It’s not just the things you should avoid in writing that are a problem. It’s the constant overload of those things. Too much passive voice, too much jargon, too many puns, too many exclamation points. If the reader is saying “Enough!”, the writer has made a mistake.
I’ve written in this space before about the distracting mannerisms of Boston Globe sportswriter Christopher L. Gasper (Lessons of the steely-eyed squeaker swiper: Christopher L. Gasper’s metaphor overload). Another of his bugaboos is alliteration: starting successive words with the same sound.
An overwhelming, overbearing, overload of alliteration
As a poetry technique, alliteration has its place. And it’s certainly common enough in sports (Final Four, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Freedoms, Terrible Towel). But this week’s gasp from Gasper pushed me over the edge. I’ve added bold italic to draw attention to the alliteration. (Gasper gets a pass for “Bill Belichick” and “Tyquan Thornton,” since there’s no way to avoid alliterative names, but the rest is fair game.)
Patriots need an experienced NFL personnel executive to help new coach Jerod Mayo
By Christopher L. Gasper Globe Staff,Updated January 16, 2024, 11:24 a.m.
If experience is the best teacher, then the Patriots went from being led by a decision-maker with a PhD in professional football in Bill Belichick to a new football operations setup with a trio of player-pickers who still qualify as pigskin pupils.
That’s dubious and dangerous.
The pivot away from Belichick puts new coach Jerod Mayo, shaky director of player personnel Matt Groh, and well-regarded director of scouting Eliot Wolf in the position of shopping for the groceries as a group. All indications are that the Patriots will not bring in an outside executive to absorb Belichick’s player-personnel power and act as de facto general manager. They’re going to marry the duo of Wolf and Groh with Mayo as in-house football counsel.
Not that the Krafts need my unsolicited advice on how to run an NFL team, but the power vacuum and giant shadow Belichick leaves behind scream for an experienced NFL personnel executive to work with Mayo, a first-time head coach, preferably one with experience working in another organization.
Wolf has valuable experience outside the Patriots organization. He logged two seasons as assistant GM in Cleveland and 14 seasons in player personnel with the Packers. He has come close to landing NFL GM jobs. However, Groh and Mayo have spent their entire NFL careers in the Fort Foxborough cocoon. They have only one football frame of reference.
While it was time for the Patriots to move on from the brilliant Belichick, the caliber of coaching was not the primary problem for the team post-Tom Brady. The main issue in the decline remains roster construction.
Mayo could be the second coming of Don Shula. It’s not going to make a difference if the roster-building issues aren’t rectified, particularly on the offensive side, as the Patriots tied for the fewest points in the NFL (236).
That’s why pairing Mayo with one of the bevy of former Patriots personnel evaluators who landed jobs elsewhere where they were responsible for procuring the players makes sense. They’re fluent in the Patriots philosophy but also have broadened their horizons to introduce new ideas and methods.
Think of it like a student who studies abroad and experiences a different culture and way of life, then returns enriched.
Former Titans general manager Jon Robinson, a onetime Patriots director of college scouting and director of player personnel in Tampa Bay; former Lions GM Bob Quinn, once director of pro scouting for the Patriots; former Raiders GM Dave Ziegler, who ascended to director of player personnel for the Patriots; and ex-Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff, who served as the Patriots’ director of college scouting from 2003-07, all come to mind.
The Patriots could even bring in an executive with (gasp) no previous ties to the team. But balancing out the promising and precocious Mayo’s lack of experience with someone who has experience in a player personnel role makes sense.
Groomed on the college scouting side, Groh boasted zero pro personnel experience before he was promoted to director of player personnel in 2022. The jury is out on him as a total team builder.
Patriots offensive line coach Adrian Klemm was not impressed with Groh’s work, according to a Boston Herald report. The primary attributes Groh seemed to possess paving the way for his ascension were the affinity Belichick had for him and being a Belichick loyalist.
On paper, Wolf — the son of Hall of Fame executive Ron Wolf, the architect of the 1996 Packers team that beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI — was the more qualified candidate, yet was inexplicably passed over.
Even if the Patriots determine they want to keep the chief personnel role an internal hire, elevating just Wolf to that role makes sense. Then allow Groh to drill down on the college scouting side where he’s boosted the team’s drafting, which has drawn praise from owner Robert Kraft.
That praise is possibly misplaced, premature, or overstated to a degree.
Groh’s grinding on film of wide receiver Tyquan Thornton thus far hasn’t paid off. Thornton is on the precipice of being another in a long line of Patriots “El Busto” wideouts.
But since Groh started having a greater influence in the draft room, the team has drafted Christian Barmore, Rhamondre Stevenson, and Christian Gonzalez.
Before he disintegrated, quarterback Mac Jones was the first non-special teams Patriots draft pick since Jamie Collins (taken in 2013) to earn a Pro Bowl nod. (Jones was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2021 as an injury replacement; punter Jake Bailey made it in 2020.)
For the last few years, Kraft advocated for a more collaborative approach to player procurement.
Everything funneled to and through Belichick for decades. Breaking up his responsibilities is sensible. But there’s a fine line between collaborative and convoluted.
The approach the Patriots ostensibly are taking could be more the latter with the three men jockeying for power, influence, and the ear of ownership.
While all three share a good working relationship, they’re also all in positions of trying to prove their worth and capability. They’re also operating without a clearly defined chain of command among them.
A strict one-on-one partnership of Wolf and Mayo is neater.
Mayo, the first Black head coach in franchise history, is the first coach without NFL head coaching experience the Krafts have employed since purchasing the team in 1994.
All the more reason to at least explore providing Mayo with an experienced personnel hand to lean upon and learn from.
The team confronts a pivotal offseason. There are crucial decisions to be made on free agents such as safety Kyle Dugger, left tackle Trent Brown, right tackle Michael Onwenu, and tight end Hunter Henry. There aren’t ready-made replacements on the roster.
The franchise is also facing a pivotal pick in the NFL Draft with the No. 3 overall selection. Whether the Patriots select a new quarterback or go with the best player available at another position of need like wide receiver or offensive tackle, they must hit a home run with the selection.
This isn’t the time to double down on what you’ve known and used in the past. There’s scant evidence it works without Brady.
As Devin McCourty once said, being a leader means being comfortable being uncomfortable.
Yet it appears the Patriots have chosen familiarity and comfort with their putative new football operations setup.
That could be setting up Mayo and the team to fail.
Some of these are probably just chance. But when they pile up in such a distracting way, you have to think that Gasper has a problem. Is he so bored with his own writing that he has to make up word games? If he keeps this up, he may need to change his name to Ghristopher Gasper.
Reduce the alliteration by 90%, and what remains might actually be effective. I liked “there’s a fine line between collaborative and convoluted,” which makes an effective point: that without one person in charge, the decision-making is going to be unwieldy. But once you’ve been pummeled with enough alliteration, a turn of phrase like that feels like just another cutesy touch, rather than an effective piece of reasoning.
Here’s what this means for your writing. Alliteration has its place. It’s effective when used extremely sparingly, to make a point. And you can use it structurally, too (in a recent book editing job, I recommended recasting the author’s recommendations as “the 7 E’s,” which was a neat way to remember her main points). But you’re not writing Beowulf. Once the repetition of alliteration becomes noticeable, it detracts from, not adds to, the reader’s understanding.
So, alleviate alliteration with alternatives. Oof. Sorry. It must be contagious.