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Kelley: New England Attempts to Adapt to the New NFL



New England Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo speaks with linebacker Jahlani Tavai (48) before an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)

Jerod Mayo met with the media on Wednesday for the first time since his introductory press conference. The main purpose of the event was for the media to get to talk to the new members of the New England Patriots coaching staff. But Mayo also made it quite clear that the names and faces won’t be the only thing different in Foxboro. There is a new way of doing business after a quarter century of Bill Belichick running the show in New England.  While the goal will remain the same, which is to win games, the way of going about their business in the building has shifted.

As Stuart Smalley used to say on Saturday Night Live, “And that’s…okay.”

Many are going to view things Mayo said as going against Belichick. The narrative is certain to be one of a franchise ready to wipe their hands clean of any mark left by the former coach. That does not seem to be the case, however.

Just because Jared Mayo plans to do things differently, it is no indictment of the way Bill Belichick ran the show for 24 years. It would be foolish for Mayo to try and copy the approach of his former coach because Mayo is his own man. He didn’t get named head coach to continue doing things exactly as Belichick had done them before him. If Robert Kraft had wanted a clone, there were far better candidates for the job, including Bill Belichick himself.

A People Person

Jerod Mayo is putting a focus on building relationships with players. When he was asked about the new offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, the offensive scheme was not the first thing that Mayo referenced.

“He is a relationship guy,” said Mayo. He went on to add, “He is a people person, but also with an extensive knowledge of football.”

The relationship aspect is imperative to the new head coach’s philosophy. It was not a top priority for Bill Belichick. Again, that is okay. Things have changed not only in New England’s football headquarters but throughout the NFL. This was summarized nicely by Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones in a recent radio interview. Jones explained how things have changed since he first came into the league while talking to Felger and Mazz on 98.5 The Sports Hub.

“I think they want to be related to,” Jones said of younger NFL players. “I think when I came in it was, “Show up, do your job” and that worked. That worked for a while. That worked for a very, very long time. But this generation, I don’t think that works for them. So I think (Jerod) Mayo is in a space where he can connect with guys, this younger generation, but at the same time, he’s a leader. When he’s in a room, guys listen to him.”

Jonathan Jones is one of three players remaining from the 2016 New England Patriots team that won the Super Bowl. He now has as many teammates as coaches from that squad.

A New Generation of NFL Players

As Jonathan Jones correctly states, players have changed. The “old school” folks can complain about it all they want, but it is reality. It doesn’t make the current crop of NFL players soft, nor does it speak to their talent level. It is a scenario that Belichick himself would succinctly summarize as “It is what it is.”

Attempting to change the mindset of a generation of football players is too difficult for anyone. It won’t happen. The players will certainly need to adapt to life in the NFL and the scrutiny of playing in a media market that exists in New England. But the leaders on the team need to adapt to the players as well. Jerod Mayo is willing to adapt. That is a good thing.

Bill Belichick did not need to adapt. Why? Because he is Bill Belichick. He has eight Super Bowl rings, something no other individual in history can claim. If you’ve won more Super Bowls than anyone else, the rules are understandably different than they would be for others. But that same type of approach, for a variety of reasons, was unsuccessful in the past few years. It didn’t work for his assistants who tried the same approach elsewhere (Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia, Joe Judge, Brian Flores).

Jerod Mayo understands what Jonathan Jones was saying about this new crop of players. They need to be dealt with differently, which includes being coached differently. They need to feel valued and appreciated. Mayo understands this, which bodes well for the locker room dynamics in New England.

Adapt or Die

A quote that has been attributed to Charles Darwin helps explain what is happening in Foxboro in the most basic terms.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

The mindset of the players in the National Football League has changed. The Patriots’ leadership philosophy is now trying to adapt to that change, led by rookie head coach Jerod Mayo. Whether this will crack the code and get the franchise to compete for championships once again is unknown. There is no doubt some will scoff at what they perceive as pampering professional athletes. Some will see this as the team attempting to separate themselves from any whiff of the Bill Belichick Era. Others will claim “the inmates are running the asylum.” The negative perspectives are unnecessary, however.

Jerod Mayo and the New England Patriots are attempting to change with the times. They are trying to adapt to both survive and thrive with this new generation of NFL players. The results are TBD, but the attempt should be applauded.

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