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Who is Jerod Mayo, the new head coach for the New England Patriots?

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Last week, in a mutual split, legendary football coach Bill Belichick parted ways with the New England Patriots after 24 years as head coach. One day later, the team promoted their inside linebackers coach, Jerod Mayo. Mayo will be the youngest head coach in the NFL and the first Black head coach for the Patriots. We're joined now by Shalise Manza Young. She spent almost a decade covering the Patriots and is here to help us unpack all of this. Hey there.

SHALISE MANZA YOUNG: Hey, Juana. Thanks for having me again.

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SUMMERS: Thanks for being here. So, Shalise, just how big of a deal is it that Jerod Mayo is taking over the Patriots from Bill Belichick, who's been just a legendary NFL coach?

YOUNG: Taking over for somebody as entrenched and successful as Bill Belichick is just not an easy task at all. Jerod Mayo is fortunate he has the full backing of the ownership group - Robert Kraft and his son, Jonathan Kraft. They tabbed him as head coach-in-waiting last year. Jerod had lined up interviews with other teams for the head coaching position, and Robert Kraft just was so committed to Jerod Mayo that he said, no, please cancel those. They renegotiated his contract and essentially made him head coach-in-waiting. The NFL has something called the Rooney Rule, whereby teams are required to interview at least two non-white candidates for, you know, their general manager opening, their head coach openings, and if they have openings at their coordinator positions as well. So, really, it can almost only happen when the head coach-in-waiting is a Black or non-white coach.

SUMMERS: And Jerod Mayo, we should just note, he's been on the coaching staff of the Patriots since 2019, and he also used to be a linebacker for the Patriots. Can you just tell us a little bit more about him?

YOUNG: Yeah, he came in. He was incredibly highly regarded out of the University of Tennessee when he was drafted. He was named defensive rookie of the year after his first year with the Patriots. And he didn't have a long career. He only played about eight years. And then after he retired, Bill Belichick tried to get him into coaching right away. But Jerod actually went into the corporate world for about three years before he did finally come back into the coaching ranks. But he was a tremendous leader. I think he was a captain for every year except his rookie year. And the thing that people forget with an NFL head coaching role is that at the end of the day, whenever there's something big or small that happens related to the team - not just the players, but even beyond that - they come to the head coach. And I think, you know, Jerod's background as a leader, not just in football, but, you know, in the corporate world, will play a big role into that.

SUMMERS: You followed this team for so many years, and there's never been a season quite like this one for the Patriots. And I do not say that in a good way. What do you think is needed to get the team past this year's dreadful losing season?

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YOUNG: I hope that the Krafts, you know, really give him the time to right the ship in New England, because as of right now, the roster is really bereft of a lot of talent. And because Bill Belichick had his hands in everything - everything - it's almost like doing a gut renovation on your house, down to the studs. So the next big step, I think, will be deciding who is the general manager that Jerod will be working with in terms of acquiring personnel, evaluating the personnel they have now, who they want to move forward with and, you know, what players they'll be bringing in. Because the Patriots had such a terrible season, they'll be choosing pretty high in the draft. And this draft is considered very strong for top-notch quarterbacks coming out of college. So I would guess that that's the first thing they do is to try to find a quarterback for the future and then start rebuilding from there.

SUMMERS: And lastly, Shalise - I mean, there's so much to unpack here - but I do just want to make the point that the league has struggled for years, really, with minority hiring efforts. And particularly when we look at the diversity or lack thereof among head coaches, there were only three Black head coaches in the NFL for much of this season. So looking at this from a big-picture angle, how do you read the elevation of Jerod Mayo in light of that history for the league?

YOUNG: You know, the thing that I've gone back to is that he's getting the chance that, really, no Black head coaches have ever gotten before. We've seen white coaches be elevated to head coaching roles with similarly thin coaching resumes. And it's almost unheard of for a Black head coach to get, you know, that same consideration. The Krafts are considered really among the most respected owners in the NFL.

And I think, you know, Robert Kraft has been very open about not just as a Jewish man, you know, about trying to combat antisemitism, but they also played a role with some of their former players in getting legislation passed in the state of Massachusetts that was helping children of color. You know, they raised the age that children can be tried as adults. They helped, I think, with education budgeting and making sure that more money gets to underserved school districts. And to me, this is him, you know, taking another step. And I don't think that it's just hiring a Black man for hiring a Black man's sake. I think that he really, truly believes in Jerod Mayo. He said two years ago, to media, that there was no ceiling on what Jerod Mayo could do, and he knew that he would be a head coach someday.

SUMMERS: Sports writer Shalise Manza Young, thank you so much.

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YOUNG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Juana Summers
Juana Summers is a co-host of NPR's All Things Considered, alongside Ailsa Chang, Ari Shapiro and Mary Louise Kelly. She joined All Things Considered in June 2022.
Matt Ozug
Mia Venkat
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.