I haven't retired from the Patriots Optimism business. But when I comes to expressing hope, I do feel like reducing my hours. Maybe working 29 hour weeks where I don't qualify for bennies and I have more free time. The reason being that my default setting of hopeful optimism just defaulted way too much. And as I've spent the past week standing in the ashes of the Dynasty, seeing where all that bright side looking has gotten me, I just can't do it right now.
And it's into this dystopian, post-apocalyptic wasteland that Jerod Mayo comes riding in like the hero in a video game. Given the unenviable task of bringing societal order out of the chaos and rebuilding our once thriving civilization.
Do I think he can do it? Of course. Why would anyone think otherwise? Do I think he will do it? How can anyone make that claim under the circumstances?
With two moves Kraft the Elder and Kraft the Younger have taken away the most known commodity in all of sports and replaced him with a completely unknown commodity. They subtracted the ultimate whole number, factored in a variable, and are asking us all to solve for X. We can be optimistic, but right now cautious optimism is the best we can manage.
With that, let's weigh the positives and negatives of this hiring:
By no means is this a surprise move. Since a short time after he arrived from Tennessee via the 10th overall pick in 2008, most people assumed we'd be hearing the words "Head Coach Jerod Mayo" eventually. He was a coach on the field as a rookie as he won DROTY honors. He was voted team captain for his entire career. And bridged the two halves of the Dynasty, earning the respect of the old guard guys like Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork, then the new recruits like Dont'a Hightower, Devin McCourty and Rob Ninkovich.
In fact, good luck finding anyone who doesn't respect him. It wasn't long after he retired that he got the call from Bill Belichick to join the coaching staff. Media guys who've dealt with him have nothing but universal praise. Most notably Tom E. Curran, who had him co-host his cable show hasn't tried to hide his admiration. And I've spoken to a non-media guy who is a personal friend and couldn't say enough positive things about what a genuinely good guy and highly capable man of integrity he is.
More importantly, the Krafts agree. They made that abundantly clear at this time last year. At the mere suggestion Mayo might start getting job interviews from other teams, they let it be known they were negotiating an extension with him. Then months later Mr. Kraft declared to NFL.com "Well, he's definitely a strong candidate to be the heir apparent." Mayo is an unknown factor to the rest of us. But to the man who's signature is on the front of everyone's paycheck (I'm sure they have Direct Deposit; it's a metaphor. So hush), his factor is very much known. Ownership has had years to consider this move. And the fact they didn't even have a coaching search speaks volumes through a loudspeaker. Don't forget that RKK hired a coach without an interview process, merely on the basis of their personal relationship, in 2000. And striped that one right down the middle of the fairway.
Let's start with the obvious. Inexperience. Mayo's chief competition for the job appeared to be Mike Vrabel, who's got six years and 100 games of experience and won the COTY two seasons ago as he took the Titans to the AFC championship game. Mayo has never even been a coordinator. You have responsibilities and decisions to make as a linebackers coach, to be sure. But they grow exponentially when you're coordinator of an entire defense. Then grow by an order of magnitude when you become the man in charge of a multi-billion dollar operation. Think Jim Halpert when he went from paper salesman to running the Scranton branch. And his day was filled with settling disputes about birthday parties and cakes and Dwight undermining him at every turn. Now picture that instead of a small regional paper company office, he was put in charge of NASA. That's about the jump Mayo is about to make.
Next, right or wrong, the perception among much of the public - the moronic sports radio caller class especially - is that the Krafts painted themselves into a corner on this one. Once they committed to Mayo as the heir to the throne last year, they left themselves no other option. If they reneged on their promise, it would have been a terrible look. Now, it's very possible they weren't interested in any other option, which is why they put a ring on Mayo a year ago. Which, if true, is great. They had the man they wanted all along, put a plan in place, and executed it. And Mr. Kraft has said in the past "I don't care what people think of me." Which is the only healthy attitude to go through life with. But Mayo will be carrying the baggage of that public perception around with him until he starts winning.
Then there's the fact he's not an offensive coach, which this team desperately needs after finishing dead last with an embarrassing 13.8 points per game. Something they haven't done since the crime against humanity that was the Rod Rust season of 1990. To be sure, it's not at all uncommon for a coach who came up through the ranks on one side of the ball to defer to his coordinator from the other side. But it is a concern that an organization so desperately in need of revamping their offensive scheme to suit the times will have a head coach who's more or less passively involved in that aspect of the game.
Next, there's the issue of promoting someone from within. Which can be fraught with peril. There was already some palace intrigue directed at him before Belichick was even let go. In the form of a report by Greg Bedard in the Boston Sports Journal saying ever since signing his extension, Mayo has “rubbed at least some people the wrong way in the building." [Pause while you make a cheap joke in your head.] This is what happens when you keep it in the family, so to speak. The whole history of the world is filled with such stories. Bitter, resentful people who feel they got unfairly passed over and cause as many problems as they can. Charlemagne was one of the great rulers in history. But planned on splitting the Carolingian Empire equally between his two sons upon his death. Which pleased neither of them and so they plunged all of Europe into civil war and bloodshed. It's human nature. There's a little Dwight Shrute in all of us.
Which brings me to the final concern. There's an odd phrase that comes up in court cases every so often: "Fruit of the poisoned tree." It's used to refer to evidence that was obtained through means outside of approved procedures, and whether it can be presented at trial. In this case, I'm using it to mean the Belichick coaching tree, whose fruit has poisoned a lot of organizations because there was always only actual Belichick, and the Patriots had him. Now, I'm not about to suggest that Mayo is going to roll up and try to be some Bill Belichick tribute band, the way Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia did. And made laughingstocks out of themselves. I'm confident he'll be his authentic self. It's just that he was brought up in the methods, schemes, schedules, and procedures of Belichick's program. Which hasn't been serving the organization particularly well these last few years. The Patriots need a change. They made one. It's a question of whether going from a Jedi master to the Padawan learner he trained in the ways of the Force will be a big enough change.
I hope it all works out as the Krafts planned it. But like I said, I'm not doing hope as much as I used to. Regardless, I'll end this with the same video I posted here the day the Pats drafted Mayo in 2008. I can't believe I've been doing this so long their rookie linebacker is now their head coach. Go figure.