Mike Mayock was supposed to be on his way to a Steelers practice in Latrobe. But when he received the invitation from New York Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine Jr. to sit in on a post-practice film breakdown during training camp in August, it didn’t matter that he had four hours on the road ahead of him to get from Long Island to western Pennsylvania.
A little while into the film session, the door opened and into the dark chamber barged an imposing figure: Jets head coach Rex Ryan. He sat down, took one look at Pettine’s guest, and said, “F–k. Mayock.” Then he directed his attention to the screen.
In NFL parlance, Ryan’s blunt greeting was just about the perfect way to say, “You’ve made it.” Mayock’s knowledge and work ethic have earned him a currency unavailable to the vast majority of sports-media types. He’s a respected confidante and talent evaluator to coaches, GMs and owners throughout the league. Even the New England Patriots’ vaunted Bill Belichick spends part of NFL Draft week on the phone with Mayock.
Mayock watches more tape than anybody because he loves it—but also because he’s trying to ensure that anyone who’s ever doubted his ability is dead wrong. He’s reached the upper reaches of the profession, serving as a color man on the NFL Network’s Thursday-night package and NBC’s Notre Dame University broadcasts. He’s also established himself as the preeminent NFL Draft analyst.
Football for Mayock is the family business. It’s something handed down to him by his father, Mike Sr., a teacher and a former coach at the University of Pennsylvania, Malvern Prep and the Haverford School. When you hear Mayock, you hear that instructor, trying to make sure you understand things a little better.
“The way I grew up was to look at the game analytically,” he says. “I didn’t have a passion for rooting for a team. My passion was trying to figure out why a play worked or didn’t work. My love comes from following [my father] around.”
The message to the kids at the Catholic Youth Organization banquet was simple: Follow your passion. Go after it, and don’t stop until you get it. Mike Mayock had done several such talks, all built around that message. From the time he was young, he rarely coasted—even if he did try to look cool and make everybody think he was taking life at half-speed.
On this particular occasion, Mayock brought his 8-year-old son, Michael, with him. During the car ride home, the youngster made an observation that changed his father’s life. He told Mayock that he wasn’t heeding his own advice.
“You’re not doing football.”
“I do college games every year,” Mayock replied.
“Yeah, but you’re not doing it full time. You’re not doing what you told those kids to do.”
Mayock had been broadcasting games for more than a decade at that point, but he was juggling that schedule with a job as real estate developer for the Newtown Square-based GMH Partners. He’d been in that business for quite a while, dating back to his retirement from the NFL in 1984.
After earning all-East honors as a safety at Boston College, Mayock was drafted in the 10th round by the Steelers in 1981. His father had been picked by the Steelers in 1955. On occasion, Mayock will remind his old man that he was selected 14 rounds earlier.
Following a short stint in the Canadian Football League, Mayock caught on with the Giants. He played two seasons for New York as a reserve defensive back and a kick- and punt-coverage dervish.
“I remember Mike as a smart player—a tough, hard-working guy,” says Bill Belichick, who was the Giants’ defensive coordinator and special-teams coach when Mayock was on the roster. “He really prepared well and got the most out of his ability. He was an instinctive guy who knew about his assignment and what was going on around him.”
In 1984, the Giants cut Mayock, whose knees were shot. “I couldn’t run anymore,” he says simply.
During the next 18 years, he worked in the real estate world, making a comfortable living and enjoying himself. Sort of. “I knew football had to be in my life somehow,” he says.
Growing up in Overbrook and then Wynnewood, Mayock was immersed in football. When Mike Sr. would come home with 16-millimeter game film, his son would get out of bed to watch. When he was old enough, he went with his father to scout teams, and he learned how to chart plays. Dad would hold the clipboard and say, “Call it out.” Son would respond by describing the down and distance, the play run and its result.
So, when Mayock decided he wanted to get into football, he went at it from the point of view of someone who loved the game at every level. That also helped in his media career, where he started at the bottom. For a guy who’d been a four-sport star at the Haverford School and a team captain at Boston College, Mayock had to sublimate his ego in a big way. His first gig, in 1991, involved standing by the field at a Ridley High School football game, listening to the broadcast on a Walkman and providing trenchant analysis whenever the high school kid doing play-by-play decided to throw it his way.
“I remember standing on the sidelines, thinking, ‘How great is this?’” Mayock says.
Mayock remembers walking the halls of Henderson High School in West Chester, looking for the head coach before broadcasting a game on WCHE-AM. It was the Thursday before a Saturday contest, and the coach couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “He looks at me and says, ‘Let me get this straight. You played in the NFL, and you come to ask me about football and my game Saturday?’” recalls Mayock, laughing.
In 10 minutes, the coach was up at the blackboard, diagramming plays and defenses for Mayock. Any time the conversation was about the old prolate spheroid, he was in.
Mayock enjoyed his time in the prep ranks, but that wasn’t his ultimate aim. He reached out to the now-defunct New Jersey Network and, in 1992, landed a spot as a sideline reporter on NJN’s TV broadcasts of football games for Rutgers and Princeton universities. It wasn’t glamorous, and the audience was small, but Mayock was on television. And thanks to the on-air generosity of play-by-play man Pat Scanlon and analyst Bob Casciola, he could demonstrate his football knowledge. “If Bob had a [big] ego, he would’ve been upset,” Mayock quips.
Thus began Mayock’s fascination with trying to explain what can be a confusing sport. He has little time for the drama or contrived storylines, and his no-nonsense approach runs counter to many analysts’ preferences for focusing on star players or spectacular plays. If you watch a game with Mayock in the booth, you’ll learn something.
“When he comes out of the gate and talks football, you’re going along for the ride,” says NFL Network executive producer Eric Weinberger. “He knows the teams’ philosophies, and he works on TV like he did in the locker room [as a player] or on the field. And it feels like he’s speaking with you, instead of at you or down to you.”
Mayock spent two seasons at NJN, using the experience to create an audition tape that went to any station or network that did college football games. In late 1993, he got a call from Chuck Howard, the former ABC sports visionary who was doing some consulting for ESPN. “I just saw your tape, and it’s broadcast quality,” Howard told him.
He assured Mayock that he would contact ESPN and recommend him. The next day, ESPN’s Mo Davenport asked him to cover the Independence Bowl between Indiana University and Virginia Tech. Mayock told viewers to expect VT to try to block a Hoosier punt, and the Hokies blasted through five seconds later to do just that.
From there, it was a whirlwind. He did college games, Canadian Football League contests and even a high school all-star tilt in his two years (1994-95) at ESPN. All the while, he was “paying the bills” with his gig at GMH. On one occasion, he did a CFL game in Toronto on a Thursday night and grabbed a 6 a.m. flight to Philadelphia the next morning. He was the first one in the office at 7:50.
Mayock was lucky to be working for Gary M. Holloway at GMH. He not only embraced Mayock’s avocation, he figured out a way to profit from it. When Mayock landed in the booth doing Southeastern Conference games on CBS in 1996, Holloway would dispatch him to that week’s game site a couple days early to scout properties for the company to buy. “I ended up buying probably $30-$40 million in student housing in Gainesville, because I did a Florida game every year,” Mayock says. “I had a lot of support [at GMH].”
But he wanted more. “But how do you get there?” Mayock asked himself. The answer was pretty clear: Go all in.
Paul Burmeister had been with NFL Network just a couple weeks when he first met Mike Mayock. A former quarter-back at the University of Iowa, Burmeister had already spent time at NFL Films in Mount Laurel, N.J., with its president, Steve Sabol, and former Eagles QB Ron Jaworski. They told him how much he’d like working with Mayock. “I saw him in the studio, and I introduced myself,” says Burmeister, who was 33 at the time. “He shakes my hand, looks me up and down, and asks, ‘What are you—11 years old? That’s Mike.”
The oldest of seven, Mayock plays the role of big brother every day. He’s a master of sarcasm and enjoys twisting the knife whenever possible. “Mike’s the biggest ballbuster there ever was,” says John Loughery, a good friend who competed against Mayock in high school and followed him to Boston College.
Loughery was a sophomore basketball starter at Penn Charter when he faced Mayock’s Haverford team. “I was a hotshot who had scored some points,” says Loughery.
Before the opening tip-off, Mayock walked over to Loughery and said, “You’re not going to score a point.”
Loughery remembers hitting “four foul shots in the fourth quarter” and nothing else. “He was all over me all night.”
Mayock, his father, four brothers and two sisters would all rather drink antifreeze than lose at anything. The morning of brother Pete’s wedding, the five Mayock boys played a grudge basketball game against five of Pete’s Dickinson College teammates. It was a sweltering day on an Atlantic City playground court. The brothers prevailed, 15-13, on a backdoor layup by the bridegroom. Mayock set the pick to spring Pete.
And since Mayock can’t drill ESPN’s NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper with a back screen, or upend doubting network types as they go over the middle to catch a pass, he simply outprepares them.
“Mike works hard,” says Belichick. “He sees the players; he’s not just going on reputation or somebody else’s opinion. He watches tapes. He can recall players and games, and refers to specific things to back up his opinion. He looks at the game in a way I’m familiar with: He places emphasis on production.”
In 2003, Mayock was initially angry when NFL Network executive Howard Katz initially offered him the draft slot, as opposed to a studio position on its signature Total Access program. Mayock had done a great job in his audition, and Katz told him that. In fact, he was better than his competition. To Mayock, though, it was yet another instance of a TV exec ignoring his ability because of his relatively low profile. “I got upset with him,” Mayock admits. “It’s a pet peeve I have: If I outperform them, why won’t you hire me?”
Katz wasn’t demoting Mayock. Rather, he was giving him a chance to redefine NFL Draft coverage from the point of view of an ex-player. At the time, only Mel Kiper had a national reputation for draft analysis, and he hadn’t spent a minute on an NFL field. Mayock was given the freedom to develop his new role any way he wanted. He gave up real estate that year.
Within months, Mayock had taught himself how to look at tape from a personnel evaluator’s perspective, not as a player or coach. “I had to retrain my eye and my mind,” he says.
To help, he cultivated relationships throughout the league with coaches, GMs and scouts. After a while, they began asking him what he thought about players. Granted, it was an advantage that he worked for the NFL. But it was more important that he was respected.
Mayock convinced the NFL Network to televise the Senior Bowl all-star game each January—and to have cameras there for the week of practices. He pushed for the same with the NFL Scouting Combine, even when execs wondered if any sane person would care whether an offensive tackle from Oklahoma State could master the four-cone drill. “Mike came along at the perfect time,” says FOX analyst Howie Long, an NFL Hall of Famer and a former Villanova University standout.
Long marvels over how a guy who played in the defensive backfield all his life has been able to develop such an understanding of line play. “There’s not a position that Mike cannot give you an intelligent, well-informed opinion on,” he says. “It’s an art form.”
Long and Mayock go way back. Mayock recruited Long to Boston College, but the young sophomore from Charlestown, Mass., was “overwhelmed” by the scene at BC and ended up at Nova. The two have remained close, and the night before the Rams drafted Long’s son, Chris, in 2008, Mayock was at the dinner Long and his wife hosted in New York. “He’s a favorite of the family,” Long says. “[But] he probably didn’t point out to you that we kicked their asses when I was at Villanova [in 1980].”
Mayock’s work as a draft analyst has been nothing less than groundbreaking. “He’s going to know the answer to every question—and know the answer better than anybody else who knows it,” says Rich Eisen, who anchors the NFL Network’s draft coverage.
Mayock’s ability to straddle the line between the NFL and college versions of the game has earned him notice beyond draft circles. That’s why, in 2010, when Pat Haden left the NBC broadcasting booth to become athletic director at USC, Mayock made the short list to replace him—along with Doug Flutie.
Conventional wisdom held that the former NFL quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner would get the gig. Mayock himself was quite sure he wouldn’t get a call. “I don’t have a name,” he said to his brother, Matt, while sitting on the beach in Ocean City one Friday afternoon.
Naturally, the phone rings. It’s Sandy Montag, Mayock’s agent, asking if he can meet with NBC exec Sam Flood the next week about the job.
After a 90-minute interview with Flood at Brown University’s football stadium, Mayock boarded a plane to head home. He got the call from Montag while still on the tarmac. They offered him the job.
Mayock tore into his NBC work with a familiar intensity. After two Notre Dame broadcasts, the network extended his contract from two to six seasons. Last January, he did a Saints-Seahawks playoff game, and this spring, he’ll provide analysis for Thursday-night games on the NFL Network.
“Mike is doing exactly what NBC thought he’d do when we hired him,” says Sunday Night Football producer Fred Gaudelli. “His knowledge is unparalleled, and his presentation is strong.”
And he hasn’t lost his edge.
“The irony is, it’s the only industry that I’ve ever been involved with that the decision makers know less about the product than the people they’re hiring,” says Mayock.
He’s no longer that 10th rounder with something to prove—even if he still thinks of himself that way.