Whitt Coaches Beyond His Years

There might not be a better young assistant in the NFL than the hard-working Packers cornerbacks coach, Joe Whitt. Whitt honed his craft by shadowing teachers on the advice of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. It's worked: "I've taken doubt out of the equation for them."

Charles Woodson was 32 and coming off his fifth Pro Bowl selection after leading the NFC with seven interceptions.

Joe Whitt was 30 and the Green Bay Packers' new cornerbacks coach. He had never played in the NFL. Had never coached the position in the NFL. And didn't even play the position in college.

"You know, that's the situation you never really know how it's going to turn out," Woodson said on Wednesday. "I've played in this league a long time. I'm older than Joe, and he's coming in and now he's a younger guy and he's your coach. So, that's always a tough situation for both parties involved. And for a veteran who's seen a lot, played in a lot of games, have a lot of experience, it's hard to listen to somebody who comes in who is younger than you."

Whitt could have been intimidated by the two old pros, Woodson and Al Harris, when he was promoted from defensive quality control coach as part of the defensive changeover in February 2009. He could have been trampled by two players who had seen and done practically everything during their tremendous careers and were firm supporters of Whitt's predecessor, Lionel Washington.

"It really wasn't (difficult) because I'm very confident in my ability," Whitt told Packer Report before last week's NFC Championship Game. "Through the year working with those guys, they found a comfort level with me. They understood that, ‘OK, this guy's pretty good.' Age doesn't matter. You can be 60 years old and if you're not getting them better, they won't listen to you.

"I was 27 years old when (hired by Atlanta to be the Falcons' assistant secondary coach in 2007) and Lawyer Milloy told me after our first season, ‘Joe, you're one of the best coaches I've ever had.' I'm sitting there, I'm still in awe that this is Lawyer Milloy. When he told me that, well, it comes from work."

That work ethic comes from his father, Joe Whitt Sr., who coached Auburn's linebackers for 25 years. It's that work ethic that won over the Packers' established cornerbacks. And it's that work ethic that helped Whitt learn the position.

Whitt walked on as a receiver at Auburn and earned playing time on offense and special teams but his career was derailed by shoulder and knee injuries. After serving as a student-assistant coach at Auburn, he spent one season coaching receivers at The Citadel before being hired by Louisville in 2003 to coach the cornerbacks.

"I was an awful coach that first year," Whitt said. "That 2003 year, I was a bad corners coach because I wasn't coaching what I knew. I was coaching what I thought, I was coaching out of a book. I wasn't going to be that way."

To hone his coaching skills, he met with top college coaches such as Gene Chizik. But it was Mike Tomlin — the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers — that had the career-changing idea.

"He recommended that guys go as shadow teachers," Whitt recalled. "So, I started shadowing teachers the past four years. The most important thing that we do is not on that field. It's in that classroom. One thing that hopefully you will hear my guys say is our preparation, our film study — that's what we do (well). We're teachers. That's where I really improved myself is following these high school teachers, watching their teaching styles and how they relate."

Whitt has shadowed several teachers, including those leading advanced classes because that's the best parallel to coaching a guy like Woodson.

"Sitting in that advanced class, the class drove the discussion," Whitt said. "The teacher just gave a little bit and the class drove it. When it was just a regular class, the teacher had to drive the class a little bit, but once he got it started, they took off. That's like some of my younger guys."

With Whitt serving as the teacher, his pupils have practically been "A" students. Woodson and Tramon Williams were selected for the Pro Bowl and undrafted Sam Shields probably could start for two-thirds of the teams.

Whitt is highly confident — in himself and his players — and probably will be talked about as a defensive coordinator in the next year or two. Woodson called him the "best X's and O's coach I've been around as far as secondary is concerned."

While Whitt breaks down film to present to the cornerbacks, he has no problem letting Woodson and Williams use their own study techniques and film breakdowns to supplement his teachings.

"We all put our egos to the side," Whitt said.

It's easier to do that when you've put in the time after games and on Mondays and Tuesdays to get ready for the next game — and done it so well that even an old dog like Woodson says he's learned some new tricks.

"There's going to be people that might be more talented than you but you only get 24 hours in a day and you do what you want to with your 24 hours," Whitt said of his dad's advice. "Nobody can outwork you. That's your decision if you allow somebody to outwork you. Nobody's going to outwork me. Whatever it takes to get the job done, I'm going to do it. Those guys know it — they know I prepare and they've prepared, and once they run through that tunnel, I've taken doubt out of the equation for them. They're going to play fast and that's what we do."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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