Tennessee Titans: Breaking Down the Team's Defensive Coaching Staff

Zach Law@zach_lawContributor IFebruary 17, 2012

Jerry Gray enters his second year as Tennessee Titans' defensive coordinator.
Jerry Gray enters his second year as Tennessee Titans' defensive coordinator.Handout/Getty Images

During the offseason, we tend to focus on the players.

Well, what about the coaches? Don't you think we should give some love to the men teaching the players how to play?

The Jeff Fisher era ended last year and the coaching staff have gone through nearly a 100 percent turnover in the past two years.

In this article I will focus on the defensive coaches. Let's see who these guys are and what a full offseason with this staff will do for the many young, developing players on the Tennessee Titans.

Defensive coordinator: Jerry Gray

Jerry Gray started his NFL coaching career with the Titans and he re-joined the franchise last year.

When he started coaching, the team was known as the Tennessee Oilers. He moved up from defensive quality control coach in 1997-98 to become the team's defensive backs' coach in 1999 and 2000.

That's when the Titans were primarily a run and defensive squad.

He went with Gregg Williams to Buffalo to be their defensive coordinator for the next five years. Yeah, I'm surprised that Williams lasted that long in Buffalo. The defense was generally good while the offense, well, they had a defensive head coach.

When Gregg Williams moved on to coach the Washington Redskins defense, Gray joined as secondary coach and stayed there for four years. He had one year as defensive backs coach with the Seahawks in 2010.

Gray signed with his alma mater the University of Texas to be the defensive backs coach and assistant head coach after the 2010 season.

When Mike Munchak got the head coaching job, he insisted on bringing Gray aboard. I can't say he made a dramatic difference, but I can say that he's not Chuck Cecil. Gray got two head coaching interviews with the Colts and the Bucs.

Maybe they were just Rooney Rule interviews, but I think he's one of those up-and-comers who's going to run his own team eventually. The Titans struggled on defense at times, but the squad was filled with promising rookies.

In the past 26 NFL seasons, Gray's been involved in 23.

He played nine years as a defensive back with the Rams, Oilers (yes, there are a lot of Titan coaches who played in the organization) and Bucs.

Jerry Gray interviewed on titansonline.com before the January 1 Houston Texans game: the video is here for those interested.

Linebackers: Frank Bush

The trend is your friend.

Frank Bush played as a Houston Oiler and coached for the Oilers from 1992 through 1994. He jumped around a lot, including a stint as Houston Texans' Defensive Coordinator from 2009 to 2010.

We can agree that this was not a fruitful time for Mr. Bush.

One thing you learn from studying coaches is that titles may vary. In 2007-2008, Bush was senior defensive assistant for the Texans (That's a vague title).

You have to like a guy with 19 years of NFL coaching experience, and all but three were on the defense. I'd say the defensive line and the linebackers were the most challenging groups to lead last year.

He started 2010 with veterans Will Witherspoon and Barrett Ruud in the starting lineup along with rookie Akeem Ayers. Ruud couldn't stay in the lineup and rookie Colin McCarthy took over and became a playmaker.

The group needs a leader after Keith Bulluck left two years ago.

Bush played two seasons in the league and started his post-playing career as a scout with the Oilers, so this is a guy who got into coaching from the floor.

Dave McGinnis, who was the team's prior linebackers coach, was named senior defensive assistant last year and took the assistant head coach job with Jeff Fisher (name ring a bell?) in St. Louis.

Bush has a Super Bowl ring from his time with the Denver Broncos. He's one of two coaches with a Super Bowl ring.

Defensive line: Tracy Rocker

Rocker had big shoes to fill as a coach after Jim Washburn left the team for the Philadelphia Eagles.

The team decided to hire a man with no NFL coaching experience.

Rocker did participate in the NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship Program twice, but that was his sole brush with NFL coaching until last season. Rocker was a Lombardi and Outland Trophy winner at Auburn and had a brief NFL career.

He spent 17 years coaching in college football, mainly as a defensive line coach.

His final job was with the 2010 Auburn Tigers and he left with a bang, winning a national title along with coaching the SEC defensive player of the year and first-round pick Nick Fairley.

There was a lot of flux at the defensive line in 2011. Derrick Morgan returned from an ACL injury and never quite hit his stride. Jason Jones switched between end and tackle and wasn't the impact player the team needed.

Karl Klug and Jurrell Casey played well as you could expect from two rookies. Dave Ball was second on the team in sacks. Not good.

Much was expected from Auburn alum Sen'Derrick Marks along with veterans—William Hayes and Shaun Smith.

Much was not produced.

An NFL player can make the biggest strides between his first and second years. The same could be said of defensive assistants.

Rocker and this maligned unit have a long way to go, and they get a long offseason.

Defensive assistant/pass rush specialist: Keith Millard

After the Titans finished with 28 sacks last season (31st in the league), they needed an upgrade.

A high-priced free agent and some early draft picks might help, but coaching needs to be in place. Keith Millard had 18 sacks for the Vikings in 1989, as a defensive tackle, no less, so he should be able to show this squad a thing or two.

He held the same position with the Tampa Bay Bucs last year and was a defensive line coach for the Raiders before that.

It's a passing league, so a lot of attention goes toward rushing the passer.

The Titans face Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler, Ben Roethlisberger and maybe even Peyton Manning next year. Hitting those guys a few times would be a good start.

Keith Millard interviewed by Mike Keith, video courtesy of titansonline.com: you can view it here.

Secondary: Brett Maxie

Marcus Robertson was one of the few holdover coaches from the Jeff Fisher era.

He was the secondary coach from 2009 to 2011. the team let him go and he joined Jim Schwartz in Detroit.

You want to track ex-Titan coaches? Look in Detroit and St. Louis.

Enter Brett Maxie—he was secondary coach for the Dallas Cowboys for the past four years. In Dallas he worked with Wade Phillips (good) and Rob Ryan (jury's out).

He's been a defensive backs coach for 13 years after a 13-year career as a safety. What stands out about his playing career is that he made the Saints as an undrafted rookie and had a long career.

Going into 2011, you'd have to say that the Titans' defensive strength was the secondary.

Cortland Finnegan, Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner were a great trio of cornerbacks. Chris Hope was limited with injuries and Michael Griffin played less well than you'd hope for a guy playing in a contract year.

It could have been Griffin's lack of development that pushed Robertson out. If Finnegan, Hope and Griffin leave, the team is going to need a veteran coach to hold things together.

Maxie could be that man.

Assistant Secondary: Steve Brown

Is he assistant secondary or assistant to the secondary?

When it comes to the lower-level coaches, less information is readily available as to who these people are and what exactly they do with the team.

Steve Brown is another coach who played with the Titans.

He was a third-round draft pick in 1983 of the Houston Oilers and played there until 1990. Brown also was secondary coach of the St. Louis Rams when they beat the Titans in Super Bowl (ouchouchouch) XXXIV. 

He comes to the Titans after nine years on the University of Kentucky coaching staff.

Brown earns points for having played with fellow Titan coaches Mike Munchak, Bruce Matthews, Frank Bush and Senior Executive VP/COO Mike Reinfeldt.

Jonathan Gannon: defensive assistant/quality control

Gannon's back in the coaching ranks.

Unlike a lot of former Titan coaches, Gannon's coming from the Rams to the Titans.

His history is three years as a student assistant at Louisville after a hip injury ended his playing career there in 2002.

Gannon held the same DA/quality control position with the Atlanta Falcons in 2007, during the tumultuous Bobby Petrino season. Gannon moved on to the Rams and spent two years as a college scout and one year as a pro scout.

In my next edition, I'll give a little insight into the offensive and special teams assistants.


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