The Patriots’ defense, which looked like one of the best units in the NFL for part of the 2021 season, fell apart late in the season. It looked old and unable to keep up with high-octane offenses like the Buffalo Bills, who crushed New England twice in their final four games.
Inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo scoffs at the idea the Patriots, who finished as the NFL’s third-ranked scoring defense and gave up the seventh-fewest yards in the league, were a “soft defense.” But in an interview with 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Zolak and Bertrand” on Wednesday, Mayo acknowledged the biggest area in which the unit has to improve.
“We’re going to look to get faster, more explosive, and put more playmakers on the field,” he said. “You always want to get faster, especially in today’s game. That’s at all spots.”
“The game is obviously getting faster. Teams are coming out in ‘11′ personnel, smaller personnel groups, so you have to put more speed on the field to match that.”
Mayo didn’t suggest the Patriots would completely abandon size at the linebacker position, noting the challenges posed by powerful backs like Derrick Henry in the playoffs.
“A lot of teams want to get smaller, and then in the playoffs, you run into a Tennessee Titans team where the running back is bigger than your linebackers. I think you want a combination [of size and speed],” he said.
Mayo confirmed he’d be back with the team this coming season after coming up empty in his head-coaching interviews with Las Vegas and Denver. He also said he was approached by teams for defensive coordinator positions, which would technically be a promotion over his role now, but that he turned them down.
“If you look at it from my perspective, as well — look, I am a New England guy, right? My family’s here. Everything’s here. For me to pick up my family … it’s hard. It has to be a great, great opportunity, not just any team,” he said.
The NFL has again come under fire for its lack of minority head coaches. With the hires of Mike McDaniel (Miami) and Lovie Smith (Houston), the league only has five non-white head coaches: McDaniel, Smith, Robert Saleh (New York Jets), Ron Rivera (Washington), and Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh).
Last week, former Patriots linebackers coach and Dolphins head coach Brian Flores sued the NFL for racial discrimination in its hiring practices. Among other things, he claims he was given multiple “sham” interviews just so teams could satisfy the “Rooney Rule,” which requires teams to interview external minority candidates for positions like coordinators, head coach, and general manager.
Mayo expressed “frustration” with the league’s track record on minority hires.
“I never wanted to get a job because I was Black. I wanted to get a job because I was competent, because I care about the guys,” he said. “But what you do want is a fair shot. You want a fair shot at the interview process … it’s frustrating when I know, I’ve run across competent Black coaches all the time. And I’ve also met incompetent white coaches.”
Mayo said the Rooney Rule itself, which originated in 2003, had “great thought behind it” but suffered from “poor implementation.” He also added that he’s more frustrated for “the Leslie Fraziers” and “Jim Caldwells of the world” than himself.
“For myself, I’ve only been coaching for three years,” he explained. “I’ve already had three head coaching interviews. Now a lot of people will say, ‘Well Jerod, you never had a fair shake at it.’ But I would say it’s an opportunity for me just to continue to grow, and really it’s unheard of to have those head coaching interviews with such little experience.”
But Mayo also said the emergence of Black general manager candidates like Chicago’s Ryan Poles and Minnesota’s Kwesi Adofo-Mensah could have a “trickle-down effect” in how league executives view Black coaching candidates like himself in the future.