Falcons hire away defensive assistant Jerry Gray from Packers. What is Green Bay losing?

Kassidy Hill
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Veteran coach Jerry Gray has been with the Packers for three seasons.

GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers club is in the market for a new defensive backs coach.

Jerry Gray, the Packers' defensive backs and passing game coordinator, has been hired away by the Atlanta Falcons to join the club’s new defensive coordinator, Ryan Nielsen. The Falcons officially announced the hire on Tuesday. The news was first reported by Mike Garafolo of NFL Network. 

Gray originally interviewed for the coordinator job with the Falcons, as well as a handful of other open positions around the league. According to Rob Demovsky of ESPN, Gray was not under contract for the upcoming season with the Packers and therefore could pursue opportunities without the Packers' consent. 

A veteran coach, Gray was with the Packers for three seasons, since 2020, and working in the NFL since 1997. Over the past two and a half decades, as both a defensive coordinator and defensive backs/secondary coach, Gray led defenses to top-10 league rankings in scoring defense 10 times, in overall defense 11 times and in passing defense 12 times. 

Under his tutelage, Gray has had multiple defensive backs named to the Pro Bowl. The latest came this season, with Jaire Alexander earning the honor. Last season, in his first starting role, cornerback Rasul Douglas was named an alternate to the Pro Bowl after only half a season with the Packers and Gray. 

Under Gray, the Packers' secondary has always finished in the top 10 in the league in fewest passing yards allowed (seventh, 10th and sixth respectively). 

A common refrain in the Packers' locker room was that Gray, “OG” as he’s known to those in his unit, was the steady force at all times and a fire when necessary. When the Packers were trailing the Miami Dolphins in Week 16, Gray sparked the comeback at halftime, with a speech that led to a three-turnover second half and a win. 

“First half, we gave up a couple explosive plays,” Douglas said at the time. “That’s what we didn’t want to do. We came in with the mindset of if they don’t get as many explosive plays, we’ll be good. The second half, OG came in, cursed us out bad and just like, ‘We’ve got to play better,’… because OG talks, but it’s more like football stuff. He’s always like a calm, chill person. When he’s mad, stuff’s got to change.”

Head coach Matt LaFleur has publicly stood behind oft-embattled defensive coordinator Joe Barry. Pushed during the Packers' losing streak on whether or not Gray, a former coordinator, could call plays, LaFleur rejected the idea. Gray did call plays once for the Packers, during the 2021 season, when Barry was quarantined with COVID-19.

Asked after the conclusion of the 2022 season if Barry would still be his defensive coordinator, LaFleur told media he anticipated few, if any, changes. 

“I don’t anticipate a whole lot, if any, staff changes at all,” LaFleur said at the time. “I do think there’s something to the guys we have in this building. Certainly, I think there’s a lot of things that all of us can improve upon, most notably ourselves. But I do believe in the people not only in the locker room but our coaching staff. Are there a lot of things we have to improve upon? Absolutely. No doubt about it. But it’s my intention to have everybody back, and continuity is a big part of having success in this league.”

Turnover has begun, though. Gray is the first domino to fall; whether or not he is the lone departure remains to be seen, but already, the Packers will have vital decisions to make in the coming months. 

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