Packers eyeing experience with candidates for secondary coach position

Tom Silverstein
Packers News
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GREEN BAY - Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur went to work right away Monday on replacing secondary coach Jason Simmons and from the looks of it, he is seeking someone with vast experience.

According to an NFL source, LaFleur interviewed former Minnesota Vikings defensive backs coach Jerry Gray for a position on defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s staff. Gray, a former Pro Bowl cornerback, oversaw the entire Vikings secondary and would probably do so if hired by LaFleur.

LaFleur also interviewed former Miami Dolphins safeties coach Tony Oden, according to two sources. Oden coached defensive backs for one year under previous Dolphins coach Adam Gase and was retained and moved to safeties coach by first-year coach Brian Flores.

Oden was one of three coaches Flores let go after the season.

Nothing official has been released, but a league source said Simmons has accepted a position with the Carolina Panthers, where he will be reunited with his defensive coordinator at Arizona State, Phil Snow.

New Panthers coach Matt Rhule hired Snow to be his defensive coordinator soon after he accepted the job.

Aug 16, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive backs coach Jerry Gray talks with his players during the game against the Arizona Cardinals at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Simmons oversaw both cornerbacks and safeties and was assisted by Ryan Downard. But Downard has only four years NFL coaching experience and two of those were in quality control, so it makes sense that LaFleur is looking for someone with experience.

Gray, 57, has been coaching in the NFL since 1999 and twice was a defensive coordinator.

Gray has been many places and worked with several top defensive minds, including Mike Zimmer, Gregg Williams and Pete Carroll, but he does not have any ties to Pettine. It may be that LaFleur wants to bring in an experienced secondary coach who can offer some fresh ideas instead of hiring from within.

Simmons was an assistant special teams coach and worked some with cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt and safeties coach Darren Perry until Perry was let go after the 2017 season and Whitt was promoted to passing game coordinator in 2018. His title was changed from secondary coach to defensive backs coach when Whitt was fired after the ’18 season.

When Zimmer was named Vikings coach in 2014, he hired Gray, who had been Tennessee’s defensive coordinator from 2011-13. Gray spent the last five seasons coaching the Vikings' secondary, which featured a strong cast, including All-Pro cornerback Xavier Rhodes and All-Pro safety Harrison Smith.

The safety position has been the strongest with Andrew Sendejo and Anthony Harris teaming with Smith at different times over the last five years. This past season, the Vikings cornerbacks did not play well, especially Rhodes, who did not play anywhere near his 2017 All-Pro form.

No reason was given for Gray’s departure by the Vikings.

His best stretch as a coordinator came in Buffalo where his defense jumped from 21st in 2001 to second in ’03 and ’04. In his final season, the defense fell to 29th and Gray was fired along with head coach Mike Mularkey.

Gray went on to coach the secondary in Washington from 2006-09 and Seattle in 2010 before Tennessee hired him to be defensive coordinator. His defenses ranked 18th, 27th and 14th in his three seasons there.

Oden coached the Detroit Lions cornerbacks from 2014-17 and had stops in Tampa Bay (2013), Jacksonville (2012) and New Orleans (2011), serving as defensive backs or secondary coach in each stop. He was assistant secondary coach for the Saints from ’06-10 and a defensive assistant with Houston (2004-05).

The Packers ranked 14th in pass defense this past season, allowing an average of 232.6 yards per game. They ranked tied for third with the Vikings in interceptions with 17 and were sixth in lowest opponent passer rating at 81.1.

On the other hand, they ranked tied for 21st in fewest completions of 20 or more yards allowed (46) and 29th in fewest completions of 40 or more allowed (15).

Jim Owczarski contributed to this report.

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