When former All-Pro linebacker Jerod Mayo walked away from his playing career in the spring of 2016 after eight seasons with the security of two substantial NFL contracts in his back pocket, he immediately tackled a business career with Optum while dabbling in the media side of things for NBC Sports Boston.
Now three years later, the former New England first-round pick and defensive captain is back where he seemingly belongs, in the football offices at Gillette Stadium working as an assistant coach on Bill Belichick’s retooled staff.
“Feels great. Feels great. Left for a couple years, took a little break, went to Corporate America and now I’m back here. It feels like home,” Mayo said with a big smile as he and the rest of the Patriots assistant coaches met with the media Friday afternoon.
It essentially marked the unveiling of New England’s 2019 coaching staff, one that lost defensive play caller Brian Flores and a total of six assistants from last year’s Super Bowl-winning squad. Mayo will be coaching inside linebackers, the position where he tallied 100-plus tackles in each of his first five seasons in Foxborough from 2008-2012.
Right now, he and fellow first-year Patriots defensive assistants Brett Bielema (defensive line), DeMarcus Covington (outside linebackers) and Mike Pellegrino (cornerbacks) are just learning as much as they can as they begin to teach it to young players at this week’s rookie mini-camp. Though the individual men acknowledged their roles, the Patriots have not yet announced official titles for 2019.
While Mayo is a new to the staff, the rest of the defensive assistants have been promoted and reassigned from the jobs they held a year ago.
“You look at the coaching staff on the defensive side of the ball we’re all learning from Bill,” Mayo explained. “That’s why we don’t do the titles thing. We could be coaching linebackers one day and then DBs the next day. So we’re all just learning and going out there getting Bill’s vision and trying to disseminate that amongst the rest of the guys.”
So far, Mayo, whose younger brother Deron has been on the Patriots staff as an assistant strength and conditioning coach for the last year-plus, is clearly enjoying his new job and the return to the game he loves. He also clearly doesn’t miss some of the real-world issues that so many Massachusetts workers deal with on a daily basis.
“First of all being stuck in Boston traffic every day stinks. It’s like you are in the car two hours a day. You never want to do that,” Mayo said. “Other than that, it’s good. I missed these guys and I hope they missed me. So I’m happy to be back.”
While he acknowledged that he “always had the itch” to return to football, Mayo knew it wasn’t a decision he could make on his own.
“My family, they were very supportive of the decision to come back. That was the main thing. My kids, they were good with it. My wife is good with it. That was pretty much the main thing,” Mayo said. “Any time you get an opportunity to learn from the greatest head coach of all time you kind of have to jump on that opportunity. It’s good.”
Now the question is whether Mayo will be a good coach. His background as a player at the key position of middle linebacker and leadership skills certainly give him a strong foundation, but not even he knows how this next step in his post-playing career will turn out.
“It’s a huge jump,” Mayo admitted. “Now you have to know…middle linebacker you have to know where everyone is. Now on the administrative side, also the offensive side what they’re doing. So it’s a huge jump. I love football, love studying football, love being around the conversation. So it’s good.”
The slower-paced spring camps will soon turn into training camp action and then game competition. Along the way Belichick’s defensive coaches will settle into roles and then someone will have to replace Flores calling the plays.
Could that be Mayo? As a middle linebacker he had eight seasons of experience around the NFL game planning process, calling plays on the field and making adjustments in real time.
“I don’t know,” Mayo responded in true Patriot fashion when asked who would be the defensive play caller. “That’s a Bill question. That’s a Bill-ism. You have to ask Bill about that one.”
He also was clear to point out the big jump from green-dot signal caller on defense to sideline play caller.
“When you have it in your ear you just hear it the call. You just regurgitate it, echo it,” Mayo said.
Whether he actually gets the job or not, does Mayo think he could call plays?
“I’m not sure. We’ll have to wait and see. Maybe this year. Maybe in 10 years.”
For now, Mayo is just happy to be back to work in Foxborough.