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Packers tab Maurice Drayton to be next special teams coordinator, a day after firing Shawn Mennenga
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Packers tab Maurice Drayton to be next special teams coordinator, a day after firing Shawn Mennenga

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Maurice Drayton spent two years as a special teams assistant with the Colts before joining the Packers in the same role in 2018.

GREEN BAY — Well, that didn’t take long.

Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur didn’t have to go far to find a replacement for fired special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga, choosing assistant Maurice Drayton on Thursday, one day after parting ways with Mennenga.

The team did not officially announce the move. The NFL Network first reported Drayton was the pick.

Former Packers coach Mike McCarthy first hired Drayton as an assistant special teams coach in 2018 under then-coordinator Ron Zook. LaFleur retained Drayton in 2019 despite hiring Mennenga to coordinate the special teams units. Drayton had interned for McCarthy in 2009 as part of the NFL’s Bill Walsh diversity coaching fellowship.

“I’m excited to be in this city and these hallowed grounds. This is iconic. This is a special place,” Drayton said in his lone interview session with reporters back in 2018, when McCarthy announced his staff changes. “(In 2009), I was able to get a foundation of what it really means to be in this area. That’s why I’m so excited to be back here because I know how special this place is and I’m ready to be a part of it and help it continue to grow.”

Meanwhile, the future of defensive coordinator Mike Pettine remained murky. He is not under contract for next season after choosing not to sign an extension last year, meaning LaFleur must decide whether to bring Pettine back after the defense showed marked improvement in 2020, finishing ninth in the NFL in total defense — the first time they’d finished in the top 10 since 2010, the last time they made the Super Bowl — and tied for 13th in scoring defense.

It was unclear as of Thursday evening whether LaFleur had made up his mind on whether to bring Pettine back or not, or if he’s still mulling his options. Defensive backs coach Jerry Gray has coordinator experience and would be an in-house option if LaFleur decided to move on from Pettine, as would outside linebackers coach Mike Smith, a Pettine protégé who has never been a coordinator. LaFleur has not yet held his end-of-the-year briefing with reporters and presumably wouldn’t schedule the Q&A session until he’s ready to divulge his plans.

Asked in advance of last Sunday’s loss NFC Championship Game loss about how Pettine, who spent the 2014 and ’15 seasons as the Cleveland Browns head coach, had helped him, LaFleur replied: “Mike, from the first day that we started working together, he’s been just a great sounding board because he’s been through a lot of these situations in terms of practice schedules and certainly many other things. I think he’s been awesome for me; a great resource for us as we’ve built this thing over the last two years.”

Drayton’s path to the Packers’ top special teams job was a circuitous one. He got into coaching as a graduate assistant at The Citadel in 1999 after his playing career there ended. While coaching everything at The Citadel during seven years at the school — from tight ends to offensive tackles to wide receivers to outside linebackers to special teams to serving as the recruiting coordinator — Drayton simultaneously worked as an assistant coach for an indoor football league team, the Charleston Swamp Foxes (af2).

Drayton then spent 2006 as the defensive coordinator of the Seinajoki (Finland) Crocodiles of the European Football League. In 2007, he served as an assistant coach and administrator at Goose Creek (S.C.) High School.

Drayton then spent five years back in the college game at South Carolina State, Coastal Carolina and Southern Mississippi before a year in the Canadian Football League as a guest coach for the Montreal Alouettes.

He returned to The Citadel in 2014 and spent two years as the assistant head coach/defensive coordinator/cornerbacks coach before breaking into the NFL in 2016, when the Indianapolis Colts hired him as a special teams assistant. McCarthy then hired him in 2018 to join the Packers staff, where he was reunited with one of his closest friends in coaching, then-defensive passing game coordinator Joe Whitt. Whitt is now serving in that same capacity for McCarthy with the Dallas Cowboys.

“I was always an undersized kid. Playing football, I got my start through special teams,” Drayton said when he joined the Packers’ staff. “I fell in love with special teams, and it’s kind of brought me where I am today.”

Asked then what his specialty was on special teams, Drayton replied: “The small nuances you might not necessarily see on film, but little tricks of the trade — what we call ‘vet moves.’ That’s what we’ll bring to them.”

Drayton inherits a special teams group that struggled throughout Mennenga’s tenure, and it’s unclear just how much influence Drayton had as Mennenga’s right-hand man.

Using Pro Football Hall of Fame writer Rick Gosselin’s annual special teams measurements, the Packers finished 29th in the 32-team NFL in 2020 and were 26th in 2019, with myriad issues cropping up from week to week. The Packers haven’t ranked in Gosselin’s top 10 since 2007 in McCarthy’s second season as head coach.

“You have to keep it simple, first of all. You stick with techniques and fundamentals. Techniques and fundamentals will bring you through in the special-teams realm,” Drayton said when asked for the key to a good special teams group. “And you have to be versatile. You want to have positional variability. You have to be able to multi-task at the same time and keep your wits about you when everything around you may be a little out of whack.”

Asked if he took particular joy in working with bottom-of-the-roster players, Drayton replied: “Exactly, because I was one of those guys. With special teams, you deal with the whole roster, the total roster. A lot of times we get the bottom third of the roster. And those are the guys, those blue-collar guys, you get to see them reach their dreams.”


Photos: Packers' 2020 season in pictures

Photos: Packers' 2020 season in pictures

Check out photo galleries from every game of 2020 through the end of the regular season and the playoffs.

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