All of a sudden, it is football season again.
Former Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo is the new head coach of the New England Patriots. He is the only former Vol in such a lofty position and at 37 is the youngest in the NFL.
Mayo became coach-in-waiting a year ago when the Carolina Panthers tried to hire him. Robert Kraft, owner of the Patriots, came up with a contract clause which said Mayo would get the New England job when the Bill Belichick era ended.
The original projection for the transition was after the 2024 season. The 4-13 campaign accelerated the timeline.
Kraft said Mayo has “no ceiling” on his ability to coach.
Mayo grew into the job. New England drafted him 10th in 2008. He had a career-high 23 hits against the New York Jets. He was NFL defensive rookie of the year. He was all-pro in his third season. He led the team in tackles for five consecutive seasons. He battled injuries but lasted eight years.
Belichick wanted Mayo to switch to coaching. He told Jerod’s wife, Chantel, that her husband was born to be a coach. She gave Bill a list of the other things Jerod could do well.
He had been credited with being one of the smartest players ever in New England. He wanted to do more than football. He worked in finance for a while. He served on the board of a healthcare company. His theory about how block-chain technology could solve the healthcare backlog got considerable attention.
Finally, in 2019, Mayo relented and joined Belichick’s staff as linebackers coach. His rise was meteoric. He became a most-trusted assistant. He was the de facto defensive coordinator. He did game plans – subject to approval by the boss.
Players smiled when they called Mayo “Bill Junior.”
He is more likeable than Belichick but the two do see football similarly. They both believe success is built on work. There has been a lot of rub-off of football intelligence.
Mayo’s head-coaching future had a lot of support in the locker room. Linebacker Mack Wilson called him “the greatest coach I’ve ever had in my life …”
Mayo for Belichick makes sense to Kraft. Mayo understands the history of the franchise. He was part of what Belichick built. Jerod is said to be innovative enough to help modernize the franchise.
From the very beginning, leadership ability was obvious. He was elected captain in his second pro season. Nobody with the Patriots could remember anything like that happening before.
Mayo had a reputation as a player who showed up early, stayed late, watched film, practiced hard and put himself through intense workouts in the weight room.
Net result was respect.
Jerod Mayo left Tennessee for the NFL after his junior season. He said he felt like he owed the coaches a lot.
“I feel like I owe this university a lot.”
Phillip Fulmer said Mayo certainly doesn’t owe him.
“If anything, the football gods probably owe Mayo. He never made it through a season healthy.”
Fulmer said Mayo was “one of the finest young men we had in our program, a great student, hard worker and an independent thinker.”
Fulmer said coaches had to answer questions, have serious explanations, which is good.
“That’s what education is all about.”
Mayo memories are made of this:
In 2007, he was all-SEC. Against Arkansas he led Vols with nine tackles, intercepted the first pass of his career and returned it 34 yards for a TD.
He led the team with 15 tackles against Vanderbilt … he had a career-high 19 tackles at Kentucky … he was SEC defensive player of the week … 15 tackles against LSU in SEC championship game … 13 tackles against Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl.
Fulmer remembered that Mayo didn’t come close to topping out as a football player at Tennessee.
Here was his quote from early 2008: “I’m expecting big things from him, and I know he expects big things from himself.”
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is email@example.com