John Tomase

Mayo has already avoided the No. 1 mistake of Belichick's coaching tree

It's clear Jerod Mayo has no interest in following in Bill Belichick's footsteps.

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You could light Burning Man with all the kindling that's fallen from Bill Belichick's coaching tree.

Eric Mangini flamed out with the Jets after a brief turn as Mangenius. Josh McDaniels is hated in half the AFC West. Matt Patricia's name remains an expletive in Detroit. Joe Judge will forever be a joke in New York, and judging from the way this season ended, Brian Daboll's days with the Giants may be on borrowed time, too. Brian Flores was a hardass in Miami. We could even throw in Charlie Weis' disastrous tenure at Notre Dame for good measure.

Each man's downfall can be traced, in varying degrees, to the same mistake: trying to be Bill.

They should've saved the hoodies for Halloween. Cutting quarterbacks, embracing secrecy, consolidating unilateral power, annihilating the concept of fun, demanding adherence to the Patriots Way – some combination of the above doomed them all.

This makes Jerod Mayo's early days as Belichick's successor so refreshing. He's very clearly doing things his way and remaining true to himself. He can respect Belichick's approach while also recognizing the toll it takes on a locker room, where only 13- and 14-win seasons could justify the joylessness, and where the relentlessly grim pursuit of winning eventually broke even future Hall of Famers Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.

While there's been much debate over the tastefulness of the anti-Bill sentiments coming out of Foxboro over the last month, what's far more interesting to me is how comfortable Mayo appears to be in his own skin. It is without question the No. 1 prerequisite to succeeding where his predecessors have failed.

Belichick's approach worked because he's at the very least sociopath-adjacent. He bent rules to his advantage, cut anyone whose cost or production no longer justified their existence, and treated even the greatest player in NFL history like some worthless JAG at Foxboro High.

Belichick's acolytes lacked that wiring, but they tried to emulate him anyway. Talk to anyone who knows Mangini and McDaniels away from the field, in particular, and you'll hear they're good dudes. They didn't act that way once they landed in the big chair, though.

Mangini came off as coldly robotic and analytical in New York. McDaniels alienated Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler immediately in 2009, left the Colts at the altar in 2018, and then so badly lost the Raiders locker room, they busted out the cigars when he got canned last fall. Patricia berated reporters and chafed his players with an overbearing approach that only produced mediocrity. Daboll led the Giants to the playoffs in 2022, but their six-win 2023 ended with defensive coordinator Wink Martindale cursing him out for firing two of his lieutenants.

The gruff, impersonal touch worked for Belichick because he won at an historic rate. It torpedoed his former assistants because they didn't.

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Mayo recognizes the need to be his own man, which means he has a fighting chance. He elicited chuckles during his opening press conference when he admitted taking a job out of football after his playing days because, "I needed a break from Bill." He told WEEI the team planned to "burn cash" in free agency while also declaring that the third pick in the draft would be used to "take the best player available for the biggest area of need."

Such direct honesty is a new approach after 20 years of Belichick grunting with contempt at even the most basic queries. Mayo sees no point in acting like a wartime general. Today's players respond to the collaborative, genuine approach, and that comes to Mayo naturally.

Whereas Belichick kept his staff insularly small and filled it with cronies or even his children, Mayo just hired nearly 20 new coaches to get with the times. Among the returnees: Brian Belichick. Where others might want to eliminate the awkwardness, he has no problem keeping one of the former coach's sons.

It goes without saying that we will ultimately judge Mayo on wins and losses. If he screws up the third pick on a quarterback who can't play, we won't care about his personality or openness or distinctiveness from Belichick. But in the meantime that's all we've got, and it's actually a pretty encouraging start.

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