The Falcons promised to interview several candidates for their defensive coordinator opening, and while we’re not sure what the scope of that search will ultimately prove to be, we do know that the team is looking into four very different candidates.
Those include former Saints head coach Jim Haslett, Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, and New Orleans defensive line coach and co-defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen. A name floated early in the search by D. Orlando Ledbetter was Packers passing game coordinator and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray, and it has been reported by NFL insider Benjamin Allbright that Gray will interview for the job next week.
The connection with Falcons HC Arthur Smith and Jerry Gray is deep.— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) January 14, 2023
Gray was DB coach in Washington when Smith was a defensive quality control coach.
Also the DC in Tennessee when Smith first started with the Titans. https://t.co/cAYtJnWNPT
As Mike Rothstein notes, Gray’s ties to Arthur Smith are deep. That alone would be cause to take him seriously—relationships influence hires, for better or for worse, everywhere in the NFL—but Gray is also an experienced coach who has been a defensive coordinator in the NFL twice before and a defensive backs at a half dozen other stops. In Green Bay, he’s worked with and presumably helped to improve some very good defensive backs, and was involved in coordinating a pass defense that was quite good for much of the 2022 season.
His stints as a defensive coordinator were up-and-down—his pass defenses in Buffalo were quality and his 2003 and 2004 defenses were stellar, while his 2001, 2002, and 2005 were not, while his 2011 Titans defense was good, his 2012 defense awful, and 2013 defense okay—but Gray’s long experience and familiarity with Smith mean he’s a name to keep in mind. We may not know who will land the job before February, as Atlanta’s search isn’t likely to wrap up soon if they do intend to make it a far-ranging one, given that there may be coaches in the playoffs they have interest in.
You can’t overstate the weight that many teams put on relationships, and Smith clearly knows and respects Gray, just the way he knew and respected Dean Pees and made a big push to get him out of retirement and to Atlanta. Gray doesn’t inspire the same excitement that say, Evero would, but he’s an undeniably solid choice, and you shouldn’t be surprised if he is the choice when all is said and done.
That said, stay tuned for more names to come out, as I doubt the Falcons will just interview four coaches and be done with it given how critical this hire is.