The Green Bay Packers have made the first change on their coaching staff in Matt LaFleur’s second year as head coach of the team. Last week, Jason Simmons departed his post as defensive backs coach for the Packers, heading to take the same position under new Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule. That left open a position on the staff working under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who is returning for a third year in Green Bay and a second with LaFleur in charge.
Now, the Packers have their man. LaFleur has decided to hire Jerry Gray to replace Simmons, as reported by Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. This hire has the Packers pulling in an experienced assistant who most recently worked for a rival team in the NFC North, as Gray had been the Minnesota Vikings’ DBs coach for the past five seasons under head coach Mike Zimmer and DC George Edwards.
In Minnesota, Gray helped coach a pair of first-team All-Pro players in safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who both earned that honor for the 2017 season. He has also coached Pro Bowlers in other stops as secondary or DB coach, including Sean Taylor (with Washington), Samari Rolle (Tennessee Titans), and Blaine Bishop (Titans).
Sprinkled in with his extensive experience as a defensive backs coach, however, Gray spent two stints as a defensive coordinator, first with the Buffalo Bills from 2001 to 2005, then again for the Titans from 2011 to 2013. His 2003 and 2004 Bills defenses were his best, as the Bills finished second in yards allowed both years. They also ranked fifth and eighth in points allowed in those seasons, with the 2004 Buffalo defense ranking first in takeaways and net yards per pass attempt allowed.
Gray surely can draw on his personal success as a player as well, as he was an excellent cornerback in his playing days. A first-round draft pick by the Los Angeles Rams in 1985, he made four consecutive Pro Bowls from 1986 to 1989. He intercepted a whopping 19 passes in those four seasons, taking two back for touchdowns and adding four fumble recoveries. Gray would add nine more picks later in his career for a total of 28 before retiring after the 1993 season at the age of 31.
The Packers reportedly interviewed two candidates for the vacant defensive backs coaching position over the weekend. Gray evidently won the job over Tony Oden, another experienced DBs coach who had coached for the Miami Dolphins in 2019.