The central question of the Patriots offseason so far has involved Jerod Mayo's sudden ascension from linebackers coach to head coach. A sudden rise through the ranks that hasn't been seen in professional sports since George Costanza went from entry level Yankees employee to practically Mr. Steinbrenner's right hand man is the span of a couple of episodes. And even he needed to bring a bread bowl of chowder every day for weeks to gain that kind of access.
It's only a slight exaggeration to call Mayo's rise meteoric. It certain is by NFL standards. Even if the league is trending more towards younger guys and former players as head coaches. And depending where you stand on the Cynic Spectrum, it's either because he's a unique person possessing all the desirable qualities any organization should want. Or because the Krafts carelessly and irresponsibly committed to him last year and painted themselves into a corner.
Like I've said before, I'm going into semi-retirement when it comes to blind, unwavering optimism. Because it hasn't paid off in such a long time and I'm worn out from being wrong. Now I'm more into cautious optimism. At most. I'm looking for reasons to feel like that first premise about Mayo being right for the job is correct. And not that talk show fodder second one. To that end, this piece on the Patriots own website is helping:
Source - [During the 2014 playoffs while he was rehabbing from an injury] 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 [Divisional round game against Baltimore], 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." ...
"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. ...
"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.
That's just a small, Trader Joe's free sample counter-sized portion of a much more comprehensive article. The rest gets into this leadership ability, the film study sessions he'd conduct, the time he'd spend after practice working with the other linebackers, his football IQ, and so on. With a little insight into how he and Steve Belichick balanced each other off, with Belichick doing the broad strokes of the game plan and Mayo drilling down into the minutiae. And even though it appears on the Patriots version of state-run media, it's impressive.
If nothing else, look at that cross section of teammates. McCourty and Hightower were cornerstones of three Super Bowl championship defenses. Collins was a physical freak who toggled between being an impact player and underachiever, and did three tours of duty in New England over 10 years. And Spikes was a powerful, punishing run-stuffing throwback, but lacked the speed to be a 3-down player in the modern game, and lasted just four seasons in Foxboro. These guy run the gamut of Patriots experience. But all hold Mayo in the same high regard.
As do some of the best ever to wear the uniform:
Does any of this guarantee he can be a head coach? No. Not at all. Does any of it indicate he doesn't have what it takes to command a roster full of alphas, earn their respect, and get them to play hard for him? Not by a damned sight. Quite the opposite.
And it all goes a long way to explaining why Jonathan and "Thunder" Kraft made the decision to short circuit the usual coaching search process and just appoint him heir to the throne. They've been hearing these things in the building since Mayo's rookie season. And believe the time to give him his shot is now. If I was still capable of feeling good about this team's prospects (that's going to take some time), I'd feel great about this. But we'll soon see if all these former teammates are right.