NFL

HC Jerod Mayo Brings Fresh Perspective to New Era for Patriots

Jerod Mayo has concluded his first press conference as head coach of the New England Patriots. While speaking to reporters, his trademark humor and lighthearted nature immediately shone through.

Mayo exclusively called owner Robert Kraft “Thunder,” short for “Young Thunder Cat,” because the 82-year-old “has a young heart.” Mayo also took fun jabs at Kraft for mispronouncing a name during his prepared speech, which Mayo jokingly noted used “like 30 font Times New Roman” compared to his own size 10. Mayo’s magnetic personality, which endears him to virtually anyone he meets, helped drive home a point put plainly during his presser, “I’m not trying to be Bill [Belichick].”

For starters, Mayo is the first black head coach in franchise history, an accomplishment the career Patriot said meant a lot to him.

Kraft called himself “colorblind” when asked about the historical context of his hiring, explaining, “I want to get the best people I can get. I chose the best head coach for this organization. He happens to be a man of color. But I chose him because I believe he’s best to do the job.”

While one can understand Kraft’s stance as a businessman who prioritizes merit over quotas, Mayo took a different stance. The coach said he didn’t want to incite any tension in the building, but he also mentioned how not seeing one’s race can be a crutch.

“I do see color because I believe if you don’t see color, you can’t see racism,” Mayo said. “Whatever happens, Black, white, disabled person — even someone with disabilities, for the most part…when they’re young, they kind of make the spot hot…But what I would say is, no, I want you to be able to go up to those people and really understand those people. It goes back to whatever it is, Black, white, yellow, it really doesn’t matter, but it does matter, so we can try to fix the problem that we all know we have.”

When I asked Ja’Whaun Bentley what it meant having a coach who looks like him, the team captain said Mayo is “more understanding for a lot of things…especially with us being similar races, but us being two black men and our locker room being majority of black guys at the same time.” He also called Mayo a “poster man” for the benefits of hard work and dedication.

Kraft acknowledged the Patriots do things differently than their competitors when asked about not interviewing other head coaching candidates. The owner touched on his 16-year relationship with Mayo and recalled his choice to not hire Bill Belichick in 1996.

“My instinct was to do it,” he said, “but because of his loyalty to a man we had such difficulty with who did a great job, but he took another job when we were going to the Super Bowl, and I just couldn’t bring someone in — because trust is so important. But as I watched what happened when he was with his next team, I realized I made a mistake. I should have gone with my instincts in ’96, and I hired Bill. That worked out pretty well.”

Mayo showed appreciation for his former coach multiple times, noting how Belichick taught him the importance of managing expectations, hard work, and surrounding himself with good people, but it’s clear he plans to do things differently. Whereas Belichick led with a militant style that prioritized obedience, Mayo focuses on empathy, development, collaboration, and teaching young people how to think rather than what to think.

“I would say I’m a huge believer in just developing people,” he said during his opening statement, “whether it’s on the football field, whether it’s off the football field, in the media world, in business. My calling is to be a teacher and to develop people and help them see pretty much what they don’t want to see, but they need to see, so my job has always been — that is my calling.”

Mayo echoed that message of development when asked about his staff, saying, “Whether we’re talking offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, special teams coordinator, all that stuff is under [evaluation], and my number one thing is I want to bring in developers.” He also touched on how different things are compared to his playing days and the importance of coaches knowing their players. “I think with this generation, you have to show them that you care about them before you get into competency as far as Xs and Os are concerned. That’s one thing I feel like with all my coaches, they should know the players. They should know their room better than I do. They’re closer. They’re closer to those guys, and they have that day-to-day interaction.”

Mayo compared his leadership style to gardening, where rather than moving people around as one would on a chess board, he’d prefer to nurture what’s already there. “Gardeners really don’t grow anything,” he said. “They just make sure the soil is right. They grab the weeds out there, they water it, whatever, and that’s how what grows, grows. That’s how I approach leadership. We’ve talked about it before, but collaboration is huge. I want to just water seeds. Right now we’re in the evaluation process where we are planting seeds. We are planting seeds, and hopefully, that will lead to the next dynasty here with the Kraft family.

Collaboration was a theme that popped up throughout the presser. One of Mayo’s more interesting admissions was his desire to rebuild relationships and knock down silos, both issues that plagued the end of his predecessor’s tenure.

Belichick’s first dynasty earned him full control over the Patriots’ football operations, which would contribute to a second dynasty less than a decade later. But as a first-time head coach, Mayo knows he’ll need to lean on others. “One thing with collaboration, also, there are experts,” he said. “I believe in leaning on experts in their field. Now, will we always do what that expert advises us to do? No, absolutely not. But at the same time I’m going to go into this thing with no expectations, and I said this as a rookie, I wanted to be a sponge and learn as much as I can. We have a lot of people in this building that I can learn from in those regards.”

Kraft told reporters that, while the team will at some point look for outside candidates to fill their general manager position, they will lean on a collaborative process led by people in-house in the short term.

“We have a lot of people internally who have had a chance to train and learn under the greatest coach of all time and a man whose football intellect is very special,” he said. “Our team has a tremendous opportunity to position itself right, given our salary cap space, and we’ve never drafted — in my 30 years of ownership, we’ve never been drafting as low as we’re drafting. We’re counting on our internal people whom we’re still learning and evaluating. So, we’re going to let that evolve and develop, and before the key decisions have to be made, we will appoint someone.”

While the Patriots’ goal is to build an environment of shared thoughts and opinions, Mayo also understands the importance of titles. The former linebackers coach served as New England’s defensive coordinator since joining the staff in 2019, but like many before and after him, was never granted the official title. Mayo didn’t knock his former boss’ unique strategy, emphasizing that internally, one’s job and value are more important than one’s title. But he also acknowledged that “If you want to continue to get promoted, people have to know exactly what you do,” an experience he can likely relate to from previous head coaching interviews.

When asked how close the Patriots are to returning to their former glory, Mayo said it’s too early to tell, as evaluations are still well underway. In terms of philosophy, Mayo alluded to how New England has historically been a game-plan team and will continue to rely on flexibility in all phases. But when pressed on what he’d like to see from his offense, Mayo pointed to energy, passion, and leadership as areas of focus, qualities he believes reveal themselves inside the weight room.

“I think the weight room is one of the most important areas in the building to really evaluate the people you have on your team,” the coach said. “One thing we don’t want to do is have people who are complainers or finger-pointing or things like that. The best teams I’ve really been a part of have been teams that — whether I’m talking about high school, college, or the NFL teams that are not led by the players, but things are enforced by the players.”

Taylor Kyles

Taylor Kyles is the lead NFL Analyst for CLNS Media covering players, schemes, and tendencies through a New England Patriots-centric lens.

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