No playing experience required: Packers down to 3 ex-players on coaching staff

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Playing in the NFL has never been a prerequisite for coaching in it, but for a while it sure seemed like it around the Green Bay Packers.

Just five years ago, the Packers had 10 former NFL players on the coaching staff.

These days, a pro playing career no longer appears to be as important to coach Mike McCarthy.

The 13th incarnation of his coaching staff features only three former NFL players: James Campen (run-game coordinator/offensive line coach), Winston Moss (associate head coach/linebackers) and Jason Simmons (secondary).

McCarthy cut in half the number of ex-players following the departure of offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett (replaced by Joe Philbin), quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt (replaced by Frank Cignetti Jr.) and safeties coach Darren Perry (replaced by Simmons, who moved from special teams to coach both cornerbacks and safeties).

That’s much different from the 2013 season, when McCarthy had not only Campen, Moss, Simmons, Bennett, Van Pelt and Perry working for him, but also employed ex-NFL players Kevin Greene, Chad Morton, Jerry Fontenot and Joel Hilgenberg.

The number dropped to eight in 2014 and 2015 and was at six in 2016 and 2017.

Last season, the six ex-players on the coaching staff had a combined 53 years of playing experience, with 626 career games, including 486 career starts ranging from quarterback to running back to safety to linebacker to offensive line.

Now, there’s only Campen, an ex-center for seven years on the offensive side of the ball. On defense, Moss had an 11-year playing career as a linebacker and Simmons played 10 years as a defensive back and on special teams.

That trio has a combined 28 years and 357 games as players in the league, and all three are coaching the positions they played.

The reduction of ex-players likely is coincidental, but if there’s a downside to a coach with NFL playing experience, it’s the danger that he might be too much of a players' coach. That could manifest itself in several ways, including individual grades not reflecting a losing performance and allowing players to milk minor injuries.

“I think it helps me a lot,” said Simmons, who played for the Steelers (1998-2001) and Texans (2001-07). “I think being a person that’s sat in that chair, you understand how to simplify for the guys -- how to take something that’s complex and make it simple so they can play fast.

“Also, being in the locker room [as a player], it teaches you how to deal with different personalities, as well. I want my coaching to match and to know what guys are going through.”

Simmons will work closely with Joe Whitt, who coached cornerbacks the past nine seasons under former defensive coordinator Dom Capers but was promoted to the defensive pass-game coordinator last month under Capers' replacement, Mike Pettine.

“He's worked in the secondary with us since 2011, when he got here,” Whitt said. “He's done certain assignments. He's led the room at times. ... He's a fine coach. He's going to do a great job in the secondary with us. I'm excited to work with him."