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Jerod Mayo's high school football coach knew he was destined for coaching long ago: 'I can't take any credit'

As Jerod Mayo was formally introduced to media as the 15th head coach of the New England Patriots, his high school coach proudly watched from the second row.

Patriots head coach Jerod Mayo and his high school football coach Tommy Austin.
Patriots head coach Jerod Mayo and his high school football coach Tommy Austin.

It was a long way from Virginia for both of them, but Tommy Austin always wished he'd gotten to see Jerod Mayo play at Gillette Stadium during the former linebacker's eight-year career in the NFL.

Mayo had kept in touch with his coach from Kecoughtan High School, though, as the seven-time Patriots captain retired and tried on new careers in media and corporate America. When he inevitably gravitated back to professional football a few years ago, Austin made sure to catch a game as Mayo transitioned into coaching with New England.

Not even a snowstorm the night before would stop Austin from getting to Foxborough on Wednesday to see Mayo formally introduced as the next head coach of the franchise.

With his daughter, Austin got to his second-row seat almost an hour before the press conference started.

"Other than getting married and having my two children," Austin said afterward, pausing to pull a red handkerchief out of his sports coat to wipe a few tears, "this is the highlight of my life."

News broke Friday that Mayo would be named the 15th head coach in Patriots history, succeeding Bill Belichick, who drafted him in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft and hired him to be the team's inside linebackers coach in 2019.

Joined by Robert Kraft before the media Wednesday, the Patriots chairman and CEO sat beside Mayo on a platform as he shared his conviction in the franchise cornerstone to the press.

"In all our businesses, we try to create a culture that people want to stay with and be there long-term, and I think that Jerod has the makeup and chemistry – and it's genuine," Kraft said.

"What he has is genuine. Just think about how he got elected captain in his second year with us when we had tremendous veterans. I think it went for seven years that you were a captain. He was captain during a tremendous period."

Austin had also known this to be true, and probably longer than anyone else in the room save for Mayo's mother, stepdad, and grandparents, seated one row ahead.

The newly appointed coach explained how going forward, he'd build on Belichick's foundation while keeping things true to his own style of coaching and development. "I'm not trying to be Bill," Mayo said. "I think that Bill is his own man. If you can't tell by now, I'm a little bit different even up here. But what I will say is the more I think about lessons I've taken from Bill, hard work works. Hard work works, and that's what we're all about."

Former player and assistant coach Jerod Mayo was introduced as the new head coach of the New England Patriots today, January 17, 2024 during a press conference at Gillette Stadium.

While he upheld that culture for the Patriots, it's a mentality Mayo had long before his days in the NFL or even college.

Austin started coaching him during Mayo's sophomore year of high school, hired for the job to keep the kids accountable on and off the field. He credits Mayo as part of a core group that established expectations for the rest of the team.

Years later, Austin listened as his former pupil outlined the same approach to managing the first team of his own.

"I can't take any credit for where he is because he came from a great family – the way he was raised created who he is," Austin said. "But when he played for me, the first year, we were 2-9. Like he said, it was about buy-in. His sophomore year, the core group of players that he was a part of, they bought into what we were doing and the next year we were 10-3."

Austin was continuously reminded of that decades-old turnaround throughout the ceremony.

For him, that success, all those years ago, was rooted in the weight room. The school kept it open 49 weeks per year, and Mayo and his brothers even frequented the facility during Christmas break.

"We built a culture where there was accountability and responsibility," Austin said. "We told our kids we want you to sit in the front row of the classroom. We want you to excel in the classroom. We want you to be respectful of everyone and behave in the hallway. Be a great leader – not only on the field but off the field. They rose to that expectation."

The weight room will be just as crucial for Mayo, he says, in evaluating the players they have on the team. That's where the Patriots will start fresh. Just like when he was playing for Austin, he acknowledges the best teams he ever played on were those where hard work and responsibility were enforced by teammates. 

Austin trusts Mayo to be the man to re-inspire that buy-in. He knew it two years ago when Mayo spoke to him about the interest he was garnering from teams around the NFL.

"He told me he had a dream of being a head coach," Austin said. "He set a goal and a timeline, which is the kind of person he is, but I was excited to hear it. When he first got into coaching, I wasn't surprised, because he already was a coach on the field as a sophomore in high school."

Back then, Mayo worked out under a set of six-foot banners. One emphasized the importance of the team over the individual. The other almost foreshadowed his football journey, upholding a championship culture with the Patriots and taking it upon himself to ensure it's preserved. "Tradition never graduates," it reads.

It doesn't retire, either.

After the press conference, Austin wraps up polite conversations with local Boston reporters eager to hear about who Mayo was back then. Not much has changed, and the outcome could have been predicted by Mayo's loved ones, but it doesn't make them any less proud.

The former high school coach hoped to get a picture taken with Mayo before media obligations ruled the rest of his day. During Austin's interview, he's reminded of an old friend who was there in spirit.

"Our defensive coordinator has passed on," Austin says, looking to the high glass ceilings of the G.P. Atrium while choking back tears.

"He's smiling from heaven."

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