GREEN BAY, Wis. – After yet another abysmal performance by the Green Bay Packers’ special teams in 2020, coach Matt LaFleur fired coordinator Shawn Mennenga. While LaFleur searched far and wide for a defensive coordinator, he acted quickly in promoting Maurice Drayton.
In Rick Gosselin’s exhaustive special-teams rankings, Green Bay finished 26th in 2019 and 29th in 2020 with Mennenga running the show and Drayton serving as the top assistant.
While that track record might have made it seem like an odd hiring by LaFleur, Drayton’s special-teams background extends beyond the two years alongside Mennenga.
Tom McMahon was the coordinator in Indianapolis from 2013 through 2017. In 2016 and 2017, Drayton was his assistant. The Colts finished eighth in Gosselin’s rankings in 2016 and ninth in 2017.
“Tommy is like my big brother in coaching as far as it comes to special teams,” Drayton said on Tuesday. “He gets most of the credit for what I know and my approach to the game on a daily basis. When I spoke about being very pragmatic, about being percentage-based, when I spoke about statistics and making decisions based upon that, that’s all Tom McMahon.”
With McMahon taking over the Colts’ special teams in 2013 and Drayton coaching at his alma mater, The Citadel, McMahon brought Drayton on as a summer intern in 2014 and 2015. When Brant Boyer, who was McMahon’s top assistant for those seasons, was hired as the Jets’ coordinator in 2016, there was an opening on their staffs.
As McMahon recalled it, he and Boyer “fought” over adding Drayton as the top assistant. McMahon won.
“I think it’s deserved and earned,” McMahon, now the coordinator in Denver, said of Drayton’s promotion. “I think he’s going to excel. I think the core, the specialists, the building, I think they found themselves a special guy.”
Joe Whitt, the former Packers cornerbacks coach who recently joined Mike McCarthy’s staff in Dallas, coached with Drayton at The Citadel in 2002 and with the Atlanta Falcons in 2007. He remembered Drayton for his ability to teach all kinds of learners.
That stands to reason.
“My background is in education so I’m a teacher,” Drayton said. “I’ve always believed that coaches have to be good teachers and teachers can be great coaches.”
It was Drayton’s ability to teach and communicate that struck LaFleur.
Drayton will have a lot of teaching to do to fix the Packers’ chronically broken unit. The return units were feeble and the coverage units were porous. Two former draft picks, punter JK Scott and long snapper Hunter Bradley, stumbled through their third seasons in the NFL and, in Drayton’s words, “their backs are against the wall” as the team transitions into 2021.
Drayton’s believes his knowledge of the players, not just their skills but what makes them click, will give him a head-start.
“It’s the ‘why’ and the personal relationships,” Drayton said. “Luckily for me, I’ve been here for three years, so I’ve got a relationship with our core guys, with the guys who are currently on the roster. I don’t have to worry about the blind spots if I was coming in new, so to speak, because I kind of know where the blind spots are. I know who to approach in the morning or who’s having a bad day or how I need to change my approach or change my teaching style for that day. That’s what makes a great coach, a great teacher – having that flexibility to reach the men in that manner.”