After the New England Patriots drafted Jerod Mayo with the tenth overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft, head coach Bill Belichick praised his team’s new addition not just for his athletic abilities but also for his smarts. “He’s a very intelligent player, he’s a good football player,” Belichick said at the time. “He’s smart, he understands schemes and concepts, he runs the defense, makes the calls, makes adjustments and all those things.”
Over the next nine seasons, the Tennessee linebacker proved to be all of what Belichick spoke about at the time: Mayo became the heart of New England’s defense, a team captain and leader as well as one of the most productive players the league had to offer at his position. Along the way, he was named defensive rookie of the year, was voted to two Pro Bowls and an All-Pro team, and also was a key figure in leading the club to two Super Bowls.
Beginning in 2013, however, the physical aspects of the game started to take their toll on him. After ending three consecutive years on injured reserve, including one of the two aforementioned Super Bowl seasons, Mayo decided to retire in February 2016. At just 29, the Patriots had to see their defensive leader call it a career — and the reactions at the time showed just how highly valued Mayo was within the organization.
“There have been very few players in my career that I’ve had the opportunity to coach that I’d say had more of an impact on a team than Jerod has from day one, which is unusual,” Bill Belichick said shortly after Mayo announced his retirement. “From the first day he walked in the facility, which was his pre-draft visit, after we drafted him in 2008, he’s been a pleasure to coach, a great addition to our team, both on and off the field.”
Belichick’s remarks were a continuation of how he previously spoke about Mayo after he and his team drafted him in the first round. In 2014 and coming off his first stint on injured reserve, for example, the Patriots’ head coach spoke about how much he meant to the club as a whole. “He’s really the guy that the team probably revolves around more than any other player [...] I think he touches pretty much everybody. Not just the defensive players, but all of the guys.”
New England’s head coach was not the only player to feel that way about the standout linebacker. “Mayo is kind of the heart and soul of not just the defense, but really the team,” said safety and fellow team captain Devin McCourty about Mayo after he saw his 2015 season come to an end due to an injury during the Patriots’ playoff run. “He gets everybody going. Being able to watch him, he’s a special leader; energy level is always high.”
One of Mayo’s fellow linebackers, his de facto understudy and his successor as New England’s defensive on-field signal caller shared similar sentiments at the time. 2012 first-round draft pick Dont’a Hightower also touched on another aspect, though: Mayo’s football intelligence. “I thought I was a smart football player but I mean that dude could be a defensive coordinator right now,” said Hightower back in January 2016.
Mayo is no defensive coordinator just yet but the first step towards maybe one day becoming one has already been taken: yesterday, the now-33-year-old announced that he would return to football as an assistant coach for the Patriots. While the reports of him taking over the role of coaching his former position have yet to be confirmed, the hire itself shows that Mayo has indeed reached a point at which coaching is the next step for him.
Shortly after he retired from the game three years ago, he already hinted at it potentially being in the cards. “Maybe down the road,” Mayo said at the time. “I love the game, I do. I love football. I love the X’s and O’s of the game. I love putting in the time and just breaking down players and breaking down schemes. That’s something that has always piqued my interest, from a young child, so who knows what God has in store for me down the line.”
Today we know that coaching was indeed in store for him. And when looking back at his career and the remarks made about him by Belichick, McCourty and Hightower, it is fair to say that Jerod Mayo the coach was his entire career in the making: he always was a leader for whichever team he was on, and from college through the pros stood out because of his football intelligence and ability to grasp the mental side of the game.
Whether this helps his transition from football player to analyst to coach — one that joins his brother and current assistant strength and conditioning coach Deron on New England’s staff — remains to be seen. But if Mayo’s career taught us one thing it is to not underestimate his abilities to find a way to succeed.