HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans are expected to target New England Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, one of their top head coaching candidates, for an interview when he’s available following the Patriots’ AFC wild-card playoff game Saturday night against the Buffalo Bills, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
NFL teams are allowed to request in-person or virtual interviews with head-coaching candidates from wild-card winners during a three-day league window Sunday through Tuesday.
The Texans interviewed former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores for their first interview and it was conducted virtually Friday. Flores, who also interviewed virtually with the Chicago Bears, is expected to follow a methodical approach to the NFL interview process as he has drawn plenty of interest around the league after being fired by Miami despite finishing the season on an 8-1 run.
Here's why Mayo is an intriguing possibility under consideration by the Texans:
Mayo, 35, is a Patriots all-decade selection, a former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, All-Pro linebacker and first-round draft pick from Tennessee who retired after eight seasons because of injuries. He was highly regarded for his punishing tackles, speed and range as a true sideline-to-sideline, three-down defender, knowledge of the game and dedication to film study.
Mayo is regarded as a rising star in NFL coaching circles as a leader of men with the strategy, emotional intelligence and football acumen it takes to run a team.
“This guy was an excellent football player and he’s an outstanding young coach who has everything you want from a head coach other than previous experience at that job,” an NFL executive said. “Jerod is a winner, and he will continue to win on and off the field, period. I think the Texans would be making a great choice if Jerod winds up being their guy. I believe in him."
Mayo, who worked in the financial sector and as a media analyst after retiring, is in his third season on the Patriots’ coaching staff. New England ranked second in fewest points allowed and fourth in total defense this season.
Mayo is regarded as being on the fast track that former Patriots All-Pro linebacker Mike Vrabel did after one season as the Texans defensive coordinator and linebackers coach to become the Tennessee Titans head coach of the top seeded AFC South champions. Mayo helps run the Patriots defense with outside linebackers coach Steve Belichick, Bill Belichick’s son.
“I think Mayo will be an unbelievable head coach because he learned from the best coach (Belichick) to ever coach and he ran a defense as a rookie that has so many levels of complexity to it,” retired former Patriots and Texans nose tackle Vince Wilfork said late during the 2020 season in a telephone interview. “It’s just a matter of time when his number will be called.”
Now, Mayo’s number is being called after interviewing last year for the Philadelphia Eagles’ head coaching job that went to Nick Sirianni.
During Belichick’s coaching tenure in New England and a span of six Super Bowl victories and Vince Lombardi trophies, he has only hired two position coaches without any previous coaching experience: Mayo and Pepper Johnson, another retired inside linebacker.
Mayo has already been requested by the Denver Broncos for an interview and is expected to talk with them next week.
“It’s great,” Mayo told New England reporters. “But at the end of the day I will say this: right now, I’m fully focused on the Buffalo Bills, but it’s definitely a huge opportunity. Hopefully, one day, I’ll get a chance to coach a team.”
Bill has been great with that stuff. He’s been an open book for me, whether we’re talking about Xs & Os or structure of the team, or anything like that, he’s been great,” said Mayo, also noting Matt Patricia, Josh McDaniels and Jedd Fish as mentors to him. “[Patricia] has been a great resource. All these guys have been great resources for me. But really, like I said, the focus is on this season. But, at the same time, development has always been a huge factor for me as far as coaching is concerned.”
Although the Texans are looking into their connections initially, Texans general manager Nick Caserio, a former Patriots executive and assistant coach, said that doesn't mean the AFC South franchise will necessarily hire a coach with a Patriots background.
“I don’t think anybody should assume anything," Caserio said Friday at NRG Stadium. "I think we’re going to be very deliberate, will be very deliberate with this process, the most important this is just finding, I would say, the best fit for this organization. Again, there’s probably a thousand things that go into that, so for me to kind of articulate one or two I don’t think is fair. But again, there’s a myriad of things that this role - again, it’s all about the job description and what you want from that person, what you want from that individual, and there’s some many things that go into it. So, I would say I wouldn’t assume anything. I think we’re going to go be very thorough and just try to make the best decision for this organization, whatever that entails.”
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When discussing building sustained success like the Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs, Caserio cited the example of Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, who has never had a losing season, has one Super Bowl championship and a 163-92-2 all-time record and is back in the playoffs again.
Tomlin was hired by the Steelers as their third coach in franchise history after Bill Cowher and Chuck Noll. He was 34, one year younger than Mayo. Tomlin became the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl at age 36.
"Nobody respects what the Pittsburgh Steelers have done more than myself," Caserio said. "When you look at coach Tomlin, you look at the organization, basically three coaches over the course of the Rooney ownership. They went from Chuck to Bill to Mike. When Mike was hired, Mike was a coordinator for one year in Minnesota. At the time, I don’t think people knew Mike Tomlin was going to not have a losing season in 15 years.
"I think the Rooneys saw Mike Tomlin and said, ‘You know what? That’s our guy, we believe in him and we’re going to give him the runway and opportunity.’ Mike’s as good of a coach, I would say as good of a leader as there is in, forget about sports, probably in organizational behavior. I have a lot of respect and admiration."
When the Patriots drafted Mayo, he quickly earned the respect of veteran linebackers like Tedy Bruschi and Vrabel. At 22 years old, Mayo became the bridge between the coaching staff and the locker room.
After Mayo retired, he was quickly invited to join the coaching staff.
“Jerod was the Tom Brady of our defense, he was extremely smart,” said former Patriots offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer, a former University of Houston standout. “If it’s just words and you don’t deliver on the football field, then you’re just a rah-rah and people will basically tolerate you. If you put it all together, if you’re one of the greats like Brady, then it’s different. Jerod was an All-Pro, a guy who knew everything. He knew everything that was happening, knew all the calls. It’s like having another coach on the field. He was a leader of men, and there are very few people I would describe that way. If he was in the locker room in the facility or in the cafeteria for lunch, it wouldn’t take 30 seconds before every seat was taken.
“Some people have a personality that draws people in. He makes you feel good about what you’re doing. He can read the room perfectly. As a captain, he knew when to be serious. He knew when to step up and make people fall in line. He also knew when to keep it light. When you play for the Patriots, you have a certain respect for Bill Belichick and Jerod had no problem reading the room and going to Bill’s office and saying, ‘Listen, these guys can’t be in pads today, they need rest.’ He could bridge the wall between the head coach and players. That is rare to see.”
As a player, Mayo became known for his prodigious and unusual work ethic. He rarely took a day off, showing up in Foxborough at the team facility for extra workouts and film sessions on his own even when coaches weren’t at Gillette Stadium.
“While it was quite spectacular what Jerod did as a player, I think he’d be a great head coach,” Vollmer said. “When he was hired as an assistant, I told my wife: ‘He’s going to either be a coordinator or a head coach in three years.’ The impact that guy has, it’s really hard to describe.
“He has learned from the best and can put his own style and stamp on it. If he does anything close to what he’s done as a man and a player and an assistant coach and can translate that into being a head coach, that would be phenomenal. Nothing Jerod does would surprise me."
A married father of three daughters and one son, Mayo is known off the field for his philanthropic works in Boston where he’s helped raise millions of dollars for Boston Medical Center Pediatrics and was named a member of the Boston Medical Center’s board of trustees. A former executive in residence for Optum, the technology division of UnitedHealthGroup, the health insurance company, Mayo started the annual Mayo Bowl with his wife, Chantel, to help sick children.
"If you look at it from a different perspective playing into the business arena, Jerod went up the ladder so quick,” Vollmer said. “Whatever he touches has success behind him.”
Caserio emphasized that the Texans are looking for leadership for the replacement for fired coach David Culley.
"Honestly, I’d say a lot of the qualities that David possessed, those aren’t going to necessarily change," Caserio said. "But I think the head coach position really is a probably a leadership position more than anything else. I think we get caught up in the X’s and O’s. Now, there’s an X’s and O’s strategy component to that, but again, it’s within the context and the construct of everything else that surrounds that.
"Our responsibility and my responsibility is to continue to provide support and create structure so that our entire organization and operation can succeed. I would say honestly a lot of the qualities that David possessed, those more than likely will not change.”
As an ultra-productive linebacker Mayo piled up 803 career tackles, 11 sacks, eight forced fumbles, three interceptions and seven fumble recoveries.
“There are two kinds of leaders,” Vollmer said. “There are the kind of people that just talk and enjoy being the leader and aren’t necessarily as authentic. Then, there are people who simply are a real leader. With Jerod, it comes natural to him. He doesn’t get a high from being a captain and wielding power. What Jerod does, that’s not for the cameras. That’s just being authentic and real. That can’t be faked. Jerod is real.”