Jerry Gray

Photo Credit: Daily Texan file photo

As one of first great cornerbacks to come out of Texas, Jerry Gray helped initially forge the  DBU, “Defensive Back University,” moniker.

Along with being a two-time consensus first-team All-American, he was a two-time Southwest Conference Defensive Player of the Year. He was a first round draft choice in 1985 and a part of the 2013 College Football Hall of Fame class.

But he didn’t just put up quiet numbers; he also made memorable plays. His best was catching Auburn’s eventual Heisman Bo Jackson from behind, with a clean hit that separated Jackson’s shoulder.

Also against Auburn, Gray had a one-handed interception, as he floated in the air backwards to haul it down, making every highlight reel in the process.

He is third in Texas history with 16 interceptions, just one behind Nathan Vasher and Noble Doss. His seven interceptions in 1984 are tied for second.

“There are some things in those four years at Texas that you could never replace,” said Gray last year in his Hall of Fame acceptance speech. “When I see guys who I played with then, it’s like you never really left. That is what football really brings to me.”

And in the NFL, his career continued. He played his first seven years with the Los Angeles Rams, playing in all but eight games. From 1986 to 1989, he was elected to the Pro Bowl as his career began to blossom. In his final Pro Bowl, he even took home MVP honors.

But that NFL career ended in 1993 after one year each in Houston and Tampa, and the next stage of his life began — coaching.

“I had never really thought about it until the Bucs coach at the time, Sam Wyche, offered me a player/coach contract,” Gray said in 2005. “I really didn’t know what it would entail, so I declined and decided to take the year off after retiring from football.”

But he quickly jumped back into it, coaching SMU’s defensive backs in 1995.

“During college, he was my quarterback of the defense,” said David McWilliams, who was an assistant while Gray was at Texas, in 2005. “He knew what everybody had to do. He knew what the line was supposed to do. He knew all the coverages.” 

Then the NFL called back, as he took a job with the Oilers as a defensive assistant/quality control coach. He worked his way up to defensive backs coach in the Titans’ first season after just two years, and in 2001, he was offered the defensive coordinator position in Buffalo.

“He would study [tapes] of the opposing team’s offense like a coach would,” McWilliams said. “If we were at practice, I could ask [Gray] what the other team would do in certain situations, and he would know, so it doesn’t surprise me that he’s moved up through the ranks.” 

Gray came back to Texas in 2011, but just a month later, head coach Mike Munchak and the Titans called to offer him the defensive coordinator position, which he took.

After two years there, they turned over their staff. Currently, he is with the Minnesota Vikings as their defensive backs coach, but he strives for more. 

“I’m interested in a head job, and it doesn’t have to be at the professional level,” Gray said back in 2005. “I don’t want people to hire me because I’m a minority; I want to be the guy for the job.”

Everyone remembers the player that breaks the color barrier.

But what of the coach? The most famous African-American to defy a color barrier in the world of sports is the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson. For the Texas football program, it’s Julius Whittier, a lineman who became the first black Longhorns football player in 1970.

Neither the Dodgers nor the Longhorn football team have ever had a black head coach. All 14 of the Dodgers’ managers since Robinson made his major-league debut in 1947 were white, along with each of the four head football coaches to lead the Texas football team since the legendary Darrell Royal stepped down in 1976, seven years after the Longhorns earned the dubious distinction of becoming the last all-white football team to win a national championship.

It should be noted that former Lakers icon Magic Johnson recently became a co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and that less than 10 percent of all current MLB players are African-American, an all-time low.

UT women’s track and field coach Beverly Kearney is currently the only African-American head coach on the 40 Acres, a disappointing fact considering that nearly three-quarters of the Longhorns football squad’s two-deep roster is African-American and more than 90 percent of next year’s men’s basketball roster will be African-American players.

With no change in head coach of the football, men’s basketball and baseball programs in more than a decade, that could indicate a simple lack of opportunity. But women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky has hired three head coaches in the last five months — Carol Capitani (women’s swimming and diving), Karen Aston (women’s basketball) and Angela Kelly (women’s soccer) ­— all of them white.

Is that an indictment on the hiring practices of the Texas athletic program?

“I think it’s an indictment,” said Brian Jones, a former all-Southwest Conference linebacker for the Longhorns and current CBS Sports analyst. “Nothing’s going to change until we get more people of color in [administrative] positions. I’m not going to say that they should simply hire black people when they get in that position, but hire them on their merits.”

Mack Brown has spent the last 14 years guiding the Longhorns head football squad. Former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was once the head coach in-waiting, but since he bolted for a head coaching gig at Florida, Brown’s successor is uncertain once again. Texas has plenty of qualified minority assistants, including Muschamp’s replacement at defensive coordinator, 38-year-old Manny Diaz. Wide receivers coach Darrell Wyatt and defensive tackles coach/ace recruiter Bo Davis, both African-Americans, are also among the top of Brown’s coaching staff.

While Wyatt and Davis probably can’t produce a resume that would command serious consideration from men’s athletic director DeLoss Dodds to lead the massive cash cow that is the Texas football program, there’s at least one other qualified minority candidate — Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray. Gray, a two-time first-team All-American and four-time Pro Bowler, was briefly brought in to coach the Longhorns defensive backs before Duane Akina took his job back and Gray left for Nashville. He should be given a hard look, including an interview, when Brown steps down.

“My gut is there’d be more of a chance of it happening in [men’s] basketall,” said Michael Cramer, director of the Texas Program in Sports and Media, who also teaches a course called Sports, Media, and the Integration of Society. “It would probably have to be somebody that was perceived to be the equivalent of a Tony Dungy ... They’re going to be looking for a high-profile candidate. It’s Texas. It’s a money machine.”

At Texas A&M, conference affiliation isn’t the only thing that’s changing as the Aggies recently hired Kevin Sumlin, an African-American coach who led Houston to a school-record 13-1 mark last year, as their first black head football coach. Other qualified candidates were considered, such as Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who was in charge of a unit that led the nation in scoring defense (8.2 ppg), total defense (183.6 ypg), rushing defense (72.2 rush ypg) and pass defense (111.5 pass ypg). The Crimson Tide held LSU to 92 total yards and five first downs in this year’s national title game, a 21-0 Alabama victory.

But the Aggies went with Sumlin, who is preparing to take his squad into a brutal SEC West that boasts each of the last three national champions. But Sumlin has recruited very well since being hired last December. Sumlin will be the only African-American head football coach in the SEC this year.

“This is historic,” said Jones, a friend of Sumlin’s. “What A&M has done can be looked upon as crossing a color barrier, because I never thought they would have a black head [football] coach. I never thought Texas would have a black head coach in football. For A&M to be the first in this area, I think it speaks volumes.”

Brown wasn’t fired after Texas went 5-7 two years ago the way Mike Sherman was when Texas A&M posted a 6-6 mark last season. But Brown, 60, won’t coach forever. When the time comes for his incredible tenure to end, let’s hope Dodds self-implements a Rooney Rule of his own so guys like Diaz and Gray get an opportunity to become the Longhorns’ next head football coach.

Printed on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 as: Coaching staff lacks diversity, could be due to few personnel changes

Jerry Gray was supposed to be a perfect fit for Texas as its new defensive backs coach. But the lure of a promotion and a pay raise was too tempting to keep him at his alma mater, and Gray accepted the defensive coordinator position for the Tennessee Titans on Saturday.

“I know the timing of this isn’t ideal, but this was something that I couldn’t turn down,” Gray said in a statement.

Saturday was junior day at Texas, and high school junior recruits were in Austin for official visits to the university. Gray replaced Duane Akina as defensive backs coach 26 days ago, after filling the same position for the Seattle Seahawks last season.

Gray took a pay cut to leave Seattle, and was going to make $425,000 with Texas. He will reportedly make over 1 million annually with
Tennessee. Gray returns to the Titans, where he spent four seasons as the defensive backs coach a decade ago. Current Titans head coach Mike Munchak was offensive line coach while Gray was in Tennessee, and began recruiting Gray for the job as soon as he was hired as Jeff Fisher’s replacement. “I am excited to have this opportunity,” Gray said in his statement. “I have known Mike for a number of years and if he is a head coach like he was a player or a position coach, we are going to be in great shape.”

Texas head coach Mack Brown now has yet another coaching void to fill on his staff, and will make his seventh hire this offseason. He said he was “obviously disappointed” with Gray’s departure in a statement released Saturday.

“But at the same time, we’re really excited about the wonderful opportunity he had to be the defensive coordinator of the Titans,” Brown said. “That’s the only place he would have left here for, and we want to wish him the best of luck.”

Where Brown looks to replace Gray is unclear, but there are a few names on the table. Former Nebraska secondary coach Marvin Sanders resigned earlier this month, citing personal and family reasons. If he is still willing to coach, he may be a good fit for the Longhorns, as the Cornhuskers have had one of the best secondaries in the country the past two seasons. 

Tuesday provided mixed news out of the Longhorn football program.

Earlier in the week, Austin American-Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls wrote that Texas defensive backs coach Jerry Gray was a leading candidate for the defensive coordinator position with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans. Then on Tuesday morning, reported that new Titans head coach Mike Munchak contacted Gray to offer him the job.

Gray and Munchak coached together in Tennessee for four seasons from 1997 to 2000.

There has been no official word from Gray, who came to Texas just three weeks ago.

But there was also some good news for Longhorns fans this week. A week after inking one of the top recruiting classes in the nation, the program received its first verbal commit of the 2012 class.

On Monday, Scottsdale, Ariz., quarterback Connor Brewer called head coach Mack Brown to commit. The pro-style quarterback is thought of as one of the best prospects in the nation and his announcement comes just prior to the University’s Junior Day this Saturday, when other recruits in his class will visit campus to meet with coaches and staff.
Brewer is the first recruit brought in by new co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin.

Then, on Tuesday, the NCAA finally cleared Tevin Jackson to enroll at Texas. The linebacker was regarded as one of the top players in Texas’ 2010 recruiting class but was unable to play this past fall because of a transcript issue with the NCAA Eligibility Center. Jackson will enroll in June.

Even if Gray decides to leave, the early commitment by Brewer goes a long way to show that Texas is still a popular commodity, while Jackson’s clearance is a boost to a defense that regressed in 2010.

Jerry Gray was aware that a higher power might be trying to tell him something.

The Seattle Seahawks opened the preseason against the Tennessee Titans this year where, as the Seahawks’ defensive backs coach, Gray saw former Longhorn safety Michael Griffin in action. Two weeks later, the Seahawks played the Minnesota Vikings and cornerback Cedric Griffin. A week later, they finished the preseason against the Oakland Raiders and safety Michael Huff.

“That was probably a sign,” Gray said.

Gray returned to Austin yesterday, as UT’s new defensive backs and assistant coach. Gray replaces Duane Akina, who left for Arizona after nine seasons at Texas.

“I’m very gracious and humbled to have a chance to come back here and coach,” Gray said.

Gray played cornerback at Texas from 1981-1984 and is a member of the Longhorn Hall of Honor. He coached in the NFL for nine seasons, but said the opportunity to coach at his alma mater with Mack Brown was too good to pass up.

“Having the chance to come back here and really, hopefully be a part of what Coach Mack has done here [lured me from the NFL],” Gray said. “He’s been here and had tremendous years. I just want to be able to be a tutor under him and understand what he’s done.”

Gray met Brown last spring at an alumni golf tournament, and the two kept in touch during the fall, as the Longhorns struggled to a 5-7 record.

“I texted him that I was with him because, you know, being an alumni and also having a chance to coach [Seattle Seahawks safety] Earl Thomas, and knowing how close he was to the program,” Gray said.

Gray will work with newly hired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz on a secondary that allowed only 161 yards passing per game last season, second best in the Big 12.

“I got a chance to talk with Manny, and his philosophy is pretty similar,” Gray said. “Hopefully I’ll get a chance to get under him and give him some ideas, and hopefully we win a lot of games.”

Though he has more coaching experience than Diaz and is 12 years his senior, Gray said it wouldn’t be a factor in their relationship.

“Manny wanted that job. He got it,” Gray said. “My job is to support him. That’s what I’m going to do. We’re going to make sure it works. With Coach Brown and his authority over us, we’re going to make sure it works.” 

Texas moved one step closer to filling up its coaching staff vacancies Monday, naming Jerry Gray assistant coach and defensive backs coach. Gray, a former Longhorn defensive back, played for nine seasons in the NFL and spent 14 years as an assistant coach in the league, including five seasons as a defensive coordinator.

“This is truly an exciting opportunity for me and my family,” Gray said Monday. “Not very many guys get the chance to come back and coach where they played, and to do that at a place that is as special as Texas. It’s just an unbelievable opportunity.”

Gray spent the past season as the defensive backs coach for the Seattle Seahawks.

Gray was the defensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills from 2001-2005, coaching the Bills to the second-ranked defense in 2002 and 2003. Gray then served as defensive backs coach for the Washington Redskins from 2006-2009 and was interviewed for the head coaching position in Washington before joining the Seattle staff.

The Lubbock native was a four-year letterman at Texas from 1981 to 1984, and is one of only seven Longhorns to be named a two-time consensus all-American, in 1983 and 1984. His 16 interceptions rank third all-time in school history, and he was inducted into the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1996. Gray was selected 21st overall in the 1985 NFL draft by the Los Angeles Rams and made the Pro Bowl four times before retiring in 1993.