Falcons hire Jerry Gray to be assistant head coach/defense

ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Falcons have made their second hire of a revamped defensive staff, hiring longtime secondary coach Jerry Gray to be their assistant head coach/defense.

Gray was last with the Green Bay Packers as the team's secondary coach in 2020 and added the title of passing-game coordinator the past two seasons. Green Bay had a top-10 passing defense in his three seasons with the Packers, and he was part of the growth of one of the game's top cornerbacks, Jaire Alexander.

In Atlanta, he'll be working with another of the NFL's top young defensive backs in cornerback A.J. Terrell.

Gray, who let his contract lapse with the Packers, will not necessarily be tied to the secondary as he wasn't given a specific positional coaching assignment, although he has spent his entire coaching career working with defensive backs or as a defensive coordinator.

"Just because it was set up a certain way last year doesn't mean it'll set up this year. That's the fun part," Falcons coach Arthur Smith said Monday about his staff in general. "It's about fit and guys you bring in. It doesn't have to be the same every year.

"Just because we slotted this guy who has coached this position, it may end up different."

Atlanta now has someone on its staff with extensive experience in each of the three levels of the defense -- new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen has primarily been a defensive line coach before serving as New Orleans' co-defensive coordinator last year, and Frank Bush, who remains on staff and is the defensive coordinator for the Falcons at this week's East-West Shrine Bowl all-star game, has primarily been a linebackers coach. Gray, Bush and Smith worked together for two years in Tennessee.

Gray, 60, was a defensive coordinator twice in his career -- from 2001 to '05 in Buffalo and then from 2011 to '13 with Tennessee. He also has had multiple ties to Smith as he was part of the defensive staff for Smith's first NFL job, with Washington in 2007 and '08, and then helped bring Smith to Tennessee as a defensive quality control coach when Gray became the Titans' defensive coordinator in 2011.

Gray was a first-round pick as a player -- drafted with the No. 21 selection out of Texas by the Los Angeles Rams in 1985. He made four Pro Bowls in his career, and he had 28 interceptions playing for the Rams, Houston Oilers and Tampa Bay from 1985 to '93.

Atlanta is in the midst of shaking up its defensive staff after last year's coordinator, Dean Pees, retired earlier this month. Atlanta is also replacing position coaches Jon Hoke (secondary), Ted Monachino (outside linebackers) and Gary Emanuel (defensive line), who were fired last week.