As a coach, Jerry Gray keeps an open mind. When it comes to his players, he wants their minds t be clear.
“I don’t care how smart you are as a football player, you can’t think on the football field,” Gray said Tuesday afternoon when he officially was introduced as the Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator. “When they say smart guys, you know what that means? He’s only thinking about one or two things. Now he’s playing really well. That’s a smart football player.
“ … If you’re trying to think about 10 different things at one time, you’re going to screw up eight of them.”
Raised in the coaching profession primarily under former Titans coach Jeff Fisher and former Titans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, Gray cannot – and will not – say exactly what type of scheme he will employ as he takes over a unit that finished 26th in the NFL in total defense but in the top half of the league in points allowed last season.
He noted that as secondary coach with the Titans in 1999 and 2000, the team relied heavily on a man-to-man scheme that fit the abilities and approach of starting cornerbacks Samari Rolle and Denrd Walker. As defensive coordinator with the Buffalo Bills under Williams from 2001-05 he employed primarily a zone scheme, which emphasized the strengths of starting cornerbacks Antoine Winfield and Nate Clements.
Once he understands his current group of players well, then he will decide how to use them.
“When you’re in a room and you’re evaluating talent, there’s a strength and a weakness in every player, nobody has it all,” he said. “One thing I’ve learned is that you have to coach to your players’ strengths. You have to coach to what those guys can do and can’t do. ... That’s how I coach.”
Regardless of whether he uses a four-man or three-man front, man-to-man or zone coverage, blitzes or not, what he won’t do is overload any of them with information.
“To me, I think if a player’s out there thinking, you’re not going to play fast – you can’t,” he said. “There’s too many negative thoughts that can come through a guy’s mind.
“To me, what I try to do is … [tell them], ‘Don’t think about 10 different things.’ There’s maybe two or three different thoughts that you have to go through. Eliminate the other eight and go play those two.”
Head coach Mike Munchak said that one of the things that appealed to him in making the hire was the way players responded to Gray when he was a member of the Titans’ staff. He also talked about Gray’s passion for the job and his ability as a teacher.
Then there were the times the squared off when Gray was defensive coordinator at Buffalo and Munchak was offensive line coach of the Titans,
“We played them probably three or four times during that time period,” Munchak said. “As a coach, as a line coach getting ready to play their defense, I watched a lot of their film. It was very impressive. I wasn’t surprised, by … how disciplined they played, how smart they played, how he did such a good job attacking.”
Gray spent last season as secondary coach with the Seattle Seahawks, a team that made it to the second-round of the playoffs under first-year coach Pete Carroll.
He believes that the differences between teams like the Seahawks and Titans, who finished 6-10, are not that vast.
“The big thing is we have to make those close plays they missed last year,” Gray said. “I watched five or six games, and they missed a lot of close plays. … If you make those plays you go 13-3 like we did here in 1999 and 2000. If you miss those, you don’t. That’s the biggest difference, I think, between winning and losing in the NFL – that fine little line.”
It’s his job to do things differently, if that’s what the talent demands.
“I don’t mind being adjustable,” he said. “If our guys can play man-to-man, I’m going to find it out. If our guys can only play zone, then I’m going to find it out. It is my job to find out what our guys can do well and then put them in that position.
“ … If you put a guy in a position to win, he’ll love you. If you put a guy in a position to lose, you’re going to lose a whole lot faster.”