It’s a problem a mother is proud to have, one that with a little creativity is easily solved.
Kristi LaFleur couldn’t decide which son to represent when Rams offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur and San Francisco 49ers receivers coach Mike LaFleur meet in an NFC West matchup Thursday.
So mom created a team of her own: “The San Angeles Rammers.”
Kristi had T-shirts printed with a blue, gold and red logo, and she plans to don one when the Rams play the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara (5:15 p.m., Ch. 4 and NFL Network).
“It’s kind of funny,” she said.
It will be the first time Matt, 37, and Mike, 30, share a field since February, when a Super Bowl defeat left the brothers reeling and their parents nauseous.
Matt served as the Atlanta Falcons quarterbacks coach, Mike as an offensive assistant. Kristi and their father, Denny — helpless in the stands — watched the New England Patriots mount the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
“It was such a high degree of disappointment,” Kristi said, adding, “You move on, but it still hurts.”
Shortly after the season, the brothers split up in pursuit of promotions.
“We knew there was a chance we’d be on the move,” Mike said, “but I guess we never thought we’d be in the same division, playing (each other) twice a year.”
The LaFleur brothers grew up in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, a town with a population of less than 30,000 and where their parents still maintain the family home.
The brothers often engaged in wrestling matches, drawing their mom’s ire. “It drove me crazy!” she said.
When they weren’t roughhousing, the boys roamed the sidelines of local football games — part of the family business.
Their grandfather, Bob Barringer, was a high school coach. Their dad was a Central Michigan assistant for more than two decades before coaching and teaching at Mt. Pleasant High, where Kristi also taught and coached track and cheerleading.
“Naturally, you kind of follow the paths of your parents,” Matt said.
The brothers always have been competitive, Kristi said, but Matt was more intense and Mike more laid back.
“I can put a smile on my face even when I don’t want to,” Mike said. “Where Matt, I would say, wears his emotions on his sleeve.”
Matt spent his teenage years trying to ditch his little brother. “He was kind of a little bit of a pest,” Matt said. And Mike spent those years attempting to keep up.
“I obviously just looked up to him and wanted to be around him all the time,” Mike said. “But he didn’t want anything to do with an elementary kid.”
The dynamic changed when Matt left to play quarterback at Saginaw Valley State, located about an hour from Mt. Pleasant. As a sixth grader, Mike went with his parents to watch big brother play. A few years later, as a graduate assistant at Central Michigan, Matt made time to support his little brother.
“I was able to see all his games in high school, which is rare in the coaching profession,” Matt said. “That was really cool.”
A bond was forged. “That’s when we started getting super tight,” Mike said.
Matt was an assistant at Ashland University in 2008 when his college roommate — Robert Saleh, now the 49ers defensive coordinator — offered him a job with the Houston Texans. Matt accepted and was introduced to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
Six years later Shanahan became the Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator and called Matt to ask if his kid brother would be interested in a job. “Yeah,” Matt told Shanahan. “He’ll be there tomorrow.”
Mike chuckled as he recalled how he got his first NFL gig after five years as a college assistant at three schools.
“Hey, you’re going to Cleveland,” Matt told his brother.
“Shut up … you’re not going to Cleveland,” Mike said.
“No, idiot,” Matt said. “You’re going to Cleveland … I already told Kyle that you’re taking the job.”
In 2015, Matt left Notre Dame, where he coached quarterbacks for a season, and Mike left the Browns to join Shanahan on the Falcons staff. Now the brothers live about 350 miles apart as NFC West rivals, after Mike followed Shanahan to San Francisco and Matt was recruited by another offensive whiz and first-time head coach, the Rams’ Sean McVay, to get his first shot as an OC.
Normally, Matt and Mike would talk on the phone several times a week. This week, it’s different. There’s no time to spare because of the quick turnaround involved in preparing a game plan for Thursday night. There also is strategy to protect.
But that didn’t keep the brothers from laughing about the possibility of a pregame dust-up. A wrestling match from a decade ago still lingers in Mike’s mind. He’d like a rematch.
Matt joked he’d like it to go down on the 50-yard line before the game, but Mike would prefer to take it to the weight room.
The brothers chuckled about the T-shirts and their mom’s attempt to create a non-partisan team. Matt offered a solution to help settle her nerves.
“We’ve kind of just told her, go with the team who is winning,” Matt said, laughing. “You can’t go wrong!”