The Patriots shocked the world on Thursday by announcing Bill Belichick's departure from the team after a 24-year tenure. Although it had been speculated for some time that a split wasn't an "if" anymore but more of a "when," it felt like something that would only happen when the legendary head coach decided to retire, not due to a difference in plans for the future.
Now that it's official, the panic among Patriots fans and the questioning from the media about who will be chosen to succeed Belichick is beginning. It has been a question that remained a talking point throughout the 2023 season, as many speculated that the end was near.
A few names have floated around as the likeliest candidates, predominately current linebackers coach and presumed heir to the throne Jerod Mayo and recently fired from the Titans Mike Vrabel.
Mayo has dominated the conversation since the team released an unprecedented memo last offseason, revealing their plans to keep him around long term. He had a scheduled meeting with the Carolina Panthers for their vacant head coach position but canceled it after speaking with Kraft and others with the Patriots.
Then, over the last few weeks, Vrabel's name has been thrown in the mix as rumors about a potential rift in Tennessee picked up steam. That ended up being true, as the former Coach of the Year was fired by team owner Amy Adams Strunk earlier this week.
Before that happened, several reports indicated Kraft was leaning toward trading for the former linebacker to replace Belichick next season. But now that he's available, getting him in the building would be much easier.
However, that may not be in the Patriots' plans as much as it was thought to be, at least according to NFL insider Ian Rapoport.
Latest rumor suggests Jerod Mayo is the one in line for the job
After the dust settled from Kraft's second press conference on Thursday afternoon, Rapoport revealed that within Mayo's contract, there was a succession plan put into writing that would allow them to hire him immediately and not go through the interviewing process.
That means they could skip over the lengthy steps of determining the worthy candidates to interview and start fresh right away.
As great as that sounds, it seems like a cause for potential disaster, and it doesn't entirely have to do with Mayo himself.
Because of the significance of the decision to move on from the greatest coach of all time after 24 years and six Super Bowl Championships, it seems like a bad idea to jump right away into hiring the next guy without at least exploring other options and talking to other candidates.
It's not surprising to hear that there was a plan in place to have Mayo be the one to take over, but it had been widely reported it wouldn't happen until 2025 at the earliest, which seems to indicate they weren't comfortable with it happening so quickly, while also factoring in the assumption of Belichick remaining with the team for another season or two.
It has become the most concerning part about the rumor, especially since Mayo hasn't been a defensive coordinator yet. Some feel that means he may not be fully prepared for the complexity of being a head coach.
Most believe he will be fantastic in the role eventually; even Patriots players have said that in recent days, but going from Belichick to an inexperienced succeeder doesn't feel like the smartest idea, especially if others aren't even considered or interviewed for the position.
The Krafts should do their due diligence before deciding to hire anyone for the job
Whoever steps into the role after Belichick won't have it easy, and it will take a certain someone to be able to handle the pressure and criticism that will inevitably come with it. Mayo has been around the Patriots his entire professional life, so he is used to the harsh Boston media.
He's beloved by the fans and the team and has glowing reviews from the defensive roster this season. So there's no doubt about how great of a coach he will be, whenever or wherever that may be.
That said, despite not having many top-tier candidates to consider for the role, Kraft needs to realize how important it is to think this decision through. Although he's hired head coaches during the time he's owned the team, replacing a guy like Belichick isn't as easy as other teams with a revolving door of personnel.
He emphasized his desire for the team to be successful as soon as next season, so immediately deciding that Mayo is the guy could come back to bite them. It may not, but what's wrong with exploring the options available?
It's a decision that will determine the future of your franchise, so it should be a weighted decision with no need to rush it.