Expect to hear a lot about the Shanahan-LaFleur connection in the coming days and during Sunday’s broadcast. Their history together, which includes three losing seasons in four years on Mike Shanahan’s Washington staff from 2010 to 2013, has been well documented since LaFleur was hired by the Packers to replace Mike McCarthy last January. Kyle Shanahan is in his third season as the coach of the 49ers.
“I had some pretty good coaches with me," Mike Shanahan told ESPN in November, ahead of San Francisco’s 37-8 win over the Packers at Levi’s Stadium. "I had Kyle and I had Sean. I had Matt and I had [49ers assistant] Chris Foerster. I was lucky to have coaches that kind of fed off one another. They studied the game and they just knew they would eventually be coordinators, head coaches. You’re never sure how fast it’s going to come, but you knew they were going to get to the next level.”
“There’s so many things that I learned from him,” LaFleur said of Kyle Shanahan before that Week 12 meeting. “He’s a guy that has a great vision for what he wants to get done, how to use players, how to adapt and put people in the right position. A lot of my football philosophy has been shaped by him.”
To recap, LaFleur and Kyle Shanahan, both 40, first worked together in Houston in 2008 and 2009. Shanahan was the Texans’ offensive coordinator and hired LaFleur, who spent the previous year as the offensive coordinator at Division II Ashland, as an offensive quality control coach. When Mike Shanahan replaced Jim Zorn as the Redskins’ head coach in 2010, Kyle Shanahan convinced his father to bring LaFleur aboard as the quarterbacks coach.
“[Matt] is well-versed in the system that we are trying to bring here to Washington,” Mike Shanahan said after LaFleur was hired. “I was very impressed with the work he did with Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson and expect him to have a similar impact with the Redskins.”
McVay joined the Redskins as an offensive assistant in 2010. Unlike LaFleur and Kyle Shanahan, who were dismissed along with eight other assistants when Mike Shanahan was fired after a 3-13 season in 2013, McVay was retained by new coach Jay Gruden and promoted to offensive coordinator.
“I never took it personal. I know that’s part of the business,” LaFleur told the Athletic of his dismissal. "I’ve got no ill will toward any of it. It’s an unfortunate part of our business, and I certainly never want to go through it again, but the reality is that it happens.”
LaFleur and Kyle Shanahan reunited as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, respectively, in Atlanta in 2015, and they helped the Falcons reach Super Bowl LI the following season. The 49ers hired Shanahan the day after Atlanta’s loss to the New England Patriots in February 2017. Rather than promote LaFleur to replace Shanahan, the Falcons hired Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. After McVay agreed to leave the Redskins to become the Rams’ coach the following week, he hired LaFleur as his offensive coordinator. LaFleur spent the 2018 season as the offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans under Coach Mike Vrabel before the Packers came calling. Meanwhile, after leading the Rams to the Super Bowl last season, McVay’s Rams slipped to 9-7 and missed the playoffs this year.
The coaching matchup in the NFC title game isn’t the only Redskins connection to the remaining teams in the playoffs. Packers linebacker Preston Smith, Washington’s second-round pick in 2015, had a career-high 12 sacks during the regular season and two more in Sunday’s win over the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round.
In the AFC, center Austin Reiter and cornerbacks Bashaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller, all former Redskins draft picks, start for Kansas City. First-year Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, who was promoted to replace LaFleur, spent a season as a defensive quality coach in Washington under Joe Gibbs in 2007. Smith’s dad, FedEx chief executive and founder Fred Smith, is a shareholder of the Redskins.