Jerry Gray is joining the Atlanta Falcons. Long rumored to be a defensive coordinator candidate after Dean Pees retired, Gray didn’t land that role but is going to bring his experience and quality work with defensive backs to Atlanta in a different role.
The team announced Tuesday that Gray will be joining as an assistant head coach/defense, which is a fancy way of saying he’ll have a significant role on the defense. With a first-time defensive coordinator in Atlanta—Ryan Nielsen was the co-defensive coordinator for New Orleans for one season—Gray’s two solid stints as a defensive coordinator in Buffalo and Tennessee and his decades of experience should prove valuable.
That will especially be true if Nielsen selects and Arthur Smith signs off on (potentially) less experienced position coaches that he’s familiar with, leaving Gray and linebackers coach Frank Bush as the two veterans on the staff. The Falcons last week elected to part ways with defensive line coach Gary Emanuel, outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino, and secondary coach Jon Hoke, so there are plenty of openings to fill here.
After spending time with the Packers as a defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator, I had thought it was logical to assume Gray would take a similar position in Atlanta. Instead, he’ll take on an assistant head coach role that will likely have him overseeing and helping with the entire defense’s preparation, and his ties with Arthur Smith from their shared days in Tennessee and Washington likely made the Falcons’ head coach comfortable leaning on Gray in a senior role. We’ll likely learn more about what the role entails for Gray down the line, but for now it’s safe to say he’ll be a prominent part of the coaching staff.
Because Gray has been at worst solid at every stop in his NFL career and because he’s an experienced coach for what might be a young coaching staff, this seems like a strong hire for a team that has to start making real progress on defense. Give Gray a warm welcome and let’s see how he, Nielsen, and the to-be-determined additions to the staff can get the job done.