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Jerod Mayo is seen coaching up linebacker Dont'a Hightower during the 2019 season.
Patriots Greats Chronicle Jerod Mayo's Journey to Head Coach
Franchise greats take you through Jerod Mayo's path from standout linebacker to head coach of the New England Patriots. 
By Evan Lazar Feb 03, 2024

The Brady-Belichick era was at its peak when the Patriots found themselves in an instant classic with the Baltimore Ravens during the divisional round playoffs in the 2014 season.

Baltimore was proving a worthy adversary for the top-seeded Patriots, holding a 14-point lead not once but twice. Due to Brady's greatness, a seldom-used ineligible receiver trick, and a double-pass with receiver Julian Edelman connecting on a 51-yard touchdown to Danny Amendola, the Patriots rallied from two double-digit deficits.

As was tradition, the legendary quarterback threw a picture-perfect touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell for the game-winning score, which Brady says is one of his top-10 throws in his Hall of Fame career.

Although it was Brady's late-game heroics and Belichick's brilliant tactics that put the Patriots into a then-fourth consecutive AFC Championship Game, it was on the sideline during that memorable win where the first seeds were planted on Jerod Mayo's path to a career in coaching.

Mayo's season ended three months earlier when he suffered a significant knee injury in a win over the Bills. The Patriots linebacker only appeared in six games in his seventh season after being selected in the first round by New England in the 2008 NFL Draft. However, he was helping his teammates as another set of eyes for a star-studded defense.

During his rehab process, Mayo's relationship with then-coaching assistant Steve Belichick grew. Mayo would help Belichick with special projects by reviewing film as the duo scouted future opponents. On that electrifying Saturday night, Mayo, Microsoft Surface tablet in hand, showed his teammates how the Ravens were attacking the Patriots run defense.

"In 2014, when he got hurt, I remember being in the Baltimore game. He's just coming up to us non-stop with the Surface [tablet] showing us what's going on in the game, how Baltimore was kind of doing some things against us in the run game," franchise legend Devin McCourty told Patriots.com." That was the balance of keeping it light and keeping guys ready to go. But also the Xs and Os and the player type and understanding the game can get you from both sides. I think that fully embodies who Jerod is."

Nine years after New England's run to a fourth Super Bowl championship in 2014, Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft introduced Mayo as the franchise's 15th head coach. The heir to Bill Belichick, the greatest coach of all-time, earned the job as the youngest current head coach in the NFL (37) and without the organization interviewing a single other candidate — a succession plan from Belichick years in the making.

To those who know him best, it wasn't surprising that Mayo rose through the ranks in the Patriots organization to head coach.

"That man was born for this. He was born to be the New England Patriots head coach." - Former Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes

"He's always been a coach to me on the field. But now it's stamped, it's labeled, he's the coach now. He's not putting the pads on. He's really the coach, and now he's the head coach," former defensive standout Jamie Collins said.

"He's just somebody people gravitate towards," Dont'a Hightower explained. "He not only leads by example, he also has the vocal aspect of it, too. Mayo has a great message and does a great job of delivering that message."

"I'm not surprised one bit that we are sitting here talking about this. That man was born for this. He was born to be the New England Patriots head coach," former linebacker Brandon Spikes stated emphatically.

From the outside looking in, Mayo's rapid hiring might've seemed unorthodox. However, as described by his former teammates, some of whom played for him over the last five seasons as a linebackers coach, Mayo was always on the fast track to being the Patriots next head coach.

Step One - A Standout Collegiate Career Leads to Quarterbacking the Patriots Defense

Following a booming trend around the league, the Patriots are the latest team to hire a former player as head coach to relate to modern athletes.

Mayo's playing journey began at Kacoughtan High School in Hampton, Virginia, where he earned three Varsity letters by playing linebacker and running back. Mayo was a four-star recruit, committing to play his college football at the University of Tennesee for legendary Vols coach Phillip Fulmer. Mayo was already a known commodity for his future teammates in New England.

"I'm from Tennessee. I watched Mayo whenever he was in Tennessee. He was one of the guys that I really liked watching. So, to come in and play with him was surreal, like playing with an idol. Someone you look up to," Hightower said.

Spikes, a standout at the University of Florida, painted a picture of what it was like to go against Mayo in their collegiate days. The First-Team All-SEC linebacker caught the eye of the Gators coaching staff in the yearly showdowns between the two SEC rivals.

"When we were preparing for them, I remember Urban [Meyer] talking in the team room about what we needed to do to take care of business. One of them was to stay away from Jerod Mayo," Spikes recalled. "He was just like an impact player, man. Everybody knew he was gonna make his plays. Just try to contain him. Make sure he didn't beat you and make a huge play to beat us. Stay away from him, and we should be able to do what we need to do. But we let him get going, and it's gonna be a long day."

"You got all these skills. What? You couldn't get one win against Florida when you're this gifted and talented? I used to tease him all the time," Spikes laughed about his playful jabs at Mayo.

Linebacker Jerod Mayo poses with Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft and President Jonathan Kraft after being select tenth overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.
Linebacker Jerod Mayo poses with Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft and President Jonathan Kraft after being select tenth overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.

After starring for the Vols, the Patriots selected Mayo with the tenth overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. The Hampton, Virginia native would go on to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, earned First-Team All-Pro honors while leading the NFL in tackles in 2010, made two Pro Bowls, and was a Super Bowl champion with the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX.

"He was like a coach on the field. I never forget Matt Patricia, Pepper Johnson, and Bill [Belichick] going over corrections and stuff. Mayo had already told me half the stuff while we were jogging off the field. Like we need to do this, this, and that. He just spit stuff out. He processed stuff a lot faster than most players," Spikes added.

It also didn't take long for Mayo to become a leader in the Patriots locker room, being named a team captain in just his second season. With the captaincy came complete control of Bill Belichick's defense. As is customary for many middle linebackers in a leadership role, Mayo was truly the quarterback on that side of the ball.

"I remember sitting in a meeting, Bill's like, I don't care what the check is and what you think we're supposed to be in: we don't do anything until Mayo puts us in it. Don't check it unless Mayo checks it. I'm like, but I mean, we can all see it. But again, that was the command he had, and he didn't make mistakes," said McCourty.

Mayo's on-field accolades speak for themselves, with four seasons accumulating over 100 tackles, Pro Bowls, and Super Bowl championships. However, his infectious leadership behind the scenes impacted his teammates, coaches, and, eventually, those who played for him in New England.

Step Two - "When I first got there, he was the man. It was Mayo, Mayo, Mayo"

Mayo made an immediate imprint on those around him in the facility. One might expect the Patriots aura to stem from Belichick and Brady, and it did to an extent, but there was a different larger-than-life character for those on the defensive side of the ball.

"When I first got there, he was the man. It was Mayo, Mayo, Mayo," Collins reminisced. "I had no worries about who my leaders were because Mayo was Mayo all day, every day."

Along those same lines, many Patriots past and present put McCourty in an upper-echelon of leaders and role models that have walked through the halls of Gillette Stadium. As a high-character individual on and off the field himself, McCourty, who was drafted by the Patriots two years after Mayo, credited the current Pats head coach for being his role model in football.

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"For me, when I got in the locker room. I know what my goal was. My goal is to have the same kind of impact he had on the team," McCourty said. "If you play defense, Mayo was the guy you wanted to be like. Mayo was the guy that ran the huddle. He told everybody where they line up. If you had a question, you went to him."

Even for Brady, it was clear who was top dog to Coach Belichick. In an old All-Access clip that has surfaced since Mayo was promoted to head coach, host Scott Zolak asked a group of big-name Pats who had the most clout in the locker room.

"If we want something done, we go to Jerod Belichick," Brady jokingly said, with Matt Light referring to Mayo as Belichick's "son" as Kevin Faulk laughed at the playful jabs by his teammates.

Mayo's gravitas in a room full of alpha's stood out even to the greatest quarterback ever. As a young player entering the NFL, Collins recalled that, upon arrival to Foxborough, it wasn't the Brady-Belichick mystique but rather the Mayo effect that got him to buy into the Patriot Way.

"I've always heard all the things about what went down with the Patriots with the Bill Belichick and Tom Brady situation. But when I first got there, it wasn't even that it was just our linebacker room," Collins explained. "Tom Brady and Bill are the greatest at what they do. But, for me, when I walked into the linebacker room, I saw Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, a young [Dont'a Hightower]. That's what I was looking at. That linebacker room was special."

"Mayo taking me under his wing like do this, do that. Normally, I have a problem with stuff like that. But after hanging with a guy like Mayo, it was easy," Collins continued.

Mayo's impact on those around him was seismic, extending to the meeting rooms as well, a precursor of things to come where Mayo would be leading his own meetings as a coach on the Patriots staff.

Step Three - Late-Day Film Sessions With "Coach" Jerod After Practices

In an organization that notoriously works overtime on preparing for opponents during the week, Mayo would take it a step further as the leader in the linebacker room during his playing days.

After coming off the practice fields and sometimes even following their standard meetings, Mayo would gather the linebackers together for his own film sessions to supplement the coaches. For all, Mayo's meetings were a huge part of their development as players in the defense.

"He'd get the linebackers together, and we'll go in there and watch film. We did that all the time. Normally, it would be like, come on, man, we just did this, or we just did that. But at the end of the day, we all knew it was for our own good," Collins reflected. "Dude is calling meetings and stuff. We was watching film, he's definitely running the clicker. Calling stuff after practice, meetings at the end of the day, stuff like that. I'm just like, come on, man, I'm a newbie. But that was him, that was Mayo."

"Like he said, he's a teacher first. The best thing that this planet can have is a teacher. The teacher is the one who teaches you the game, gives you the books, and gives you the homework. And that's what [Mayo] talked about. He's a teacher first, a teacher of people. Trying to help people," Collins explained.

For Hightower, the extra film sessions allowed him to learn multiple positions in the defense. Along with playing his standard SAM position, Hightower became an impact pass-rusher as an interior rusher where he'd line up in a two-point stance over the guards and centers or off the edge, making some of his biggest plays in a Patriots uniform in those spots.

"It really helped a lot. That just shows what kind of leader Mayo was. He took the initiative of being an older guy that wasn't six or seven years older than us, but making sure that we understood how important it was to know not necessarily what we could do as linebackers but knowing what everybody else should do," Hightower began.

"That helped our ability to get on the field and stay on the field, but also to play different positions. I think what really helped me and my growth was the extra film with Mayo. It helped me learn not just my position, the SAM position, but the WILL position, defensive end, and rushing situations. It allowed me to play a smaller role where I would rush from the nose tackle or the three-technique. A lot of that film helped me learn different positions," the Pats legendary linebacker continued.

Although it was often all business, the Patriots greats made it a point to articulate that Mayo's personality went beyond just his meticulous work ethic, and we've already seen that in his short time as the head coach.

"You just gravitate towards people like that, and he was one of those guys. Even when work got long, the season got long, you could lean on him. He was always there with the same positive attitude." Former Patriots Linebacker Brandon Spikes

Step Four - Keeping it Light Mayo Behind the Scenes at 1 Patriot Place (and Beyond)

During his introductory press conference and recent interviews, one thing that stood out was Mayo's looseness and willingness to crack jokes to keep it light…Mayo (sorry for the pun).

While introducing Mayo as the Patriot's next head coach, Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft needed some help with one of Mayo's family members' names, to which the Pats head coach jokingly went, "It's one of those black names. I'll help you with that."

According to his teammates, that's Mayo, genuinely himself even in the biggest professional moment of his life: "Mayo is a clown. He's hilarious," Spikes said. "You just gravitate towards people like that, and he was one of those guys. Even when work got long, the season got long, you could lean on him. He was always there with the same positive attitude."

"He would just be clowning in the meetings. It would be really quiet. Meetings have been going all day, and he'd just go take a bathroom break or leave the room, and he'd just say real loud: I'm out of here, and everybody would just burst out laughing every single time. I think it was from some movie that he got it from, but it was just hilarious," said Spikes.

McCourty recalled a story during a warm-weather road game where players gathered in the trainer's room to receive extra fluids to stay hydrated.

"It might have been Miami or somewhere we were doing all our IVs. As the IVs go in, you don't want your bag to run out because then air starts going in, and it can make your chest feel tight. Mayo knows most of the guys don't know about that," McCourty began. "So one guy's bag stays open for maybe five seconds. And he's like, oh, my chest feels a little tight. This is game day. Mayo's like, oh, my goodness, doc, doc, his chest feels tight. He has air in there! His heart is going to stop! He's going nuts. Everybody's looking at him, and he just starts dying laughing. He goes, I'm kidding, guys. I'm kidding."

"To me, especially for me coming from college where we were super strict on game day, it was like, no talking, no doing this, no doing that. Getting there and hearing somebody show you like, hey, we just need to be ourselves. However we are every single day is how we should take the field to go out there and have fun," McCourty added.

From a non-football standpoint, Mayo would also host gatherings where he'd invite teammates to his house. Hightower referred to them as "linebackers nights" at the Mayo household.

"He would have linebacker nights, and he'd invite everybody over. Cook up some real good food, and he was just a great dude to be around not just in the locker room but outside too. We just always have a great time. Who was on the grill? I can't remember who was on the grill, but we always had a good time together. We always hung out," Hightower told Patriots.com.

During one of those linebacker nights, Collins recalled that Patriots Hall of Famer Tedy Bruschi joined the group as it was customary for retired legends like Bruschi to come around the team.

"I was a rookie one time we were all at his house. We were all having cigars or something, and I was in a big recliner chair, like the main chair. Then, Bruschi came, and Mayo told me something like you better get on up out of that chair, and I'm like, what you mean? Mayo was warning me about it. Sure enough, Bruschi comes in and tells me to get up out of the chair. That was my first time meeting Tedy Bruschi at Mayo's house having cigars."

"We fight every day. But at the same time, here comes Mayo to loosen stuff up. Just keeping us happy, keeping us honest, and not getting down too low and not getting too high. At the end of the day, he's a happy guy. He's high off life," Collins said.

The way Mayo carried himself was contagious, and all the Pats greats recalled gravitating toward his energy. The words "leader of men" often follow Mayo, but what exactly does that mean?

Step Five - The Transition From Player to Coach Mayo: Titles? What Titles?

Before transitioning to Belichick's coaching staff, Mayo was already a "front of the room" personality who could command attention even in a group of alpha males.

In the lead-up and aftermath of Mayo's promotion, the reporting on Mayo often expressed that the Patriots new head coach was a leader of men. His actions outlined in the sections above explain some of that, but it's still a vague way to describe a person.

"I think of a guy who can stand in front of a room, and no matter what they say, the men in the room walk away saying, I'll follow that guy." - Former Patriots safety Devin McCourty

To this group of former Patriots greats, Mayo's ability to get them to buy into his methods came naturally and then lent itself to being a great coach for the Patriots since 2019. However, as was the norm at times under Belichick, Mayo's exact role on the coaching staff was unclear.

As we outlined earlier, Mayo established a relationship with Belichick's son, Steve, and that working dynamic continued to be a successful coaching pair, even if it was a bit unorthodox. It was sometimes difficult to decipher who was doing what behind the scenes.

"One of the biggest times for any team is the Saturdays the night before the game, the last message you hear as you go to bed," McCourty explained. "I always thought it was cool because [Mayo] would come in and give the overall mentality of how we needed to play the game. Then, Steve would come in and piece together the philosophy and mentality of how we need to play the game with how the calls were going to tie in, whether it was early downs, whether it was our third down pressure, whether it was once we got into the red zone, that would be Steve now coming in and talking about how we were going to actually execute the game plan that Mayo talked about from an overall standpoint."

"[Mayo] was the guy in front of the room every day: directing the meetings, going over the scouting reports, and Steve was the guy who called the plays. It was like this weird, perfect marriage of those two guys because it fit both of their personalities," McCourty concluded.

Another aspect of Mayo's leadership that stood out to McCourty was commanding a linebacker room that featured some heavy hitters while he was a young coach in the league.

"I think of a guy who can stand in front of a room, and no matter what they say, the men in the room walk away saying, I'll follow that guy," McCourty told me. "I think that is defined for me as being in a room and having guys like Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy, Ja'Whaun Bentley, and Elandon Roberts all in one position group. They all have to figure out how they play, and all those men trusted Mayo to handle all that."

Step Six - Born to be Head Coach of the New England Patriots

The stars aligned long before his promotion became official for Mayo to succeed Belichick as Patriots head coach. Although the process was unusual to some, it was a no-brainer throughout the organization for the man who spent 13 seasons in the building to take over.

To those who have spent the most time around him, the Patriots are following the popular league-wide model of appointing former players as head coaches. As a media personality now with NBC and Westwood One, McCourty has spent time around these "it" coaches who can use their experiences on the field to relate to modern players. McCourty attended Mayo's introductory press conference: "I wanted to see a guy I shared a locker room with, a guy that I obviously think highly of like that moment means to so many other people too."

"To see him in that element. Just being himself was so cool. The jokes he cracks and what he was saying was no different than the man in 2013. It was the same energy, and I think that's why guys relate to him. When we watch DeMeco Ryans in Houston, it's the same kind of energy. The same thing watching Dan Campbell. I feel like Mayo has that same kind of thought process," McCourty said of his former teammate and coach.

Hightower also echoed a similar sentiment about Mayo's coaching style, explaining the advantages of having a former player leading the team.

"You would have certain coaches who've never played or played the game in a smaller role. And they were trying to tell you how to do something, or you got to be here or whatever. But Mayo understood. He's been in there and played it at the highest level. He was the Rookie of the Year, Pro Bowls, Super Bowls. He's been there and done that. So he just has a great perspective and is a great coach," Hightower stated.

Despite external skepticism of the hiring process, the reality is Mayo has been interviewing for this position since he stepped foot in the building following the 2008 draft, and particularly once returning to the coaching staff from the private business sector in the 2019 season.

The organization knows him best, and nobody knows the organization better as a head coach candidate than Mayo. With the Patriots trying to capture the energy that former players bring to the building, Mayo was their guy.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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