CLEVELAND, Ohio – Browns defensive coordinator candidate Jerod Mayo, the Patriots linebackers coach who will interview for the job here soon, is known for the great leadership skills and inner discipline that this beleaguered defense needs.
There’s no shortage of talent on the Browns’ defense, but the players didn’t mesh well in 2022, and need an overhaul. One of their star players, Jadeveon Clowney, was disgruntled most of the season, which permeated the team. Defensive backs clashed early over blown coverages, and players screamed at each other in the locker room following the 23-20 loss in Baltimore.
At least five defenders were benched for all or parts of games for disciplinary reasons, and players like rookie defensive tackle Perrion Winfrey had maturity issues that were a distraction.
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While the Browns retool the defense in 2023 to find the right mix of talent, leadership and fire, they could use a great leader at the coordinator position to fix the broken unit. Mayo, who earned the highest praise from Patriots coach Bill Belichick over the years, is known for unifying players both as an eight-year linebacker for the Patriots from 2008-15 and as a four-year linebackers coach there from 2019 to the present.
“I think he’s as well-respected as any player in the locker room and I’d say one of the best overall team leaders, players and kind of a glue chemistry guy that I’ve been around,” Belichick said of Mayo in 2014 “He means a lot to our team. I’d say he’s really the guy that the team probably revolves around more than any other player.
“Not that there aren’t other players that are instrumental in that, but I think he touches pretty much everybody, not just the defensive players but all the guys — not just the older guys, but the younger guys. Even when he was captain in his second year, he had a relationship with the older guys.”
The No. 10 overall pick of the Patriots out of Tennessee in 2008, Mayo earned near-unanimous NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and went on to be voted a team captain of the star-studded roster in only his second season, holding the post for seven years until he retired.
“So, I walked into this locker room, right? All right, rookie of the year, Tom Brady’s in there, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Junior Seau,” Mayo said on the World Reimagined podcast. “These are Hall of Fame caliber players, right? And they’re older. And so, when I say older, they’re 28, 29, 30. Tedy Bruschi, Bruschi is 33, 34, or something like that.”
Mayo, 36, was willing to do the little things to help the team, and said his teammates knew he cared about them more than he cared about himself.
“Part of the grunt work is opening up the divider in the rooms or closing the divider, stupid little things like that, carrying the helmets inside of the veteran players,” he said. “But also, it’s to go knock on coach Belichick’s door and say, “Coach, hey, we’re a little tired today. Can we get out of pads? And so, everyone was scared to knock on that door, right? So who do they send in there? They sent me there.”
Mayo, who possesses the same quick wit and self-deprecating humor that quickly endeared Jacoby Brissett to his new Browns teammates this season, learned at an early age from his mom that the answer is always no if you don’t ask.
“I was like, ‘Well, if I go in there and Bill wants to fight me, I think I could take him,'” Mayo said. “The guy is 65 years old at the time, so I’m like, ‘I can take him.'”
He recalled that Belichick would be in his office two-finger typing, but that “now he can type with all of his fingers. And I’ll say, ‘Coach, hey, the guys are tired.’ This is back in the day when they could do two a day, too, right? So, I said, ‘The guys are tired, can we just get out of the pads today?’ And I’ll say, seven times out of 10, he’ll be like, ‘Get out of here, just go back in there and tell them to get ready for practice.'”
But Mayo looked at the bright side.
“I was batting 300. It was those times where I would come back to the locker room and be like, ‘Guys, coach said, we’re not in full pads today.’ And it was like an eruption. Literally they would pick me up, throw me on their shoulders, like, ‘Yeah, let’s go, let’s go.'”
His willingness to step into the lion’s den showed his teammates more than he could ever tell them.
“I think the guys understood, I have no pride here,” he said. “I have nothing to lose. I’m going to go in here and fight for you, guys. And that’s how it started, right? The guys knew I cared about them. And I think, first and foremost, I think, that’s what a leader has to be able to do.”
A tireless film studior from back to his Tennessee days, Mayo was like another coach on the field and in the meeting rooms, much like middle linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. has been for the Browns.
“I thought I was a smart football player,” former Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower, whom Mayo hopes to coax into coaching someday, said before the 2015 playoffs. “But, I mean, that dude could be a defensive coordinator right now.”
Having spent his entire career learning the Patriot Way under Belichick, he understands the importance of culture to success. But as he said on the podcast, “Changing team culture is like trying to turn the Titanic.”
He also believes that “motivation is fleeting” but that internal discipline endures.
“Motivation, that’s the initial, ‘All right, New Year’s Eve, boom, I’m motivated to get into the gym the next day,'” he said on the podcast. “Discipline is ‘All right, it’s March 1, and I’m still at the gym.'”
He’s such an old soul that former Patriots linebacker Gary Guyton joked, “(Mayo) was born with facial hair. Only guy I know that was born with facial hair.”
Mayo’s uncanny ability to lead players and his excellent coaching prowess have earned him three head coaching interviews over the past two seasons; with the Eagles in 2021, and with the Broncos and Raiders before last season. In fact, he believes he’s ready to make the leap from coach to head coach like others have done, including fellow former Patriots assistant Brian Flores, another current Browns defensive coordinator candidate.
“That’s never changed. I think I’m ready to be a head coach in the league,” Mayo said last month. “But I have to say this too, right now my focus is being here with the Patriots. But that is definitely still the goal.”
With his impeccable resume and stellar people skills, he’ll likely have no shortage of opportunities in this hiring cycle.
But he checks off the “great leadership” box the Browns sorely need.
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