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Mayo on Mayo: New England’s Jerod Mayo on building a coaching philosophy

New England Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo details how his diverse leadership background, developed under Bill Belichick, distinguishes him.

Living up to a name can be as lofty a goal as it sounds, but it can also be a natural extension of identity.

For Jerod Mayo, teaming up with Hellmann’s Mayo for a Super Bowl spot is more than a pun on their shared name. A rising star among the New England Patriots coaching staff, the 36-year-old Mayo’s name carries weight in the football world. In lending that name to a campaign to tackle food insecurity, the legendary Patriots linebacker demonstrates how Mayo and mayo strive to make a difference.

“The partnership is natural with my last name, but tackling is also synonymous with my name, and we’re trying to tackle food waste,” Mayo explained to FanSided. “I learned a lot throughout this entire campaign. One thing that really stuck out to me and really resonated with my family was that we waste 40 percent of the food that we bring into this house each and every day, and that’s across every household in America. So 40 percent of that waste is in the home, and that’s not even including what’s going on at the grocery stores, what’s going on at restaurants and things like that. It’s definitely attached to my heart to try to tackle food waste going forward.”

During the Super Bowl, Mayo burst into American households, tackling those who tried to throw away usable food — and the “very hittable” Pete Davidson. All jokes aside, food waste and the food insecurity that can be created by it remains a pertinent topic in the sports world. UConn star Shabazz Napier made headlines in 2014 when he revealed that some nights, he goes to bed “starving.”

Before athletes were allowed to profit from their name, image, and likeness, the reality was that many college athletes have gone hungry without university meal plans. Years later, the problem raged on, and it was only worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. A 2019 study concluded that “nearly one-quarter of Division I student-athlete respondents had suffered recent food insecurity.” Mississippi linebacker Sam Williams was one of them, sharing how fragile the collegiate ecosystem was once athletes were sent home to unaffordable housing and unavailable meals.

“I just think that we should get something, especially for food, because we don’t have that resource on campus anymore,” Williams told Sports Illustrated.

Having Williams and Napier speak up did make a difference: Napier’s words pressured the NCAA into making meals more accessible to college athletes, and once Williams’ tweet made the rounds at Ole Miss, the athletic department loaded up cards with $105 per week for student-athletes to use at local fast-casual restaurants.

But food insecurity stretches beyond the past decade, with NFL athletes having shared similar experiences. Mayo was a Tennessee Volunteer from 2004 to 2007, in a time before unlimited meal plans and sprawling collegiate cafeterias. At that time, players piled their plates high with food, but even then, much of it eventually went to waste.

“Early on, it was tough for me,” Mayo said of his own experience as an athlete facing food insecurity. “When I was in college, just before they had unlimited meals in college football, you would go in there and try to get something to eat, but it was like you put a lot on your plate for later, but then you end up throwing it away. It’s definitely a difficult time. I think the college kids nowadays — I can’t speak about this personally because now I’m an old man — but I think they have it a little bit better as far as meals are concerned. Now, with those free meals that they get comes, once again, food waste, and so how do we curb that or use the food that we’ve already eaten and now make something else out of it.”

Fifteen years later, Mayo is now teaching his four children how to make the most of the food in their home, which isn’t too challenging when his wife, Chantel, is a chef.

“In my family, I tell my kids just because it says “sell buy,” doesn’t mean that though it out, let’s check it. Let’s see if it’s still good, and then we go from there,” Mayo said. “And my wife is a chef, so she can make something out of what you’ll see on the app during one of the Fridge Nights. It’s Week Three, my family is there making some recipes out of leftovers.”

On the “Fridge Night” app, Chantel makes pizzas with daughters Chyanne and Chya, winning the approval of her “harshest, pickiest critics”: her kids.

The Hellmann’s campaign allows the Mayo family to endorse creative cooking and the pushback against food waste, as well as Hellmann’s effort to fight against the incongruency of food freshness labeling. The mayonnaise company is “partnering with Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic to drive forward legislative policy that pushes for federal standardization and clarity of food date labels.”

“It’s about education,” Mayo said of his effort to teach his children and fellow Americans about how to safely and healthily incorporate forgotten fridge finds in recipes. The educational approach makes sense, especially from one of the NFL’s most successful player-turned-coach examples in recent years.

Jerod Mayo on defending the spread

Fourteen years after being drafted, Jerod Mayo is still finding ways to defend the spread. The coveted linebacker was taken No. 10 overall in the 2008 NFL Draft, a pick which marks the significance of what Mayo did for the Patriots over his eight-year career in New England.

The Patriots are famous for flipping draft picks for more capital, and because Tom Brady only missed the playoffs in the 2002 season, it wasn’t too often that the team was able to select someone in the top 10. The only Patriot selected higher than Mayo in the Belichick era was Richard Seymour, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2001 Draft who recently made the 2022 NFL Hall of Fame Class. Seymour was considered the best defensive tackle in the league for some time, but by 2008, his career in New England was nearly over. The end of a nearly-perfect 2007 season was a shock, but the Patriots had been gradually losing the Super Bowl defense that helped forge an early dynasty. By 2008, Mike Vrabel was 33, and Tedy Bruschi was 35. Both were gone by 2009. Belichick needed to make the most of his fortunate first-round pick.

Here’s an ironic plot twist in the Patriots saga: the Patriots weren’t supposed to even have a first-round pick that year because of Spygate. For NFL fans aware of what the NFL rules were at the time, Spygate wasn’t a cheating scandal: it was Belichick misinterpreting a new NFL rule created against a widely-held practice at the time. Still, the Patriots paid the price with a $250,000 fine and a forced forfeit of their first-round pick in 2008, which was the No. 31 pick. But because the Patriots swapped with San Francisco in the 2007 Draft, their 49ers pick floated to No. 7, which they then traded to the New Orleans Saints for No. 10. Jerod Mayo was selected, and he spent his entire eight-year career holding down New England’s defense. Aside from Brady and Matthew Slater, there are few Patriots who bridged the gap between championship eras. Mayo came after their first Super Bowl loss in the millennium, and he remained until the team broke their decade-long Super Bowl spell in 2015. He began his career winning Defensive Rookie of the Year, and he ended it with a ring.

Mayo began his Patriots career sandwiched between Vrabel and Bruschi, and he ended it sandwiched between Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower, two linebackers that Mayo now coaches. Coming back to coach his former teammates might seem untenable to outsiders, but Collins and Hightower know what Belichick has known for a long time: Mayo not only developed as a player, but as a leader in the locker room.

“I don’t think leaders are born, but I have seen people evolve into leaders,” Mayo explained in a mini biopic on him for the Patriots’ “Do Your Life” video series. “You can’t win until you keep from losing, and just that principle alone… hard work works.”

These are the messages that encapsulate the Patriot Way, a way of life that has been both lauded and derided for two decades. Some players resent being forced to “eat humble pie” and endure countless hours of “BillTube”, while others thrive in the harsh environment. The dedication may seem excessive, but there are at least two instances when hard work worked to win the Patriots a Lombardi.

The Malcolm Butler interception that secured a Super Bowl ring for Mayo only happened because the Patriots were anticipating that exact play. They had seen Seattle run it before, and given the goal-line situation, the defense was expecting it and knew what to do. Butler had struggled with it at practice, but he nailed it in a moment that forever changed football history — for New England and Seattle.

The Patriots’ miraculous 28-3 comeback is demystified when considering that Patriots players are forced to run up and down hills all season to build physical endurance. The high-pressure Falcons defense that scored on two quick turnovers early in the game was gassed by the end of it. Still, the Patriots’ defense held, and Hightower made a play that sealed the fate of the Falcons. Part of the reason Hightower wasn’t gasping for air was because of those grueling hill runs that made them stronger.

Hard work works.

These values were instilled into Mayo long before he was a Patriot, though. Growing up in Hampton, Virginia, Mayo spent time with his mother, three brothers, and “a great set of grandparents.”

“While we didn’t have a father for a short period of time in our lives, my grandfather kind of filled that role,” Mayo said. As a Chief Master Sergeant in the Air Force, Walter Johnson instilled the value of hard work and discipline into Mayo. Johnson also taught his grandson these values through service: Mayo was a youth counselor at Zion Prospect Baptist Church, where his grandfather was the pastor for decades. “Motivation in itself is fleeting, because as soon as you get hit in the mouth or as soon as you run into some adversity, what do you fall back on?” Mayo posited. “That is discipline.”

“I wanted them to learn how to be responsible and how to be accountable and how to make something of themselves,’’ Johnson told Boston.com in 2009.

The Patriots are often characterized as militaristic in their methodology, and that’s no coincidence. Bill Belichick grew up in Annapolis, Maryland, the proud son of Steve Belichick, a football genius who happened to be a Navy veteran of Normandy and Okinawa. The structure of the Patriot Way, and the mentality behind “Do Your Job”, is something Bill Belichick learned from a young age. So did Jerod Mayo.

“When I think about the military, one of the first things that comes to my mind is, first of all, service,” Mayo said. “And then secondly, I would say discipline, and that’s how I was raised in my household: ‘Let’s serve other people, and then let’s also be disciplined.’ How do you become disciplined? By creating good habits, good habits create a good routine, and if you’re able to do that on a day-after-day basis, and in football, a down-after-down basis, then the results will definitely be in your favor for the most part. And so, being here in New England is kind of the same thing. Everything we do is around discipline and, as you know, doing your job. There’s no ambiguity around doing your job. Either you did it or you didn’t. And that’s the same way I try to coach: the same way that my grandfather and my mother taught me.”

The military values, especially that of honor and discipline, set Mayo apart from the beginning. After his rookie season, Mayo was chosen as a defensive team captain by his teammates. Safety Brandon Merriweather, who was two years older than Mayo, said that Mayo was the one who taught him the “abstract elements” of the game.

“You can learn from everybody,’’ Meriweather said. “Jerod, he studies the game a lot. He’s very professional, and that’s pretty much what I learned from him – how to be more professional.’’

Even though he was just coming off a Defensive Rookie of the Year campaign, the 23-year-old with a full-grown beard was affectionately known as “Old Soul.”

Mayo took his talent and discipline to Tennessee, where he said the Volunteers were “pumping linebackers into the NFL” at the time. His grandfather taught him to be the kind of person who “put all his eggs in one basket”, and since making it to the NFL was Mayo’s “ultimate dream”, he spent his time in Tennessee fixated on that goal. Mayo laughed at the fact that he “didn’t care” where he went when he was drafted — he just wanted to “go somewhere and help a team win.”

Mayo may not believe leaders are born, but he virtually earned that role overnight. “It was just strange to see somebody so young with such a leadership role,” Chantel Mayo remarked. “To see him leading on that level, it was surreal for me to watch.”

“He’s always been a leader of men,” Chantel continued. “He just has a leadership mentality and he doesn’t lead fearfully.”

By the time Mayo retired, he stepped away from football and into new types of leadership roles as a businessman. He joined the board of Boston Medical Center and became the Vice President of Business Development at Optum, a healthcare provider. But by 2019, Belichick came to collect on an agreement he made with Chantel.

“Every time I would see Bill, he would mention to me, ‘You know Jerod is supposed to coach?’, and I’m like, ‘Yeah,’” Chantel explained. “I can see that because he was always the coach on the field, so I kind of knew that, but I don’t think that time commitment was something he was ready to do at the time, or even mentally, I think he needed to be away from football for some time. But Bill would always put bugs in my ear and let me know that he belongs here.”

Eventually, Jerod was ready to answer the call, and he knew he had to learn from Bill.

“I honestly just wanted to come and learn from Bill, and it wasn’t even really about the X’s and O’s,” Mayo said. “It was just about leadership and building a culture.”

MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA – JANUARY 09: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots and inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo talk on the sidelines in the fourth quarter of the game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on January 09, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Mayo brings out the best

Quickly, Mayo picked up on the differences between being a player in the Belichick system and being a coach in the Belichick system.

“First of all, the hours, right? As a player, you get to get home earlier than a coach,” Mayo said. “There are nights where I had to spend the night at the facility, but hey, this is what I love to do. I would say some of the main differences, as a player, you’re watching a lot of film, and as a coach, you’re really trying to problem-solve. We’re watching a lot of film as well, but we’re also trying to anticipate what the team is going to try to do to us. And that always gets difficult. So when you look at the Super Bowl LVI matchup, they’ve had an extra week to prepare. There will be plays that they haven’t shown all year that show up. And so the players and the coaches have that confidence in the plays that they put together, in the plays, in the tools that they have to use on the field, to really have solutions for problems that arise during the game.”

Athleticism only goes so far in football, and winners are often separated from losers not by outplaying, but by outpreparing. No one does that better than New England, and it goes back to the coach who just won Executive of the Year for the 2021 season for his $163 million free agency splash and selection of Mac Jones.

“He prepares for everything,” Mayo said of Belichick. “He prepares for the weather. He prepares for where’s the sun going to be at this time? Where’s the wind coming from? Like, this guy is the ultimate when it comes to preparation, and that, once again, goes back to the military. It’s all about preparation, and so I definitely take that into account.”

But Mayo is clear that he isn’t Bill, and he doesn’t try to be.

“At the same time, I’m not building… I don’t try to be Bill,” he said. “I think he’s an outstanding coach, and obviously, you would want to replicate all the success that he’s had. But at the same time, I’m from a different generation. Now, I do coach hard, but I also realize that players that are coming into the locker room now are different, I think Coach understands that as well. That’s why he keeps younger coaches around them. There needs to be diversity of thought. There needs to be diversity of people. And so he does a good job, but he’s continuing to evolve. And I mean, he’s not slowing down anytime soon.”

Although some sports analysts argued that Mayo didn’t have enough experience to land a head coaching job in 2022, those who are familiar with him know that he has been building towards a head coaching position long before 2019. Mayo believes that his diverse background as a player, businessman and now coach differentiates him from other candidates in a meaningful way.

“I think it brings a very unique perspective to all this stuff,” Mayo said of his background. “And I would say, when people talk about experience, if you have 20 years of experience doing the same exact thing, you have one year of experience. I mean, experience is only valuable if you’re still on a learning curve. And what has happened, or I should say what happens across the league in different industries and different sports, is that these people have experience, but they’re just doing the same thing over and over and over again. And so from my perspective, it’s about always having that childlike curiosity, always trying to learn and always trying to connect with the guys because at the end of the day, it’s really not about the X’s and O’s. It’s about the players on the field, the ‘Jimmies and Joes’, as people say. It’s about the players on the field, and having those players go out there and play for you.”

It’s only been two seasons, but Mayo has developed enough of a reputation to land head coaching interviews with several NFL teams. While Mayo was meeting with teams across the league — one of them being the Las Vegas Raiders who eventually hired Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels — former Patriots defensive coach Brian Flores filed a lawsuit against the league detailing the systemic discrimination he experienced in his years since leaving New England.

It was Mayo’s first year on the head coaching interview circuit, which is usually a way for rising coaches to get their name out there and build relationships as they further build their coaching reputation. Mayo is prepared for the challenge of leading a team, but with his experiences inside and outside of the NFL, he understands how the business works.

“Personally speaking. It’s been a good experience for me,” Mayo said. “I went into all these interviews with minimal expectations, just going in there to put my best foot forward, which I think I did. And I think if you were to talk to any of these teams in the East last year, they would say the same thing. Do they have an idea of who they like? Absolutely. That’s in any industry, it doesn’t matter. They come in with a guy that, they probably like this guy, and for you to overtake that guy, it has to be, like, he bombs and you do a fantastic job. But that being said, you know there are a lot of learnings that I took from these interview processes.”

But Mayo is speaking from his perspective as a defensive coach working his way up to a coordinator position. He understands it takes time, but he also understands that older Black coaches have put in the time but aren’t given the time of day.

“Now, if you look at it from the other end of the spectrum, where these older, minority coaches are older Black coaches like Leslie Frazier, Eric Bienemy, Brian Flores with his track record, you take that into account, and I can see why they are frustrated,” Mayo said. “I can see why they’re frustrated and this has been going on for a long time, and [Flores] has just brought awareness to that situation.”

Flores was credited as the defensive mind who delivered the Patriots their sixth Super Bowl victory in 2019, which catapulted him into a head coaching job with Miami. As it happened in 2008, Mayo filled an opening in the linebackers room in 2019, but this time, it was as the linebackers coach — the position formerly held by Flores. Flores began his career in New England in 2004 at the age of 23, and like Mayo, he quickly rose up the ranks through the tenets of hard work and discipline. It’s no coincidence that Flores developed as one of the NFL’s premier defensive coaches in that system, and Mayo notes that New England is an environment that has allowed Black coaches to thrive over the years.

“I kind of look at it from the top of the funnel and at the bottom of the funnel,” Mayo explained. “We have this minority program where we bring these minorities in to coach, and most of the time, these guys end up latching on to us and climbing their way through the ranks and start climbing the ladder, which I think has been fantastic. And then we look at the top of the funnel. We have a great owner here in Robert Kraft, and also Jonathan Kraft as our team president. I would also say, if you look at it from a league-wide perspective, there are no Black people as far as owners are concerned. But what I will say the league has made progress in is, if you move down the funnel a little bit, is at the general manager level. And so when you look at the new GM Kwesi [Adofo-Mensah] over there in Minnesota or [Ryan] Pace in Chicago, you look at these guys, even Morocco Brown interviewing with the Pittsburgh Steelers, like there’s definitely some there’s some shaking going on there. Hopefully, that kind of makes its way down into the head coaching circles.”

In a way, it has: the success of Sean McVay pioneered a popular trend of NFL coaches under 40, and it is McVay who has now become the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl in NFL history. Flores’ Miami replacement, 39-year-old Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel, joins Mike Tomlin as the only two Black head coaches in the NFL. Growing under the Shanahan coaching tree, McDaniel quickly made an impression as the offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers with what 49ers fullback Kyle Juszcyzk considers the “most creative run scheme out there.

Next year, that could be Mayo. Although the Patriots may not officially name an offensive or defensive coordinator in 2022, Mayo is seen as being “clearly in the mix” when it comes to game-day play-calling alongside fellow linebackers coach Steve Belichick.

After the 2021 season, Mayo acknowledged that although the Patriots were “disappointed” with how their defense performed in 2021, it’s still a unit that finished third in scoring defense and seventh in yards.

“What I would say is you always want to get faster, especially in today’s game,” Mayo said. “And that’s in all spots, not only at linebacker, defensive line or in the back end. You always want to get faster. But what we covet here is versatility and smarts — football intelligence. Those are things you definitely want to have on the team.”

Mayo wants to recruit explosive playmakers to the team, much like the Patriots did with him when they selected him back in 2008. Mayo’s words also describe Dont’a Hightower, who assumed Mayo’s middle linebacker role when he retired in 2016. Hightower went from listening to Mayo as a veteran linebacker to listening to him as a coach, and Mayo says that he’s already seen his coaching bring out the best in Hightower’s game.

“Let’s go back to my first year, when you take a guy like Dont’a Hightower, in 2018, he didn’t really have a good year,” Mayo said. “And in 2019, I pretty much just challenged him. You know he has it in himself. I challenged him to be a better player each and every day and, going back to habit formation and routine, getting himself in shape, and he had one of the best years of his career in 2019. So he ended up making the Pro Bowl that year. I’m more excited when those guys make Pro Bowls or when those guys make plays than they are because it’s about service and serving people.”

Jerod Mayo is exactly 30 days younger than Sean McVay, and his position on the Patriots mirrors that of Brian Flores before he advanced to a head coaching position. Still, Mayo has advantages that few other coaches possess: he has 803 NFL tackles under his belt, he was once a team captain, and he understands business as an executive and as a student of the Patriot Way. Mayo knows what a team needs to win, but when it comes time for him to build his own culture, he’s not going with “Do Your Job.”

A fountain of relentless optimism, Ted Lasso famously wanted his footballers to believe. As he did with Hightower in 2019, Mayo wants to bring out the best in his players.

If Jerod Mayo’s future locker room has a Ted Lasso sign, his would read, “Be You.” That’s what he wants his players to take home at the end of the day as Mayo hangs behind in the film room, continuing to be who he’s been all these years.




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