Tom E. Curran

Three scenarios for Jerod Mayo in Year 1 as Patriots head coach

Can Mayo help the Patriots chart a new course in the post-Belichick era?

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There were three first-time head coaches last season: DeMeco Ryans (Texans), Shane Steichen (Colts) and Jonathan Gannon (Cardinals). Not surprisingly, their seasons went mostly as their quarterbacks went.

Ryans got a tremendous rookie season from No. 2 overall pick C.J. Stroud and Houston went 10-7 and made the playoffs.

Steichen got a nice start from rookie Anthony Richardson (2-2 in four starts) before he got hurt and gave way to a sturdy journeyman in Gardner Minshew as the Colts went 9-8.

Gannon’s franchise quarterback (Kyler Murray) was hurt, so Josh Dobbs started the first eight, going 1-7. (He actually played relatively fine.) Arizona – a crappy 4-13 team in 2022 –scuffled to a feel-good, boy-they-showed-moxie 4-13.

So before theorizing on Best, Worst and Most Likely Scenarios for Jerod Mayo in his first year as head coach, we have to understand one thing above all else: You can only play the hand you’re dealt.

It does start at quarterback. The team had a good first-round quarterback whom Bill Belichick was gushing over less than two years ago. Now Mac Jones is long gone and journeyman Jacoby Brissett is back and keeping the seat warm for gestating wonderboy Drake Maye.

When will Maye be ready? Dunno. He’s got upside and potential. But the offensive line stunk last year and the receiver room has been a disaster since 2019. So everything’s a projection.

Mayo included. Charismatic. Smart. Hard-working. But -- like his quarterback -- he’s got a long way to go. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know about being an NFL head coach. He’s pointed that out a few times this offseason.

And nobody can really advise him on how to replace Belichick because nobody in NFL history has replaced a six-time Super Bowl-winning head coach who didn’t really want to leave.

The truth is, it’s not Belichick’s team anymore because they stunk the last two years and have been mired in sub-mediocrity since Tom Brady left. So many head-scratching personnel and coaching staff decisions. So much sourness. So much cloak-and-dagger intrigue. Ultimately, ultimatums for improvement just weren’t met.

But angst and irritation that Belichick left the team in smoking, 4-13 ruins (and they were lucky to get four wins), has already been replaced by gauzy nostalgia.

To many, Bill got hosed. He’s a sympathetic figure.

Mayo isn’t going to have his inevitable game-plan, game-management, personnel or podium blunders compared to the worst of Bill Belichick. They’ll all be compared to the best of Bill.

Fair, since Belichick’s batting average over 24 seasons was pretty good. Unfair since the team is 29-38 since Tom Brady left. The hard truth is that Genius Bill didn’t live here anymore. That won’t stop the pining.

But c’est la vie. Belichick’s tenure was so overwhelmingly excellent, people can choose to remember the legend and use his full tenure as the measuring stick, not the recent past.  

If Mayo and the Patriots are smart, there will be no whining about that. Not one word, not one syllable, not one arched eyebrow from the organization insinuating anything about it being “Morning in New England” or a new dawn or blaming Bill for any adversity.

That dirty laundry got well-aired by the team in the offseason. It looks like grave-dancing.

Just like Maye isn’t going to be Tom, Mayo isn’t going to be Bill. So what will he be in Year 1?

Best-case scenario

Former Patriots OT Sebastian Vollmer shares his thoughts on Jerod Mayo as a leader and why he thinks the Patriots head coach will be successful in his new role.

There’s an interesting dynamic to Mayo’s best-case scenario. For it to play out, Drake Maye has to get on the field at some point and play with encouraging competency.

That would mean Maye submits irrefutable evidence throughout camp and the preseason that he should be the opening day starter over Jacoby Brissett. Personally, I don’t think that’s going to happen. And I think the team is predisposed to saying all ties go to the veteran.

Once bitten, twice shy. They’ll prefer to make completely sure Maye is more than ready to be the starter when he takes over.

So that means Brissett has to flounder or miss time, which the team really isn’t wishing for.

Aside from quarterback, Mayo needs an Ernie Adams. A trusted savant whom he can bounce things off. Someone who’ll treat every week like an archaeological dig trying to unearth some artifact that may be of use. A whisperer. An in-the-booth advisor on challenges, game-management, etc. Can it be Evan Rothstein, the assistant quarterback coach who’s well-regarded? Ben McAdoo?

Nobody’s ever been better on game day than Belichick. But he had empowered and talented offensive coordinators to make sure things were buttoned-down. So Alex Van Pelt has to be up to the challenge of coordinating, play-calling, personnel packages and situational football that’s going to come at him. In addition to unlocking Maye.

🔊 Patriots Talk: Drake Maye is a ball of clay; is Alex Van Pelt an artist? | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Defensively, Mayo has a top-10 group the team invested further into this offseason with re-signings like Kyle Dugger and Jahlani Tavai. Christian Gonzalez and Marcus Jones are back in the secondary. If DeMarcus Covington, a first-year defensive coordinator, can keep the level of play similar to last year, that’s ideal.

In this scenario, the symbiotic relationship between GM Eliot Wolf and Mayo is great. Brissett starts smoothly. Maye has a great camp. At some point, the baton gets handed off and the situation is handled with grace and aplomb and looks nothing like the Miami disaster of 2020 with Tua Tagovailoa and Ryan Fitzpatrick getting toggled back and forth.

We’ve heard a lot about culture and players being more free to express themselves. Best case, the players take ownership and respond maturely and the veterans the team re-signed serve as lieutenants for Mayo’s vision.

The on-field missteps are inevitable. Fourth-down decisions, personnel decisions, player blunders, etc. Explaining them with airtight logic or a simple “I flubbed up…” would be ideal.

Worst-case scenario

Ted Johnson reacts to Hunter Henry and Jabrill Peppers voicing their early support for Jerod Mayo, and weighs in on how much Mayo's experience as a player will matter in the locker room.

It’s chaos. The feeling of post-Belichick liberty results in slippage everywhere. A sluggish camp for the offense comes in large part because the offensive line wasn’t sufficiently addressed.

Worse than being unproductive, the offense in particular looks unprepared. Too many mistakes, too long at the line of scrimmage, too many people trying to learn too much from people they’ve never worked beside before.

Defensively, the team backslides. And there’s grumbling that "this isn’t the way it was when Bill was here…"

Maye’s development is stunted and when he gets on the field it’s clear he’s going to need a LOT more work than anybody anticipated.

Most likely scenario

The Patriots aren’t good. But they’re plucky. They become -- over the course of the season -- a team nobody wants to play because the defense is so good and the offense never beats itself.

Mayo grows into the job. There are still times he’s a little too glib and off-the-cuff answers turn into weeklong "What did he mean by that?" conversations, but the podium stuff becomes easier.

Eventually, he starts to see why Bill was a vault and starts to trend that way himself.

Mayo as CEO is excellent. His lets his coaches coach and the personnel people do their thing and he oversees it all. He hits some snags with in-game management but by the end of the season, he’s made massive improvement there.

But the main reason the Krafts hired him – to chart a different course for the second rebuild of this decade – does gain traction after Thanksgiving, and the team closes with a flourish. Nobody loves going 5-12 or 6-11, but overall, there’s a lot to be optimistic about for 2025.

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