GREEN BAY – Matt LaFleur and Mike Pettine both call him a great teacher.
That ability of new Packers defensive backs coach Jerry Gray's could be rooted in never turning down a chance to learn as a player, dating back to his rookie year with the Los Angeles Rams in 1985.
A first-round pick out of Texas, Gray played his first six years in the NFL for Rams defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur, who later would hold the same position on the Packers' Super Bowl XXXI championship team.
Shurmur tasked Gray with bringing donuts to the weekly 7 a.m. Wednesday meeting of defensive signal-callers, even though he wasn't one of them. Gray made sure never to be late, and to make the most of the duty by listening in.
"I learned to call signals just by bringing donuts," Gray joked in a Zoom call with Green Bay media Thursday.
That was the start of a nine-year playing career that included four straight Pro Bowls (1986-89), followed by a coaching career that is now on its sixth NFL team. Gray also has coached at Tennessee (twice), Buffalo, Washington, Seattle and most recently Minnesota, for the past six years.
Entering his 24th season in the NFL coaching ranks, Gray has been a coordinator at two of those stops, Buffalo (2001-05) and Tennessee (2011-13), a perspective both LaFleur and Pettine appreciate.
"He sees it through a coordinator's eye and understands how all 11 work together," LaFleur said.
But getting to focus on what he does best – teach – is what sold Gray on the opportunity when he chatted with Pettine at the Pro Bowl last January.
"It gives me a chance to coach technique football," he said. "I don't have to worry about calling a game, or anything like that. I just go out and I basically just coach the technique of the players."
Pettine discerned just as quickly Gray was the right fit, after getting a lot of positive feedback from mutual acquaintances when the Packers began looking for a replacement for secondary coach Jason Simmons, who moved on to the Carolina Panthers.
The two experienced defensive minds met for a couple of hours in Florida, but the conversation didn't need to last that long.
"Guys that had worked with him just raved about him, about his work ethic, his demeanor with the players," Pettine said. "He has such a positive reputation as a teacher, it's great to have his experience in the room."
Now Gray simply wants to impart that experience on a young group of Packers defensive backs that has only two players – safeties Adrian Amos and Will Redmond – with more than three pro seasons under their belts.
He's especially excited about a stable of recent high draft picks – first-rounders Darnell Savage and Jaire Alexander, along with second-rounders Kevin King and Josh Jackson, looking to make their mark in the league. He sees the cornerbacks in particular possessing different playing styles, and he wants to zero in on what each does best.
Upon getting the job over the winter and then throughout the virtual offseason, Gray studied the film on all his players and reviewed it with them. He kept his assessments honest and straightforward.
He doesn't tout his resume to them, but having mentored Pro Bowlers as far back as Blaine Bishop and Samari Rolle to as recently as Xavier Rhodes, with Nate Clements, DeAngelo Hall, Antoine Winfield and others in between, he's got plenty to offer.
"My job is to make sure the guys are getting better and seeing the success on the football field that they want to see, and they'll keep listening," he said, describing how Bishop told him early in his coaching career what players wanted. "If you don't see success, they won't come back. My job is to keep them coming back."
As the Packers' secondary enters 2020 with a starting quartet of Alexander, King, Amos and Savage, other roles are to be determined.
Chandon Sullivan may have the inside track on the nickel job, but Jackson is looking to emerge after injuries set him back in 2019, and Ka'dar Hollman is moving past his redshirt rookie year.
Raven Greene settled nicely into the third safety/hybrid linebacker role last year before an injury abruptly ended his season after two games. Redmond brings experience as a backup safety and Vernon Scott joins the mix as a rookie seventh-round pick.
Other new players at both spots could surprise as well.
Gray will teach as much as they can learn. It's what he came to Green Bay to do.
"Those guys are still young, so it gives me a chance to come over and put a little stamp on what they can do," he said.
"I tell all the young guys, I got the knowledge to get you where you have to go. Now, it's up to you to want to work to get there."