Entering his 11th season in the NFL, Joe Whitt Jr. begins his 10th year with the Green Bay Packers and ninth in his position of secondary – cornerbacks coach.
Originally named defensive quality control coach on March 7, 2008, by Head Coach Mike McCarthy, the 39-year-old Whitt was promoted to cornerbacks coach on Feb. 3, 2009.
Whitt came to Green Bay after one year with the Atlanta Falcons as assistant defensive backs coach. He coached the previous five years in the college ranks, beginning with the 2002 season as wide receivers coach at The Citadel, followed by a four-year stint as cornerbacks coach and recruiting coordinator at Louisville.
Since Whitt took over as cornerbacks coach in 2009, the Packers have registered a league-high 165 INTs and a No. 5 ranking in opponent passer rating (81.0). Since 2009, the Packers also rank No. 4 in opponent completion percentage (58.9) and No. 4 in TD/INT ratio (1.25). CBs Tramon Williams (18) and Sam Shields (15) combined for 33 interceptions from 2010-14 under Whitt’s guidance, No. 1 in the league over that span among tandems who were teammates for all five of those seasons.
Whitt’s corners were ravaged by injury in 2016 as the established veteran and Pro Bowler Shields was lost for the season after Week 1 and talented second-year corners Damarious Randall and Quentin Rollins missed a combined nine games. Whitt came to rely on undrafted CB LaDarius Gunter, who provided a tough and consistent presence in the secondary in just his second season on his way to playing in all 16 games with 15 starts and leading the team with 15 passes defensed, all career highs. Despite the challenges, Whitt’s group helped lead the Packers to 17 interceptions on the season, tying for No. 4 in the NFL.
In 2015, Whitt was charged with leading a secondary that featured two rookies, Randall and Rollins, and both impressed in their first campaigns. Each returned an interception for a touchdown in 2015, marking the first time the Packers had two rookies/first-year players post INT returns for TDs in the same season since 1921. Randall’s three interceptions on the season ranked tied for second among all NFL rookies, while Rollins ranked tied for fourth with two INTs. Randall was also named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for November. Shields continued to excel under Whitt, as he recorded three interceptions to tie for the team lead despite missing four games because of injury.
In 2014, Whitt guided Shields to his first career Pro Bowl selection as he finished No. 2 on the team with 13 passes defensed and No. 3 with two interceptions. Shields also posted his fifth career interception in the playoffs to move into the No. 1 spot in franchise postseason history. Williams paced the club with 16 passes defensed and was tied for the team lead with three interceptions on his way to being named a Pro Bowl alternate under Whitt’s tutelage. CB Casey Hayward was tied for the team lead in total takeaways with five (three INTs, two fumble recoveries), including two returns for TDs. He was one of only two players in the league to register an INT return for a TD and a fumble return for a TD (Texans DE J.J. Watt) in ’14.
In 2013, Whitt helped Shields set career highs for tackles (64) and passes defensed (25) and match his career high with four INTs. Under Whitt’s direction, Williams posted career highs for tackles (91) and sacks (2½) while adding three INTs, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 14 passes defensed.
With Hayward limited to just three contests in 2013 due to a hamstring injury, Whitt’s preparation of rookie DB Micah Hyde became crucial for the defense. Hyde led the team’s rookies with 54 tackles on the season and posted a sack, a forced fumble and four passes defensed. Third-year CB Davon House added a career-best 32 tackles, a sack, an interception and 13 passes defensed under Whitt’s guidance.
In 2012, with veteran Charles Woodson shifting to safety in the team’s base defense and Shields and House both missing time due to injuries, Whitt was charged with preparing Hayward to contribute immediately. Hayward led all NFL rookies with six interceptions (tied for No. 5 overall), becoming the first Packer to lead the league’s rookies in the category since Mike McKenzie in 1999. Hayward was named to the All-Rookie Team by Pro Football Weekly/PFWA, becoming the first Green Bay CB to be honored since the team was first selected in 1974, and finished third in voting for the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year by The Associated Press.
Williams matched his career high with 24 passes defensed in 2012, his fourth straight campaign with 20-plus under Whitt. Shields posted 16 passes defensed in just 10 games and registered an INT in both of the Packers’ playoff contests. Whitt’s group helped the Packers post a league-high five games with less than 120 net passing yards allowed, the most by the team since it registered five in 1988.
In 2011, the Packers led the league in interceptions (31) for the second time in three seasons, and Green Bay was the only club to have three CBs each register four-plus INTs (Woodson, Williams, Shields). Green Bay posted 85 INTs from 2009-11, Whitt’s first three seasons as cornerbacks coach. It marked the most by the Packers over a three-year period since 1943-45 (95 INTs) and the most by an NFL team since Minnesota and San Francisco each posted 86 INTs from 1986-88.
Woodson’s seven INTs in 2011 tied him for the league lead as he earned his fourth straight Pro Bowl bid, the first Green Bay CB to do so since Herb Adderley (1963-67), as well as first-team All-Pro recognition from AP. Woodson also posted two sacks to become the first CB in franchise annals (since 1982) to register two-plus sacks in four consecutive seasons.
Under Whitt’s tutelage in 2011, Williams recorded four INTs, his fourth straight season with four or more picks, the only non-drafted player in the NFL to accomplish that feat over that span. Shields also posted a career-best four INTs in the nickel-back role.
In 2010, Whitt’s work with Williams culminated in his first Pro Bowl bid. Williams led the team in interceptions (a career-high six) and passes defensed (23), and added three more INTs in the playoffs, which tied the franchise single-postseason record. Whitt also was instrumental in the rapid development of the rookie Shields, another undrafted prospect who became the team’s nickel back by the season opener – despite playing the corner position only one season in college – and helped the Packers advance to the Super Bowl with two interceptions in the NFC title game at Chicago.
Woodson posted career highs in tackles (105) and forced fumbles (five) and earned a Pro Bowl bid and second-team All-Pro honors in 2010, when the Packers led the league in opponent passer rating (67.2) and finished second in INTs (24).
In 2009, Whitt was part of a staff that guided the Packers defense to a No. 2 overall ranking in the league, the highest ranking since the 1996 team finished as the No. 1 defense. Green Bay led the league with 40 takeaways and 30 interceptions, the first time the Packers led the league in INTs since 1965 (tied with Washington that season with 27).
Also in 2009, Woodson posted a career-high nine INTs as part of perhaps his finest all-around season on his way to earning NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors from AP as well as all-pro honors from virtually every publication. Then 33, Woodson became the oldest defensive back to win the player of the year award and just the fifth cornerback to earn the honor since the award’s inception in 1971.
In Whitt’s first season with the Packers in 2008, his duties included breaking down opponent game film and analyzing their offensive tendencies while also assisting with the defensive backs and special teams.
In 2007 with Atlanta, Whitt worked alongside veteran coach and former Packers defensive coordinator Emmitt Thomas in tutoring the Falcons’ defensive backs.
During his time in Louisville, Whitt’s recruiting efforts helped bring the program into national prominence as the Cardinals went 41-9 over that four-year stretch. After joining the staff in 2003, Whitt worked diligently to improve the Cardinals’ recruiting efforts, and the program landed its first top-25 recruiting class in 2005.
On the field, he coached All-Big East first-team selection William Gay, who led the team with six interceptions and was a fifth-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2007. Whitt also had a hand in helping safeties Kerry Rhodes (Jets/Cardinals) and Antoine Harris (Falcons) make it to the NFL.
Whitt broke into the collegiate coaching ranks in 2002 as wide receivers coach at The Citadel. In his only season there, the Bulldogs saw their passing output increase by 81.3 yards per game over 2001, averaging 219.8 yards in 2002. Under Whitt’s guidance, all of the team’s receivers produced career highs in 2002, most notably Scooter Johnson, who improved on his six catches for 104 yards as a junior to bring in 69 passes for 950 yards and seven touchdowns to earn first-team All-Southern Conference honors as a senior.
A native of Auburn, Ala., and a walk-on as a player at Auburn University, Whitt eventually earned a scholarship and played for a coaching staff that included his father, Joe Sr., a longtime assistant at the school.
Whitt worked his way into Auburn’s rotation at wide receiver and contributed on special teams, battling several injuries along the way. After four shoulder surgeries and reconstructive knee surgery, he was granted a medical hardship waiver and became a student assistant at Auburn for two seasons, coaching alongside his dad.
Born July 19, 1978, Whitt graduated from Auburn in 2001 with a degree in communications. He and his wife, Ericka, have three children – a son, Joseph Barrington, and two daughters, Ava Jeneé and Zoë Jade.