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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Less than 30 minutes into their introductory news conference, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his newly appointed coach Jerod Mayo had their first disagreement.

During his opening remarks, Mayo said he did not take for granted becoming the Patriots’ first Black coach. During the question-and-answer session, I asked Kraft about the significance of hiring the franchise’s first Black coach and Mayo, who was promoted from inside linebackers coach to the position, about achieving that distinction.

Kraft said, “let me say this to you, I’m really colorblind in terms of what I feel like on Sunday when we lose.” The Patriots’ 82-year-old owner said that after his family and the team, winning is what matters most.

“Winning and the Patriots is my passion. So, I want to get the best people I can get,” he said. “I chose the best head coach for this organization. He happens to be a man of color, but I chose him because I believe he’s the best to do the job.”

“I do see color because I believe if you don’t see color you can’t see racism,” Mayo said, in what was more of a clarification than a pushback. He went on to explain why it’s so important to accept individuals for who they are and not be adversely impacted by what they see on the surface — be it skin color, disabilities, whatever.

See color. See me.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft (left) and newly appointed coach Jerod Mayo (right) speak to the media during a news conference at Gillette Stadium on Jan. 17 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

After the news conference, I spoke briefly with Kraft. In the way of clarification, he said that he wanted to hire a Black man, wanted to make sure he got the right Black man for the job because he wanted him to be successful. Mayo was that person.

Indeed, at age 37, Mayo becomes the NFL’s youngest coach.

I came into Wednesday’s news conference with mixed emotions. I was happy for Mayo, who paid his dues and is a worthy candidate. I was pleased that the NFL had added another Black coach with seven more vacancies to fill. But even though it resulted in a qualified Black candidate getting a coaching job, the process was troubling. Did Mayo’s hiring circumvent the Rooney Rule? Established in 2003, the rule requires a team to conduct in-person interviews with at least one woman and one underrepresented minority outside of the organization in the slate of candidates for senior and coaching positions.

The Patriots hired Mayo without reaching out to another candidate for the coaching vacancy, but since Mayo is African American, was the organization obligated to interview another minority candidate?

In January 2023, the Patriots and Mayo, who had become a hot coaching candidate, reworked his contract and agreed on a provision in the contract that stipulated that Mayo would succeed Bill Belichick as the Patriots’ next coach. The Patriots let the NFL and the Fritz Pollard Alliance, an advocacy group that works with the NFL on matters connected to minority hiring in coaching, scouting and front office positions, know in writing of a succession arrangement that would allow Mayo to succeed Belichick. Because the team informed the league and the alliance of the arrangement, the Patriots were not required to conduct a full coaching search.

Kraft, asked why he was so sold on Mayo, said that his gut told him the Mayo would be the right fit. He said that he did not want to make the same mistake with Mayo that he made after the 1996 season when he let Belichick follow Bill Parcells to the New York Jets.

“I should have gone with my instincts and hired Bill [Belichick],” Kraft said. “I have the same feeling now having watched Jerod for 16 years, in a lot of different situations. We try to do what’s right for our system and I think we got someone very special who understands how to manage young people today.”

Kraft said that it is important for organizations to have clear succession plans. I get all of that, and in the short term — maybe even in the long term — the Mayo hire is fantastic. This was a wonderful day for Mayo, the Mayo family, the Patriots organization, and who knows, possibly the NFL as the league anticipates yet another coaching hiring cycle.

But does the Patriots’ arrangement with Mayo open the door for NFL teams to formalize what had been a closed-door, behind-the-scenes practice that kept the NFL’s coaching ranks predominantly white?

As of Thursday, 12 NFL teams have never hired a Black non-interim head coach (Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Carolina, Dallas, Jacksonville, the Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans, the New York Giants, Seattle, Tennessee and Washington).

A display board salutes newly appointed coach Jerod Mayo of the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Jan. 17 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

What does this mean for precedent? Indeed, this is the type of dealing that historically benefited white coaches and executives for years. Black coaches were always left on the outside.

Even before the Mayo hire, teams had circumvented the Rooney Rule by bringing in minority candidates for sham interviews only to hire their preferred choice. The rule was devised precisely because Black coaches had been shut out of hiring cycles.

Indeed, the reason Brian Flores filed a lawsuit against the NFL is because of these very shenanigans. Three years ago, Belichick mistakenly sent Flores a text congratulating him on being hired as the New York Giants new coach. Problem is, Flores had not even had his interview with the Giants. The text was intended for Brian Daboll, who had already been offered the Giants job. The Giants were bringing him in for a “sham interview,” Flores said, to comply with the Rooney Rule.

This is the way things had always gone for Black coaching candidates.

That’s what makes the Mayo-Patriots arrangement somewhat unique. Mayo became one of the few Black coaches to be anointed.

“Yeah, this is the way the system works, and it just so happens that we’ve got a Black man taking advantage of it now,” said Tony Dungy, the Hall of Fame coach and television analyst. I spoke with Dungy earlier this week and he said he had no problem with the way Mayo was hired.

“He’s been there, the owner knows him. The owner likes him, everybody in the building loves him and we’re hiring him because he’s our guy,” Dungy said. “There’s nothing wrong with that, except as you say, in the past, that’s been 97 times white, three times for us. But this is the way the system works. He got drafted there, he played there, he produced, they love him, he’s smart, he’s ready to go, and he happens to be Black.”

Dungy added, “This is the guy the owner wanted. Whether he was white or Black, they were going to take him because he was their guy. That’s great. I’m glad. There’s no doubt this was Kraft’s decision. He knew it. He knew what he was going to do. It was fast. We can say, well, you should have looked at some other people. To me, I’m sorry, this is football. This is how it’s done. He happened to be the beneficiary of it.”

New England Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo stands on the sideline during the first half against the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 28, 2021, in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

Mary Schwalm/AP Photo

Dungy was the coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then became the coach of the Indianapolis Colts. He became the first African American coach to win a Super Bowl. When Dungy left, he arranged for Jim Caldwell to succeed him as coach.

In January 2008, the Colts announced that Caldwell would succeed Dungy as the Colts coach. Dungy retired a year later, and Caldwell took over. There was no search, not other candidates were interviewed.

“He was the guy, and we knew it,” Dungy said of Caldwell. ‘Everybody in the building knew it. It was set up that way. There you go. That happens. We can’t be mad when it happens, and the person happens to be white. We just have to keep working to get more Jerod Mayos and Jim Caldwells in that position where they are the guy.”

I reached John Wooten before Wednesday’s news conference. Wooten, the chairman emeritus of the Fritz Pollard Alliance and one of the architects of the Rooney Rule, was ecstatic and said he loved the Mayo hire.

“It’s outstanding,” he said. “It was a backflip moment, man.” Wooten said the Mayo hiring was good news because a talented young coach who paid his dues was so valued by the franchise that they took him out of the marketplace by promising him the head coaching job.

“You know you want this guy. He’s paid his dues, he’s played for you. Now he’s coaching for you, doing a heck of a job as the linebacker coach,” Wooten said. “You see him every day doing his job. Why do you need to be going through a big interview process when you got the guy sitting right here in front of you, and they had the ability to see that.”

He added, “This was outstanding. I mean, we could not have asked for a better start in the hiring cycle. Why are you going to let this guy get out of there and end up going somewhere else when he’s done all those things for you? Give him the job. It was time for Bill to go home. As great a coach that Bill’s been, it’s time for him to go home.”

Mayo’s larger challenge will be following in the footsteps of a coaching legend and getting the Patriots, who finished 4-13 last season, back on track. Belichick won six Super Bowl championships and had the benefit of quarterback Tom Brady.

Mayo starts out with quarterbacks Bailey Zappe and Mac Jones.

“Just like every quarterback that comes in there for the next 15 years is going to be measured against Brady, you’re going to be measured against some unrealistic expectations,” Dungy said. “If he goes 10-6 next year, everybody’s going to be happy. But he goes 10-6 the year after that, it’s not good enough.”


When Kraft said that he didn’t see color on Wednesday, I cringed but understood what well-meaning white folks of his age and generation mean when they say they are colorblind. They are attempting to send the message that they will not let the color of a person’s skin adversely impact the assessment of their capabilities and potential. They will not let the fact that a candidate is African American get in the way of making a hire or handing out a promotion.

On Wednesday, Mayo, the Patriots’ 15th coach, said in no uncertain terms that he does, in fact, see color. Good for him: a clarification on day one.

There is much that Kraft will teach Mayo about the art of coaching. Mayo’s answer suggests that he has some lessons to teach as well.

William C. Rhoden, the former award-winning sports columnist for The New York Times and author of Forty Million Dollar Slaves, is a writer-at-large for Andscape.



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