Gray matter

Posted Jul 4, 2010

Jerry Gray, the Seahawks’ new defensive backs coach, was an All-American and Pro Bowl player as a safety. But it’s his background as a quarterback that launched everything.

For a high school quarterback from Lubbock, Jerry Gray has made the transitions to highly decorated safety and then highly respected coach look pretty easy.

Carroll's Crew will feature the new coaches on Pete Carroll’s staff during the coming weeks:

Jerry Gray, defensive backs

Jeremy Bates, offensive coordinator
Kippy Brown, wide receivers
Ken Norton Jr., linebackers

To come
Sherman Smith, running backs
Jedd Fisch, quarterbacks
Pat McPherson, tight ends
Brian Schneider, special teams
Chris Carlisle, strength and conditioning
Jeff Ulbrich, asst. special teams
Kris Richard, asst. defensive backs
Art Valero, asst. offensive line
Jamie Yanchar, asst. S&C
Rocky Seto, defensive quality control
Luke Butkus, offensive quality control
Mondray Gee, asst. S&C
Dave Canales, offensive quality control
Alex Gibbs, offensive line

Just check this resume for the Seahawks’ first-year defensive backs coach:

University of Texas
Gray not only was a two-time All-American and Southwest Conference defensive player of the year for the Longhorns, he set the school record with 28 career interceptions and was named to the school’s all-time team as well as Texas’ All-Decade team for the 1980s.

Gray took only two recruiting trips – to Colorado and Texas. Austin already had a recruiting boot in the door, because Gray had competed there for three years at the state track and field championships while attending Estacado High School.

“I thought that was the most beautiful place in the world,” he said. “And it was, because I’d never been anywhere. And, the program was excellent for defensive backs.”

Gray then runs through a list of other Texas alums that includes Johnnie Johnson, Ricky Churchman and Derrick Hatchett.

“Those guys were All-Americans before I even got there,” he said.

Once there, he played with Bobby Johnson, Johnny’s younger brother; Mike Hatchett, Derrick’s younger brother; and William Graham. After they left, it was Mossy Cade and Greg Curry. Since Gray left, it has been Quentin Jammer, Stanley Richard, Aaron Ross and Earl Thomas – the Seahawks’ first-round draft choice who broke Gray’s record for career interceptions.

“Every university has its own flavor,” Gray said. “At Texas, it was defensive backs. (Then-coach) Fred Akers told me about defensive backs and what they were really about. I wanted to be a part of that.”

Los Angeles Rams
A first-round draft choice in 1985, Gray went on to be named to the Pro Bowl four times in seven seasons with the Rams (he also played a season each with the Oilers and Buccaneers). He was the MVP of the NFL’s all-star game in 1989, when he returned an interception 51 yards for a touchdown and also made seven tackles.

The game, of course, has changed since Gray played – or at least the business of the NFL has.

“It’s really a job for you now, rather than playing football for six or seven months like when I was playing,” he said. “So you have to be a lot better and bigger studier. Today, with free agency, being a really good player, a smart player, young guy, you can make a whole lot of money.

“But to me, the standard of football was the Pro Bowl. Not let your contract run out. That’s one of the big things I try to get the young guys to understand – if you’re young and gifted and you go to the Pro Bowl a couple times, you can make as much money as you want to.”  

Tennessee Titans
After two seasons as the defensive backs coach at SMU, Gray joined Jeff Fisher’s staff in 1997 as a quality control coach for two years. In 1999, he was elevated to defensive backs coach and the next season the Titans led the NFL in pass defense.

Also on that staff were Sherman Smith, the Seahawks’ first running back who now coaches the position; Mike Munchak, a Hall of Fame guard for the Houston Oilers; and Fisher, who played for the Chicago Bears.

“We had four or five guys on that staff that had played in the NFL, and that staff went to the Super Bowl (1999),” Gray said. “Look at us now, we’ve got the same mix (with the Seahawks). So if we can do what we’re supposed to do, as far as teaching and getting the guys to buy in, we can go a long way.”

Buffalo Bills
The opportunity to be a defensive coordinator lured Gray to Buffalo in 2001, and in 2003 and 2004 the Bills ranked No. 2 in total defense in the league.

“Again, that background as a quarterback was the thing that helped me get to the next level as far as understanding the game of football,” he said. “Not just going to play, but understanding the game. Of course that has carried over to my coaching.”

Washington Redskins
In four seasons, Gray worked for head coaches Joe Gibbs, a Hall of Famer who was making a comeback; and Jim Zorn, the Seahawks original quarterback who elevated to the top job in 2008 after initially being hired as the Redskins’ offensive coordinator.

“Coaching is a passion,” Gray said. “And it has done a lot for me and my family. How many places can you say, ‘I’ve seen the world, and they’ll pay for it?’ ”

And now, he’s in Seattle, where he joins the eclectic staff that has been compiled by head coach Pete Carroll.

“To me, I thought the game was easy because we worked so hard in practice,” Gray the coach said of Gray the player. “Really, the accolades are what you get as a reward when you’re finished playing. Because, really, as you’re going through it you don’t even look at it.

“If you stop to look at it, you naturally slow down.”

A good life lesson for Gray and his wife, Sherry, who have one son – Jeremy – who is 19 and a redshirt sophomore at SMU; and another – Jayden – who is 4.

“You know what? You don’t get any older,” Gray said with a laugh of the 15-year gap between his son’s ages. “Not with Jayden. He’s going to make sure of that.”  

But there would not have been Jerry Gray the All-American and Pro Bowl safety, or Jerry Gray the attention-to-every-detail coach without Jerry Gray the quarterback from Estacado High in northwestern Texas.

“Playing quarterback, especially in Texas, you had to understand everything that was going on and you had to know what everyone else was doing,” he said. “Then I got to Texas, the free safety position was just the same. It was the opposite side of the ball, but I wanted to know what the defensive line was doing. I wanted to know what gaps could be open.

“That gave me a better chance of making more plays, and it gave me a better chance to understand the whole scheme.”

Gray paused for a moment, the slightest of smiles curling at the edges of his month.

“It teaches you how to cheat,” he said. “What I mean by that is you don’t have to do everything because with every defense there are certain things that are eliminated. If you don’t know those things, you’re going to go out and try to do everything. But if you know what has been eliminated, then you can do other things.

“That’s what I was able to capitalize on.” 

Gray, 47, also has been able sidestep a pratfall that claimed other ex-players, especially those who played at his elevated level: The inability to accept that his players can’t do things as well, or easily, as he did.

Credit current Texas coach Mack Brown for that lesson learned.

“Coach Brown helped me understand that,” Gray explained. “He said, ‘You can’t coach guys like you played.’ So what you do is you take a guy at what he’s worth and then you try to make him better – and not try to make him like you.

“Understanding that helped me a lot, because everyone is different. So you’ve got to really figure out what those guys are good at, put them in position and then let them go.” 

This whole coaching things wasn’t really in Gray’s plans. It was just kind of there, for his taking or rejection.

“Really, it just kind of happened,” he said. “I’d been looking around after I retired and said, ‘OK, what do I want to do?’ What was kind of natural is that whether I was the older guy or the younger guy, I was always telling other guys what to do.”

Gray laughed before adding, “I guess that’s just the quarterback that was in me.”