The Patriots’ first new head coach in a quarter-century plans to run his team differently than Bill Belichick, approach collaboration differently than Belichick and unequivocally present a different personality than Belichick.
For proof, fans needed to look no further than Mayo’s interactions with team owner Robert Kraft at his introductory news conference. The Patriots’ 2008 first-round draft pick, who played eight seasons for New England and then returned to coach inside linebackers in 2019, demonstrated that from the jump in his news conference.
He called his new boss neither “Robert” nor Mr. Kraft. How about “Thunder”?
“I call him ‘Young Thundercat’ because he has a young heart,” said Mayo, who cracked jokes with Kraft on multiple occasions, including poking fun at the font size of the 82-year-old’s prepared remarks relative to the 37-year-old coach’s printout.
Mayo wasn’t afraid to publicly disagree with Kraft, either.
When Kraft said he hired Mayo because he was the best coach for this job and Mayo happens to be a man of color, the team owner added that he’s “colorblind in terms of I know what I feel like on Sunday when I lose,” so he chose the best person of any color.
Mayo, the first Black head coach in franchise history, explained his differing perspective.
“I will say that I do see color, because I believe if you don't see color, you can't see racism,” Mayo said.
New Patriots coach Jerod Mayo: "You better believe being the first Black coach here in New England means a lot to me." pic.twitter.com/l209gNOKO7
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) January 17, 2024
Mayo emphasized his appreciation for diversity of both background and perspective. Following a coach whose expansive power and purview contributed to his downfall, Mayo expressed a desire to incorporate others’ perspectives.
“I don't like echo chambers,” he said. “I want people around me that are gonna question my ideas or question the way we have done things in the past. Because realistically, this league is a lot different than when I was drafted in 2008.
“That’s why I try to spend so much time developing young men and young women. So they know I don’t want to teach them what to think — I want to teach them how to think.”
Mayo and Kraft held off on predicting a timeline for playoff contention or relevance or even a determination on whether the team will employ a general manager after parting ways with Belichick, who had the final say on coaching, personnel, operations and beyond.
Kraft was unequivocal, however, in his confidence in Mayo, comparing his conviction on this hire — despite designing a succession plan that allowed him not to interview any other candidate — to his conviction in marrying his late wife, Myra, and his current wife, Dana. Kraft emphasized how atypical the Patriots' coaching stability has been, saying his family runs an “unorthodox” operation that he believes breeds competitive advantage. After watching Mayo as a player and a coach, the promotion felt right.
“I have that same conviction when I hired Bill Belichick, a decision that many questioned at the time and told me I was making a major error,” Kraft said.
Mayo played in 103 games for the Patriots, serving as a team captain for the final seven of his eight years, per Kraft. He totaled 802 tackles, 30 tackles for loss, eight forced fumbles and three quarterback hits. Five times he led the Patriots in tackles, and in 2010 he also led the NFL in combined tackles (174) and solo tackles (113) en route to All-Pro honors.
Then — when he “needed a break from Bill,” Mayo quipped Wednesday — Mayo worked in financial consulting as a vice president of business development for Optum.
He returned to coach the Patriots in 2019, coaching inside linebackers for three seasons before advancing to linebackers coach the past two years. The Patriots' defense ranked first in points and yards allowed during Mayo’s debut coaching year. The unit has ranked in the top 10 in four of his five years on staff.
While Mayo hopes to allocate power, define roles and collaborate in ways his predecessor does not, he nonetheless will take Belichick’s defining lessons to heart.
“One thing I learned from coach and from ‘Thunder’ [Kraft] is about just surrounding yourself with good people,” Mayo said. “I’m not trying to be Bill. I’m not trying to be Bill. If you can’t tell by now, I’m a little bit different even up here.
“But I will say: The more I think about the lessons I take from Bill — hard work works. And that’s what we’re all about.”