- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 4, 2006

Jerry Gray knows what many are thinking — that going from a defensive coordinator to his new job as the Washington Redskins’ cornerbacks coach represents a step back. He doesn’t disagree.

But sometimes in the NFL, taking a step back can produce a better end result.

That’s why Gray, who spent the last five seasons as Buffalo’s respected defensive coordinator, has joined the Redskins. He will work with a experienced-laden staff headed by former boss Gregg Williams, the Redskins’ assistant head coach-defense, get back to basics by working with a small group of players and try to help the Redskins make consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since 1990-92. All the while, he will continue preparing to be a head coach.

“Sometimes, I think you have to take a couple steps backward before you go forward,” Gray said.

Gray is just another addition on a seasoned defensive staff. Gray, Greg Blache and Dale Lindsey all have coordinator experience.

“We don’t look at it as a step back — none of us have — because they all have input,” Williams said. “Usually good coordinators were great position coaches.”

The job became available for Gray when DeWayne Walker was hired as UCLA’s defensive coordinator. Gray hit the market after Mike Mularkey — who in 2004 succeeded Williams as Buffalo’s coach — resigned following a 5-11 season.

Gray this offseason interviewed for both the Houston Texans’ head coaching job and the Green Bay Packers’ defensive coordinator position, but chose to rejoin Williams.

“With the options that were out there, it was a no brainer,” Gray said. “I’m not a big ego guy. I look at the things that happened last year and sometimes you have to do this. I’ve talked to a lot of knowledgeable guys that have been coordinators and then they became position coaches for two, three years and they became better at what they do.”

Gray played for Williams with the Houston Oilers and worked for him in Tennessee and Buffalo. Joining the Redskins also reunites him with safeties coach Steve Jackson, a former teammate with the Oilers and fellow assistant coach with the Titans and Bills.

“To me, this was the right fit because it gives me a chance to get back with [Williams], it gives me a chance to see how Joe Gibbs won three Super Bowls and it gives me a chance to get some of the bad feelings from last year out of the way,” Gray said.

While working for Williams in Buffalo from 2001 to 2003, Gray helped rebuild the Bills’ defense, rising from 21st to 15th to second. That success didn’t translate into wins, though. The Bills won only 17 games during those three seasons and Williams was fired.

Hired by Gibbs, Williams wanted to bring Gray with him, but the move was blocked by Buffalo.

The Bills defense again ranked second in 2004 and Buffalo went 9-7. But the bottom fell out last year and the defense ranked 29th.

“My first couple years there, we were cap strung but we competed,” Gray said. “We were in the middle of the road defensively and then we were really good for a couple years. Last year, things broke apart when we lost Takeo [Spikes to injury] and Pat [Williams to free agency] and other core players. It taught me that I have to make sure in the future to stand on the table for your core players. The scheme you teach is just a starting point. You need players to make it happen.”

Gray said he was undecided about returning to Buffalo if Mularkey had stayed.

“The team was trying to figure out what direction they wanted to go,” he said.

Coaching wasn’t the direction Gray thought he was going during his playing career, but he was unofficially an on-the-field coach.

Gray was a two-time All-American defensive back at the University of Texas and a four-time Pro Bowl pick during a nine-year career with the Los Angeles Rams, Houston and Tampa Bay. He had 28 interceptions in 134 games.

At several of his stops, Gray was the veteran of the secondary.

“At Texas, I was a young guy playing with older guys but they all left before my junior year,” he said. “I was playing with all sophomores and freshmen and I got a lot of responsibility from the coaches to show those players how to do things a certain way.”

“In my fifth year in the NFL, I was the old guy in the secondary. The cycle started all over again. In Houston, my eighth year in the league, it happened again — I was the old guy with four young guys.”

Gray first met Williams when the latter was an assistant with the Oilers.

“When he played for me, he was such a detailed person,” Williams said. “He did such a great job that I said at the time that if he was ever stupid enough to coach, I want to be in a position to hire him.”

Gray started thinking about coaching during his final year as a player with Tampa Bay in 1993.

“A couple of the defensive coaches said I did things like a coach,” he said. “I didn’t know what they were really talking about until I was done playing and started studying the game.”

Gray started his coaching career at Southern Methodist University. He coached the defensive backs for two years, then the staff was fired. Days later, Tennessee general manager Floyd Reese called Gray and offered him a quality control job, working under Williams and Titans coach Jeff Fisher.

“Most guys who had been to four Pro Bowls and done some good things in the league probably wouldn’t take a quality control job,” Gray said. “But I looked at it as a learning opportunity.”

Gray spent four seasons with the Titans before following Williams to Buffalo, and now Washington. Gray said the transition to being a position coach will allow him to become a better teacher and he hopes to use this year’s experiences to become a coordinator or a head coach.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s going to be a head coach,” Williams said. “It’s not if, but when. He just needs time.”


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