Why Joe Whitt Jr. Deserves to be a Defensive Coordinator Candidate
Despite at times shaky performances from his charges over the past two years, Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. is a candidate for the team’s open defensive coordinator post.
And he should be.
Since joining the Packers in 2008, Whitt has helped develop cornerbacks Sam Shields, Tramon Williams and Damarious Randall into capable defenders. Under his tutelage, future Hall of Fame corner Charles Woodson had the best season of his career.
Whitt has drawn comparisons to the Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin, and it’s easy to see why. He’s a strong communicator, a great teacher, and gets his players ready to win on Sundays.
Here’s what you need to know about Joe Whitt Jr.
Coaching is the family business for the Whitt’s
Whitt’s father Joe Whitt Sr. coached for 25 years at Auburn and served under four different head coaches.
The younger Whitt wanted to play for his dad, and he joined Auburn’s football team as a walk-on receiver. While he fought hard to play, injuries kept him from the field. All told, he underwent four shoulder surgeries and one reconstructive knee surgery before leaving the team during his junior year.
In his final play in practice, Whitt dove for a ball and his shoulder slipped out. Doctors told him if he were to tear his shoulder again, he’d never be able to hold his arm up.
By 29, Whitt was coaching corners in the NFL under Bobby Petrino
Whitt Jr. joined the coaching ranks and rose through them quickly. As a student assistant at Auburn, he coached receivers from 2000 to 2001. He switched to the defensive side of the ball in 2003, when he coached cornerbacks for Bobby Petrino’s Louisville Cardinals until 2006.
It was as a recruiter, however, that Whitt had grown his reputation. When Petrino left Louisville to coach the Atlanta Falcons in 2007, Whitt Jr. joined his staff as an assistant defensive backs coach.
“Everybody in college football knew me as a recruiter,” Whitt said in a 2011 interview. “I am a good recruiter. I’m a better ball coach. In the NFL, I could take that (recruiter) label off me.”
Petrino left the Falcons that season to coach the Arkansas Razorbacks. When Petrino asked if Whitt would join him back in the college ranks, Whitt declined and took a job in Green Bay as a defensive quality control coach.
Whitt’s rise through the ranks in Green Bay
The 2008 Packers struggled defensively under coordinator Bob Sanders, and head coach Mike McCarthy fired the entire defensive coaching staff after the conclusion of the season.
McCarthy told Capers when he was hired that Whitt, then the defensive quality control coach, had potential. Capers agreed, and he was promoted to cornerbacks coach in 2009 at 31 years old.
Whitt coached two corners in his first Packers season who were older than him – 33-year-old Charles Woodson and 35-year-old Al Harris.
"Joe is a lot older than his age in terms of his thinking, his mind-set," safeties coach Darren Perry said of Whitt. "He got started young. Players in this league want to know if you can help them get better and that you care. Show them those two things and you’ve got a good chance of reaching them, and I see that being the case with Joe."
Coaching one of the game’s all-time greats like Woodson when you’re younger than him was quite the task for Whitt.
"At the beginning — I’m just going to be honest with you — I don’t think Charles believed in me," said Whitt Jr. "But like I told Charles, ‘You’re one of the best in the league at this. I think I am, too.’ "
The two built trust, and Woodson flourished with Whitt by his side.
"I don’t teach Charles Woodson how to press. They know how, OK?” Whitt said in a 2009 interview. “I teach Wood how [he fits] into this defense."
Woodson was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. He’s the only corner to win the award in the past 20 years.
Whitt’s strength as a coach comes from teaching roots
Whitt’s methods for developing young players have roots in an actual classroom.
“I shadow a lot of high school teachers,” Whitt explained in an interview with Yale. “I like to shadow an AP teacher and a teacher who has special-needs kids, because the students have different learning styles.
Whitt shadows high school teachers in his hometown of Auburn, Alabama each offseason to study different learning styles. His passion comes from his own personal struggles with dyslexia.
Learning from observing teachers in the classroom is one way he can connect with his players, an idea he got from Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin at a coaching seminar in 2007.
“In the NFL,” Whitt said, “we’re in the classroom more than we’re on the field.”
Woodson remains a supporter of Whitt
Now that Whitt is considered to be a candidate for the team’s defensive coordinator position, Woodson chimed in on Twitter to voice his support for his former position coach.