PATS INSIDER

Curran: Arc of Jerod Mayo's coaching career is on the rise

PATS INSIDER

Jerod Mayo is everything an NFL team would look for in a head coach. The only things holding him back? Length of coaching experience and the ambiguity of what he’s actually been doing for the Patriots defense since 2019.

By Monday, a few more job openings will be added to the existing ones in Jacksonville and Las Vegas. Mayo’s name will be in the mix, which is exactly what he wants.

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How strong is his candidacy? The Patriots (read: Robert Kraft, Jonathan Kraft and Bill Belichick) obviously think it’s very strong. Otherwise, this 12-minute video trumpeting Mayo’s leadership ability, football acumen, business savvy and overall integrity never would have been greenlighted.

Any team with concern about Mayo’s experience would have them squished by the time the video was done. Which is probably the intention. Because the convoluted hierarchy of who’s running the defense definitely doesn’t help a Mayo candidacy.

Title-wise, Mayo is the Patriots inside linebackers coach. Steve Belichick coaches the outside linebackers. Bill Belichick is head coach. It’s billed as a “collaborative” approach. That may be true – Bill Belichick gives more latitude to his assistants on both sides of the ball than he’s given credit for – but without titles, the perception is going to be that Bill Belichick is defensive coordinator.

And with Steve Belichick wearing the headset and working as game-day playcaller -- and getting singled out for his work in that role against the Bucs back in October -- the perception is that Steve Belichick is second in command.

 

Which leaves Mayo third in line. But I’m told Mayo’s role is a lot bigger than perceived. And though the possibility of naming Mayo and Steve Belichick co-defensive coordinators was broached by the team, my understanding is that idea fell flat.

But being a head coach, “Is the goal,” Mayo said in August. “I think I can do it. I know I can do it.”

Having worked closely with Mayo for almost a decade on Quick Slants both as a guest then as a full-time co-host, I had an appreciation for all the non-football things that make him a dynamic leader. In August of 2019, we were batting around who might be Bill Belichick’s successor on Early Edition (as we routinely do). I pushed Mayo as a likely candidate before he’d even coached his first game.

Even before I got to know him, there were specific moments that stamped him as a leader. In 2009, after the Patriots moved on from a litany of leaders from the 1.0 version of the dynasty, Belichick named Mayo captain and began heaping leadership responsibility on the second-year linebacker. At first, it was just being the lone representative at the coin toss in preseason or being lauded for his energy, attitude and production.

But then, in November, after the fourth-and-2 loss in Indy brought criticism from every direction including Patriots icon and Mayo mentor Tedy Bruschi, Mayo diplomatically called BS on the legend.

“I have the ultimate respect for Tedy and everything he’s done for this organization, but he’s not in this locker room at this point in time so he doesn’t know the feeling that this defense or this team has,” Mayo said. “We still have our confidence, we still have our swagger and we’re gonna go out Sunday and show ... the media, I guess.”

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Bruschi was kinda right. But that didn’t matter. What mattered was Mayo doing what a leader was supposed to do and defending his teammates from outside attacks. Even if Bruschi was as close to an “insider” as anyone not on the team could be. Within two years, the Patriots were back in the Super Bowl and Mayo -- along with Vince Wilfork -- was the prime defensive leader that helped shape the success of the 2.0 version of the Pats dynasty.  

 

He’s everything a team would look for EXCEPT for the title and sideline experience.

So how best to promote Mayo as a worthy candidate for a job he desires? By making sure via Belichick-approved video that Mayo is a uniquely qualified candidate even without those things. Even with that, Mayo may be more of a longshot candidate than he ought to be. But the arc of his coaching career is still very much on the rise.

Judge not lest ye be judged

The New York Giants are in an unremarkable, uninteresting battle for mediocrity. If they didn’t have NY on their helmet they would be competing with the Jaguars and Texans for the NFL’s least remarkable team.

Even their flailing futilely around the past two seasons has been mostly, “Meh.” But Joe Judge upped the ante considerably last Sunday evening with an 11-minute postgame self-defense screed that smacked of desperation and probably did way more harm than good.

Among those catching strays were the Football Team and head coach Ron Rivera. Judge referenced “clown show” teams getting in fistfights on the sideline. Something Rivera’s team experienced.

In response to Judge’s comments (which he denied were directed at Football Team), Rivera said, “There’s reasons why things happen, and to take a shot at people when people are going through what they’re going through, that’s not right. If you don’t know and understand other people’s teams, talk about yourself; talk about your own team. That’s what’s fair.”

Performances like that one or Matt Patricia’s three-year reign of error in Detroit are the kinds of things that make coaches think twice when hiring head coaches who fell from the Belichick tree. And it does no favors to Mayo, Josh McDaniels or anyone else who may go out looking for a head job with another team.

How competent will the individual be when the adversity hits and the media keeps sniping and everyone’s saying you’re a moron? It will never be easy to suck it up but steering clear of 11-minute soliloquies or correcting the posture of reporters are response options that should be kept off the table.

Ask me no questions

The NFL is cracking down on idiotic questions posed by teams to draft prospects. And the penalties for overstepping could be considerable, including loss of draft picks.

 

Given the public nature of the job, the close-quarters in which players work with coaches and teammates, the physical nature of the work and the potential for unique snafus that ride shotgun with fame, youth and money, we can all agree that teams are entitled to go in-depth with potential employees. Right?

But the instances of prospects reporting they were asked offensive, insulting, demeaning or hurtful questions are legion.

Jeff Ireland, now assistant GM for the Saints, once asked former Cowboys wideout Dez Bryant if Bryant’s mother was a prostitute. Ireland later apologized and explained how that came to even happen.

Prospects have complained that, at the NFL Combine, they’ve been put in intimidating interview environments and asked prying questions about sexual preference or family backgrounds in antiseptic, impersonal 15-minute sessions by people they don’t even know. Then it’s on to the next interview. Cost of doing business in the big boy NFL? Eh. Not really.

For a taste, check out this video of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh preparing Jameis Winston for the worst prior to the 2015 draft.

Harbaugh’s face and questions at the 3:27 mark -- while hysterical in their delivery -- are probably a good example of what teams would do well to avoid in the future.

Later, Tony

Tony Corrente is retiring at the end of the season. Salute to him for a job ... done.

Honestly, we can leave the tributes to friends, family and co-workers. For consumers of the NFL or those who report on it, Corrente was in charge of too many games that went haywire.

When weekly game assignments were announced and I saw Corrente’s name, I got the Alonzo Mourning meme feeling. Shit. Corrente. Well, at least it will get interesting.

He kinda stunk. Is that my opinion? Yup. And that’s just the way the NFL, the NFLRA and Corrente want it. Opinion. Not fact. The NFL and the official’s union fight to keep veiled everything they possibly can. Including how they grade officials or what the grades are. The lack of transparency leaves us largely to our own opinion-rendering. He’s been an NFL official since 1995 and received 13 postseason assignments in 27 seasons. That’s not many, not many.

The best place to get referee stats is right here. This year, you can look at the work of Corrente’s crew and see its wild disparity game-to-game. Same deal in 2017 when his crew had three games with more than 20 penalties early in the year then no games with more than 10 flags in the final five.

 

Corrente, Jeff Triplette and Jerome Boger all had their referee numbers retired in my personal “Hall of ‘Oh No Not This Guy.’

So who’d I like? Ron Winter. Mike Carey. Walt Anderson. John Parry. Bill Vinovich. Gene Steratore. Bernie Kukar. And olllll' Jerry Markbreit.

Your results may vary.