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Bill Belichick May Be Gone, but Is New England Trying to Keep His Patriot Way?

The Patriots moved quickly to hire Jerod Mayo, and now it’s time for Mayo and the entire New England organization to figure out who they are without Belichick. That might not be easy.

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Editor’s note: This piece has been updated on January 12, after the news that the Patriots are hiring Jerod Mayo to replace Bill Belichick.

In New England, Thursday was about history. Friday was about the future.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick on Thursday announced their decision to part ways after 24 years and six championships together. The decision, they said, was made mutually and amicably—something of a shock considering the money and egos involved—and both men used their time at various podiums to give thanks to each other for one of the most successful partnerships in the history of sports. Kraft gave Belichick a clear path forward by not attempting to trade him to another team and acquire something in return; Belichick put on a clean shirt and tie and accepted his fate, and, to both of their credit, the day became a celebration of the past quarter century instead of a referendum on the past four years.

For Belichick, what comes next is fairly simple: He’ll take the best job he gets offered, continue to coach, and try to win at least 15 more games to eclipse Don Shula’s record for all-time wins. Belichick did not answer questions, but Kraft discussed the next steps in a way that assumes Belichick will be a head coach next season: “It will be difficult to see him in a cutoff hoodie on the sideline, but I will always wish him continued success, except when he’s playing our beloved Patriots,” Kraft said.

For those Patriots, the centering of team history turned out to be both a celebration and a clue about what would come next. Less than a day after announcing Belichick’s departure, Kraft named linebackers coach Jerod Mayo the team’s next head coach. This was reportedly an established succession plan—Mayo’s contract, which was extended last offseason to keep him from pursuing other opportunities, included a clause saying that he would become the Patriots’ next head coach whenever Belichick was done.

Mayo, who played linebacker for the Patriots from 2008 to 2015 and has been on the defensive coaching staff since 2019, represents about as much continuity as New England could have asked for in the post-Belichick era.

But it’s worth asking now, after back-to-back losing seasons, whether continuity should be the goal—and whether it’s even possible to simply pick up the baton from someone like Belichick. Belichick not only leaves behind a historic legacy, but a unique organizational infrastructure shaped over the past two decades to support a single, wholly empowered leader—one that doesn’t make a lot of sense for a team without someone of Belichick’s experience or stature at the top. Mayo, who will turn 38 next month, is now the youngest head coach in the NFL, and though the Patriots chose him as Belichick’s successor last year, they surely weren’t expecting this moment to arrive so quickly. Reshaping the coaching staff and personnel departments to best support Mayo is necessary.

The next major question the Patriots need to answer, Kraft acknowledged on Thursday, is whether they will hire someone as a formal general manager for the first time since Pat Sullivan got the job in 1983.

Since Belichick’s most pronounced struggles came on the personnel side, Kraft was asked whether he’d given any thought to retaining Belichick but stripping him of those roster-building responsibilities. Kraft said he’d felt it wasn’t an option because of the breadth of Belichick’s latitude.

“When you have someone like Bill, who has had control over every decision, every coach we hire, the organization reports to him on the draft and how much money we spend—every decision has been his, and we’ve always supported him—to then take some of that power away and give it to someone else … it’s going to set up confusion,” Kraft said.

Mayo will not have that degree of control as coach. Whoever is chosen to lead the personnel department going forward—whether they get the general manager title or not—likely won’t either. Belichick’s authority was such that, when the team account published draft-room footage of him asking if others were on board with the selection of quarterback Mac Jones in 2021, armchair psychologists in New England assumed it meant he was only lukewarm on the pick; otherwise, Belichick would never have cared what others thought. Beyond what to do with a top-three pick in the 2024 draft and $75 million in cap space, the next man up will have to decide where, exactly, the buck stops.

If the Patriots make an internal hire, the current highest-ranking member of the department is Matt Groh, who has been with the team for 13 years but has served as director of player personnel for only the past two. Another candidate could be Eliot Wolf, who has been the Patriots scouting director since 2022 but has been in scouting since 2004 and was previously an assistant general manager with the Browns. There could also be an outside search if Kraft does opt to hire a bona fide general manager.

It’s possible, if the Patriots opt for an internal hire to run the personnel department, that the brain trust will remain completely composed of Belichick disciples. Mayo has been a coach for only five years, all of them under Belichick, and he spent the entirety of his playing career in New England. The Patriots coaching staff is already fairly lean, and it could be leaner still if Belichick’s two sons follow him to his next post. It’s fair to wonder what kind of network Mayo could tap into to round out his staff, especially since he’d likely need more support as a young, first-time head coach, and especially if the Patriots wind up giving personnel duties to someone who doesn’t significantly expand that network beyond the Gillette Stadium walls.

On an individual level, all of these questions may be easily answered. Hire this guy for that job, that guy for this one, et cetera. In the aggregate, though, they represent a significant change to an organization that has been a lean and hierarchical machine for more than 20 years. The Patriots dynasty was run from the top down, but Mayo has not earned that kind of power. He will likely need the support system provided by a more collaborative approach. WWBD—What would Bill do?—has been a guiding mantra for New England staffers for decades, but Mayo, and whoever is tapped to build the roster, will have to do a little bit more thinking for themselves. Mayo knows nothing but the Patriot Way. Groh has known Belichick for most of his life—his father, Al Groh, was Belichick’s coworker with both the Browns and Giants.

That makes all of them part of the legacy the Patriots chose to celebrate explicitly on Thursday and tacitly on Friday with Mayo’s elevation, a move that indicates that the Patriots are not looking for a complete overhaul. But emulating Belichick without being Belichick has been a recipe for disaster—ask Matt Patricia—and since Belichick is out, the Patriots, Mayo, and whoever else is part of the next leadership group need to learn who they are without him. History casts a long shadow, and the one hanging over Foxborough has the outline of a cutoff hoodie.