It’s been about 18 days since the New England Patriots made Jerod Mayo their head coach. He still hasn’t moved into the head coach’s office that for so long was occupied by Bill Belichick.
There’s an awkwardness and finality to that, especially for a former player who learned so much from Belichick. Besides, Mayo has had plenty of other work to do.
Yet as he enters his third week as head coach, Mayo has made only one of three coordinator hires that will play a huge role in determining how successful he is in his new job. That’s partly by design and partly due to a few candidates accepting other jobs.
Let’s examine what Mayo’s looking for in his coordinator search, what we’ve heard about where things stand and what has gone wrong.
Mayo appears ready for the Patriots to depart from the schemes they ran for the better part of two decades under Josh McDaniels and Bill O’Brien. That’s why O’Brien was quick to search for other opportunities (he landed the co-offensive coordinator job at Ohio State) and why McDaniels has not been one of the 11 candidates Mayo has interviewed.
Mayo wants the Patriots to run the kind of quarterback-friendly scheme popularized by Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan. Almost every offensive coordinator he has considered has spent some time working in one of those systems. They are in vogue in the NFL right now. They feature a lot of 11 personnel with three wide receivers on the field at the same time and utilize motion and condensed formations. The goal is to make reads easy for the quarterback and let him play within timing and rhythm.
Now, Mayo’s decision is about which candidate is the right one to blend that scheme with the Patriots’ setup, in which the offensive weapons are sparse and often don’t measure up to what other teams can offer.
He has interviewed at least 11 candidates so far, though three have taken jobs elsewhere. That has caused some public consternation, even if internally the Patriots are still high on the remaining candidates and understand why some turned them down. For instance, former Los Angeles Rams passing game coordinator Zac Robinson left McVay for an offensive coordinator job under new Atlanta Falcons coach Raheem Morris. That makes a lot of sense. For Robinson, the Falcons offer him continuity with the head coach (he has worked with Morris for three years) and a plethora of weapons (Drake London, Kyle Pitts, Bijan Robinson, a great offensive line, etc.) even if, like the Pats, they need a quarterback.
Eight candidates remain: Thomas Brown (Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator), Nick Caley (Rams tight ends coach), Tanner Engstrand (Detroit Lions passing game coordinator), Brian Fleury (San Francisco 49ers tight ends coach), Luke Getsy (Chicago Bears offensive coordinator), Jerrod Johnson (Houston Texans quarterbacks coach), Klint Kubiak (49ers passing game coordinator) and Scott Turner (Las Vegas Raiders passing game coordinator).
The other thing the candidates have in common is their age: Each one who has interviewed is under 45. Mayo’s coordinator search as a whole has focused on young coaches. There’s a good chance all three coordinator hires will be under 45, noteworthy for Mayo, who at 37 is the youngest head coach in the NFL.
Mayo is excited by the idea of a young staff and the energy and connectivity with players it could yield. But he’s also aware of what it might lack. After he hires all three coordinators, he’s expected to search for a more experienced assistant (title TBD) who has been a head coach before and can be someone he leans on — but someone who doesn’t have day-to-day duties like overseeing a specific position group.
Report: DeMarcus Covington to be named Patriots next defensive coordinator: https://t.co/gyQZwuTohz pic.twitter.com/ctFNMNcqeE
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) January 27, 2024
It was no surprise that Mayo chose DeMarcus Covington, a fast-rising Patriots assistant coach, as his defensive coordinator. Covington, 34, has been a Patriots assistant since 2017 and has coached the defensive line since 2020. He has drawn interest from around the league for defensive coordinator jobs, so it makes sense Mayo saw fit to promote him.
Covington drew positive reviews from his stint as a defensive coordinator at the Senior Bowl last year and has been credited as one of the Patriots assistants who relates well to players (something Mayo is emphasizing).
That said, Mayo will still likely have a heavy hand in running the New England defense. It also remains to be seen whether Steve Belichick, who had called defensive plays for the Pats, will return considering his father seems unlikely to land a head coaching job in 2024.
Mayo thought he had found his special teams coach in Marquice Williams, a 38-year-old who has been the Falcons’ special teams coordinator for the past three years. Mayo offered him the job.
But even though the Falcons are changing head coaches, Williams was offered the chance to remain on staff in Atlanta, meaning he can keep his job and doesn’t have to move his family (which includes four children) to New England. So he turned down the Patriots job to stay with the Falcons.
Attention turns now to Jeremy Springer, the Rams’ assistant special teams coach. He spent eight years coaching special teams in college before joining McVay’s staff and seems like the front-runner.
Mayo decided not to attend this week’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., to continue filling out his coaching staff. Within a few days, his three most important hires could be finalized.
(Photo: Eric Canha / USA Today)