By Jake Rader
Special to The Communitarian
Mike Mayock’s return to the NFL has been unique to say the least. The former New York Giants safety left the game of football at the age of 25 due to a knee injury, and began a career in commercial real estate.
It was during this transition in Mayock’s life when he realized that football needed to be a part of his life. Being a coach’s son, Mayock began studying the game by watching local Pennsylvania high school football games.
Eventually Mayock transitioned into a prominent role with the NFL Network. He became a fixture on television screens every year during coverage of the NFL draft. The media proclaimed the “draft guru’s” knowledge of draft prospects to be desirable information for the average NFL fan for more than a decade.
In 2019, Mayock moved into the next phase of his career, as he stepped into the coveted role of general manager for the Oakland (Now Las Vegas) Raiders.
I recently sat down with the Wayne, Pa. native to discuss his journey back into the league, and his philosophy on how to build a winning team.
How did you end up going to the Haverford School?
My dad was the offensive line coach at the University of Pennsylvania when I was young, and there are seven kids in our family, five of whom being boys. He left the University of Penn to take the head coaching job at the Haverford School. We did not have the money to go there. In fact, we weren’t even close to having the money to afford it with seven kids and one salary. So he took the job at Haverford, where he was a teacher and a coach. All five boys got to go there for free.
So he coached you at the Haverford School?
What was it like playing for your father at the Haverford School? Was he harder on you as a coach or did he treat you just like one of the guys?
I think initially he was a lot tougher on me. I ended up starting as a freshman. He wanted to make sure that everybody knew there was no favoritism. I probably ran more laps and sprints than anybody in the history of the Haverford School. He kicked my ass up and down the field. I think in all honesty by the time I started playing well during sophomore year, everybody knew I was going to play. Due to this, he started treating me like everybody else.
Transitioning into your years with the Giants. You played under Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick during your time there. How were their coaching styles different and how were they similar?
They were very different, Bill Parcells (later elevated to head coach) when I got there was the defensive coordinator. Bill Belichick was the special teams and linebackers coach. Parcells was born and raised in New Jersey, and was very sarcastic, very tough, and had a good relationship with the players because he was a wise guy. I think one of the best things Bill Parcells did was his ability to motivate star players.
He got Lawrence Taylor to play at a high level every week, and he knew how to get to Lawrence Taylor. He also knew how to get to Phil Simms, which might have been different than Lawrence Taylor. He had a great gut feel for how to get to players and motivate them to play at a high level. Belichick was more of a technician, and knew every position and every player. I mean when he was the coach of the special teams early in my career, he was probably 28 or 29 years old, which is atypical for an NFL assistant coach in that era.
He was so well prepared, and I think that he was probably the best teacher, and that’s what distinguishes him. He was the best teacher I have ever been around in any classroom or any sport. To this day, I tell people that he’s the only coach I’ve ever met in the NFL that could coach every position on his team, and do it better than the position coach.
So back then could you foresee both of them being as successful in coaching as they are today?
Yeah I think I could. Being a coach’s son, I always gravitated towards good teachers. At that
point the Giants teams that I was on were not very good. You could tell that Parcells was kind of turning the roster over, and getting his kind of people in the door. Belichick was going to be special, and unfortunately for me I tore both my knees.
Heading into my third year I was done, and they were about to get really good. You could see it coming and it happened, as a year later they were in the playoffs, and two years later they won the Super Bowl.
How did you end up getting into commercial real estate after you retired? And was it a difficult transition?
Well, I mean I was 25 years old and I was kind of frustrated. I was hoping to have a longer and better NFL career, but the reality of being injured was exactly that. I was married and I had to make money because the money in the NFL in those days was nothing compared to what it is today. I knew I needed to get a job.
I was very thankful that I had gotten an education at both the Haverford School and Boston College. So the fact that I was a college graduate allowed me to compete. I also think that the fact that I was 25 years old allowed me to compete. I interviewed at several different professions because I had no idea what I wanted to do. I wanted to be in the sales marketing side, and I got an opportunity in commercial real estate and got my foot in the door. I had a lot of good years in commercial real estate.
However, I realized very quickly that football had to be a part of my life somehow. So, even though I was working full time in commercial real estate, I was doing high school games on the radio for free for West Chester Henderson and Ridley high schools. I was just trying to keep myself around the game of football because I knew I missed it, and ultimately it had to be a part of what I did.
After your career in real estate you transitioned into a role in sports media, most recently working for the NFL Network covering the NFL draft. Do you have a similar approach in your role as General Manager of the Raiders when it comes to scouting that you did when you were the “draft guru” at NFL Network?
I think evaluating players is similar if you’re going to do it the right way. The difference is that not only is it college players, but also there’s free agency. So I’m sitting here on Sunday in my office in Oakland, and I’m going to be watching a group of college players, and a group of NFL players for free agency.
Also, tomorrow morning John Gruden and I are going to have a meeting with our coaching staff and some of our personal people. During this meeting we’re going to go through our lists at certain positions to get ourselves ready for free agency, and the combine which happens later in February. For 18 years at the NFL Network all I was responsible for was my own individual production for the college draft. I watched hours and hours of tape every day to be prepared. Now it’s a much bigger picture.
It’s not just about evaluating prospects, but also about building a team. That is a totally different conversation, and I find it fascinating because it brings in character. I also find it fascinating because it brings in what kind of people do you want in your building, how you’re doing it, and who do you prioritize. It’s not just about putting a grade on a player, there’s a bigger picture there.
So I loved everything I did with the NFL Network for 18 years, but I’m really happy I’m getting an opportunity to try to compete in the NFL.
When you were doing your mock drafts at the NFL Network, what was your best and worst player projections?
[Laughs] Mock drafts are a funny thing, Jake. I could watch 10 hours of tape a day for nine months and you might just look through some article the day before, and you might just hit as many on the mock draft as I do. So mock drafts are a funny thing, as you try to match a player with a team. For instance, years ago when Aaron Rodgers came out of college he was projected to go in the top five along with Alex Smith. Alex Smith went number one overall, and I had Aaron Rodgers going 24th to Green Bay.
Everybody ridiculed me, and said you have to be kidding me, he’s not going to last all the way to Green Bay. Obviously, that’s where he went to Green Bay in the mid 20’s. My point is that it wasn’t really my reflection of where he should have gone, because, let’s face it, he’s a Hall of Fame player and should have gone higher, and I thought he should have gone higher.
However, I was trying to match him up with where I think he would end up. Aaron Rodgers and I have laughed about it over the years. He was like, “You killed me in the mock draft”. I said, “No I didn’t kill you. I was just trying to put you where I think you’d go”. So that was kind of a good fit for that year, and shoot I’ve missed on tons of guys. It’s honestly hard to figure out one guy because I’ve missed on so many.
I missed on Maurice Jones-Drew, even though that wasn’t a mock draft I had him lower than he should have been. He was a really good football player, and I didn’t give him enough credit for that. That evaluation definitely bothers me. There’s a bunch of them that bother me that I should have done better on.
Transitioning into the Raiders, this year Derek Carr took big strides as his completion percentage, passing yards, and passer rating were the highest of his career. What is your take on his season and his progress as a whole?
I think that he’s in year two of Jon Gruden’s system, and John is really demanding. Jon’s system has a high volume of plays, and demands a lot of mentally acuity from a quarterback. That’s what is great about Derek, as his ability to handle the volume that Jon demands sometimes is mind boggling to me. He really asks a lot of Derek.
So year two I thought that Derek made a distinct jump. He did a great job of handling things at the line of scrimmage, and getting us into and out of plays. Jon gives him a lot of freedom at the line of scrimmage that the average fan can’t understand. He completed 70 percent of his passes for around 4,000 yards. He also doesn’t turn the ball over very much, so I thought year two in a Jon Gruden system he took another step forward.
During the Raiders initial interest in you for general manager, were you surprised that they called you? And when they did was it a no brainer to accept the job?
Well I’ve had some opportunities over the years with other teams. It was never really the right time or right situation during my life. I always knew in the back of my mind that if the right opportunity came, and if my kids were grown that it would be something I’d love to do. When the Raiders called and asked me to interview I said sure.
I flew out here and sat down with Jon and [Raiders Owner] Mark Davis, and we sat at a table for probably four or five hours. It very quickly became just kind of me and John locked in on each other talking football. We focused on talking process about how we both look at building a roster. What was cool is that I knew Jon for years, but this was by far the most intense conversation we ever had.
We really clicked early on in the four or five hours, and it really just became a free for all conversation about how you build a team.
Do you enjoy what you do know more than what you did in the Sports Media Business?
Yeah it’s not even close. I loved what I did at NFL Network as they were awesome to me. I loved every day of it. However, there’s nothing like having skin in the game. I tell people all the time that if you’ve ever played a sport at any level there’s a vested interest in how that team does.
Now at this level it’s very different for me as I could do a game on Thursday Night Football where there’s 20 million people watching the game, and I feel like I did a pretty good job. Then after the game I’ll have a beer and go to sleep. Now Sunday afternoon is an incredibly tortuous three and a half hours, but it’s what it’s all about. That three and a half-hour period is really why I’m back.
Also due to the relationship with the players and the coaches, as all of us are invested in a common goal. You’ll come into our building at 5:30 in the morning every day, and the whole coaching staff is here, the whole personnel staff is here, and we’re working our asses off trying to get better
How critical is it for you guys to acquire a speedy outside receiver to stretch the field and take the pressure off the run game and Darren Waller?
I always tell people when you look at offense in today’s world of spread football and spread offense that I don’t think you need to call people positions that much anymore. However, what you do need are explosive players, you need playmakers. I think we’ve got a playmaker in Josh Jacobs at running back, and we’ve got a playmaker in Darren Waller. Even though Waller is a tight end, he acts like a wide receiver for us because he’s so gifted.
He had 90 catches for over 1,000 yards, Jacobs had over 1,000 yards in his rookie season as a running back. So we feel like we have two explosive playmakers, but what we don’t have is anything else to compliment them, especially with speed. Regardless of what you call the position, yeah we need some outside speed. We need to give Derek some more opportunities to get vertical.
We’ve got a big strong talented offensive line. If we can find the right guy or two that will help us immensely on offense.
Do you think there’s a player like that in this year’s draft?
There’s players like that in every draft, the challenge is picking the right one. If you look at the wide receiver position in the first round over the last ten years, there have been a lot more busts than there have been hits. It’s a little bit of a buyer beware market in the first round for wide outs, so it’s something we are very aware of.
In terms of Darren Waller’s story in his road to redemption, how pleased were you with him this year? As he was taking the right steps forward and developing into a good professional football player?
He’s an amazing young man, and what he’s been through is kind of mind boggling. He was a wide receiver in college, and he’d be the first to tell you that he had problems with recreational drugs and alcohol. He’s had many different instances where he’s been in rehab, and he talks freely about it.
The year before I got here, Gruden and his staff poached him off the Baltimore Ravens Practice squad. They brought him to Oakland, and he played the last four or five games of the 2018 season for us. You could see during this time that he was a freak of nature. He went from being a 225 Lbs. college wide out to a 255 Lbs. NFL tight end. He still runs a 4.5 40-yard dash, he’s got great hands, he’s smart as hell, but he’s had some demons. He freely talks to our staff about it, and he goes to meetings every week. He’s also been sober for over a year and a half. He is very cognizant of trying to help other people who have issues, and he’s one of my most favorite people I’ve ever met.
We signed him to a contract extension during the season this year, and after he signed the contract I asked him what he was thinking. He said, “Mr. Mayock a year ago I sat in this same room when I signed the contract that sent me away from the Ravens. During this time, I just kept telling myself Don’t mess it up because this may be my last opportunity. Now a year and a half later you’re signing me to this big contract and I can’t even believe it”.
So it’s just a wonderful story about a guy who stayed at it who just kept tripping and falling, and was self-aware enough to realize that he needed help. Every day is a battle for him to stay sober, and he just keeps stacking one day on top of another. Now he’s become one of the top players in his position at his profession, it’s just really cool to see.
How would you assess your defense? And how specifically do you plan on filling the holes at linebacker and defensive tackle?
Well we have to get way better on defense everywhere. We’re not very good at all. I think you look at it as a combination of free agency and the draft. I don’t know how it’s going to fall out. We have to prioritize what we need and how to attack it.
Free agency comes first every year obviously, so we’ve got an opportunity and a little bit of money that we can spend. We’ve got an opportunity to try and sign some potential starters. If that’s the case it makes it easier during the draft to pinpoint what direction you want to go. Really it’s just a combination of trying to value the assets you have in both free agency and the draft, and maximize them.
Would you say that you guys consider linebacker a big priority? Because in the last couple years teams have kind of moved away from spending a lot of money in free agency on linebackers, or drafting a linebacker in the first round. What’s your take on that?
I just think that we need good football players on defense right now. We have so many holes, and it’s just a matter of picking the best players. When you’re talking about the draft, if two guys have a similar rating that’s one thing. However, I think when you start reaching for positions in the draft you dilute the overall talent on your roster.
It’s really a good news/bad news situation. The bad news is we’re not very good at certain positions on defense. The good news is we can just go out and find good football players regardless of position.
How’s Johnathan Abram doing? Do you think he’s going to be back this year fully healthy?
Yeah, he’s a difference maker, and he pops off every tape he’s ever played. We took him in the first round last year, and he was outstanding in training camp. In our first game against the Denver Broncos, he came out and was just knocking the hell out of people. He got hurt in the game and tore his shoulder. I don’t know how he finished the game. I knew something was wrong when I saw him miss a couple tackles because he doesn’t miss tackles.
But he tore his shoulder and finished the game. Due to this we had to put him on injured reserve. He’s going to be back at 100 percent, he’s already healthy right now. I talk to him a couple times a week, he’s training in Dallas. He’s one of the smartest, toughest, hardest working young men I’ve ever been around, and I’d be surprised if he didn’t have a big year for us.
Switching gears here, coaches who have had complete control over their teams, such as Bill Belichick, have had tremendous success in the NFL. Bill Belichick, of course, winning six Super Bowls since being granted complete control in 2000. On the contrary, we’ve seen guys like Chip Kelly crash and burn when given complete control. Being the general manager of the Oakland Raiders, a team that obviously doesn’t employ this method, what are your thoughts on this form of team management?
What it really comes down to for me is a system checks and balances. Most teams in a traditional structure with a Head Coach and a General manager have to define up front that there are different responsibilities for each position. The head coach’s primary vision is to win every Sunday, and that’s what they are focused in on. The General Manager’s job is to have a bigger picture of the direction of the organization, and to make decisions for the long-term future of the franchise.
Typically, you’ve got a head coach with a short-term view of winning Sunday, and a general manager with a long-term view. There lies a bunch of checks and balances, and conversations with what’s best for the team, and what’s best for this Sunday. When you have the head coach with full authority and power on everything, it really comes down to just the quality of that one person. This is because there are not as many checks and balances. Bill Belichick may be very special, which he is. I’ve learned more football from him than anybody else I’ve ever been around.
So because he’s so special with leadership, intelligence, he understands all facets of the business. Because of who he is, that system works for them. However, who competes every year and is always good? Take the Ravens and the Steelers for example, those two teams have a more traditional structure. In Pittsburgh, Kevin Colbert has been the General Manager for 15-20 years, and it doesn’t matter if it’s Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin. The X’s and O’s change with every coach, but Kevin Colbert knows what a Pittsburgh Steeler looks like and smells like.
In Baltimore, Ozzie Newsome has been there for 15-20 years, he just handed over the torch to Eric De Costa who has been with them every step of the way. It’s the same thing there too, it doesn’t matter if it’s Brian Billick or John Harbaugh. The X’s and O’s change, but a Raven still looks like a Raven and smells like a Raven. The checks and balances in those two buildings have been phenomenal, they push each other and they get better every year. That’s the more traditional structure.
What I’ve learned over the last 20 years because my job at the NFL Network was basically to be in all 32 buildings, is that there’s no one right way or one wrong way. It really depends on the quality of the people.
How involved is team owner Mark Davis in the day to day operations with the Raiders?
Mark’s awesome, because he’s at every game obviously. He’s in and out of the building, and splits his time between Oakland and Vegas. He’s on the phone an awful lot with Jon and I. Really what he’s hoping for is a consensus between John and I on direction. If he feels like John and I are on the same page, he thinks it’s the right decision.
If John and I are kind of having conversation, he wants to hear both sides of it and push that conversation forward. He’s really good because he doesn’t get in the way of day to day operations. He’s 100 percent supportive, he’s not a guy who has another industry or a different business. He grew up with the Oakland Raiders and this is who he is. So he’s non-intrusive, yet he’s there when we need him.
How are the facilities looking in Las Vegas?
I think we’re heading into a situation where we’re going to be one of the top teams in the league from a facilities perspective. We’ve got a brand-new stadium. It’s black, it’s sleek, it’s just what you would expect it to look like for the Oakland Raiders. It’s really cool. We’ve got a brand-new facility where we are going to practice about 10 miles away.
It’s state of the art, this area is where most of the players and coaches will live as it is out near the facility. So we’re going to go from one of the older facilities in the league in both stadiums and practice facilities, to one of the newest most state-of-the-art facilities in the NFL. We feel pretty excited about it.
With all that has been going on recently with Antonio Brown, could you see the warning signs from a mental health standpoint? Or are you more shocked with what has transpired?
Well I’m not a mental health expert by any means. I thought we’d get the best out of him coming from Pittsburgh where some things happened at the end of that. We figured that he’d come here with the attitude that he’d want to finish off his career here, and ride off into the hall of fame with maybe a Super Bowl or two.
However, that clearly wasn’t the program. I’m not qualified to talk about what happened in New England, or what happened in his house. Unfortunately, it is what it is, and it’s kind of sad to see.
Are you excited for Vegas? The home field advantage the Knights have had in the NHL has been tremendous. I’m sure you guys are expecting similar support.
I hope we have a good home field advantage. We have to win games first. Vegas is a destination city, so if you’re not a very good football team the fans are going to sell all their tickets to the Eagles when they come play in Vegas and we can’t have that.
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