
“The day Matt was hired, Matt and I put on a group text message and it was basically like, ‘Hey high school buddy, meet your college buddy,’ Hurst said.
“More comfortable letting go”
Late last month, Hurst and several members of his team spent two days with the Packers during training camp. Horst stood with Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst during most of the practice, and even sat on some LaFleur team meetings.
But it’s different, spending time with a team during a relaxed period of the season is more like training camp than in March in the NBA when there is less than a month left in the regular season.
So LaFleur didn’t want to get in the way during what was an important trip for the Bucks. During matches, he sat in the stands with Horst, several rows behind the Bucks seat. When shooting, he was sitting on the field. In the hotel, he was sitting quietly in meetings.
“The biggest takeaway I’ve had was from top to bottom, how well everyone gets along, how they communicate, and there’s real care for each other,” LaFleur said. “I see it with Bud and his staff. I see it with the device for the players. I see it from player to player. I watch these guys on board how they interact with each other. They have really good people and obviously it’s better to have talented players, that’s like a prerequisite and that’s exactly What they have.But when their best players are the best people too, that makes it a lot easier.
Giannis is an incredible man, but you see him with everyone – Middleton and Guru [Holiday] And the Brooke Lopez. All these men are just legitimate men.”
Another thing shocked Lafleur.
“They did a really nice thing as after the game they had dinner with all the players and the coaches and their wives and the players’ wives if they were traveling or the players’ families if they were traveling where they basically closed a restaurant and got everyone together,” LaFleur said. Work you can help build that collective harmony which is essential to help when you are facing a little bit of adversity.”
There is a big difference between how NBA and NFL teams travel. On that trip, the Bucks are gone for more than a week and players have a lot more freedom. In the NFL, teams fly in the day before the game and come back right after. However, Rodgers said he has seen LaFleur lose more since he went on that trip.
“Maybe that relates to that journey and maybe it isn’t, but with each year he seems to feel more comfortable letting go of some control and confidence in the leadership of the football team, his assistant coaches and the older guys and kind of in basketball, they are,” Rodgers said. on different schedules. They have holiday nights [on the road] And you just have to say, “Hey, it’s all going to be at 11.” They cannot control everything that happens. I think there’s something to be said for that because that allows for accountability. Would you enable or would you do that? “
A lot of pressure goes to Utah.
With LaFleur on, the Bucks lost to the Golden State Warriors 122-109. They also lost striker Deandre Pimbri to a knee injury at the end of the season on the same night.
“Golden State in particular, he’s seen a lot,” Hurst said. “I’m sitting with him during the match, we had a very impressive big injury that happened during the match, so Matt was able to see the chaos inside the game that went with all of that and then experience the loss in the way. He had full access to everything.
“He is very curious. Watching him in this place around us, I think curiosity is a wonderful trait of a leader.”
He also became very nervous, when he heard Budenholzer say it.
“He felt a lot of pressure coming into Utah,” Budenholzer said. “He knew that if we lost, he’d be the reason. … We were giving him the reward when we lost to Golden State because I think we might have been on a good run, and we were down badly that day.
“I think he’ll see that match and then the locker before and after, just the routines that the players practice on match day, I think he really ventured into that.”
To rest Lafleur, the Bucks rebounded to defeat the Utah Jazz 117-111. Soon, LaFleur was on his way back to Green Bay.
“They stayed there and finished their wilderness journey [with a win over the Sacramento Kings]but it was great because you get to experience and see how they do everything,” LaFleur said. “It’s not every day they let someone come on a trip like that.”