INDIANAPOLIS - At this point with the longevity of Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, the only thing missing is a “Field of Dreams’’-like voiceover by James Earl Jones.
“The one constant through all the years, young Patriots fans, has been Scar. The people associated with the franchise are like an army of steamrollers. They have been erased like a blackboard (with X’s and O’s on it, of course), rebuilt and erased again. But Scar has marked the time.’’ He has received paychecks from all four team owners: Billy Sullivan, Victor Kiam, James Orthwein, and Robert Kraft.
He has served six head coaches: Ron Meyer, Raymond Berry, Dick MacPherson, Bill Parcells, Pete Carroll, and Bill Belichick.
He has coached Pro Bowl players: Mosi Tatupu (special teams), Tony Franklin (kicker), Larry Whigham (special teams), Damien Woody (center), Matt Light (tackle), Dan Koppen (center), Logan Mankins (guard), and Brian Waters (guard).
And then there are the Patriots’ Super Bowl appearances, all of them with Scarnecchia on board: 1985, 1996, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, and this season.
The one constant has been the man known as “Scar’’ by those who work for him and alongside him.
“He’s one of the smartest football coaches in the business,’’ said Berry, a Hall of Famer. “His depth of knowledge about the game, he can match anybody.’’
“I was like, ‘Man, what have I gotten myself into? This is the guy that’s going to be coaching me? That was just a workout.’”Dan Connolly, on his first meeting with Dante Scarnecchia
Scarnecchia, who is in his 30th season in the NFL, is tied with Bengals running backs coach Jim Anderson for longest active service with one team at 28 years. The two were actually college teammates at Cal Western in San Diego from 1968-69.
“I’ll tell you what, he’s good,’’ said Waters. “And there’s a reason why this group is always good. There’s a reason why the Patriots always have a good, solid offensive line. It’s because of him. I see where it comes from. He’s a consistent figure to this line.’’
But how does Scarnecchia, who will turn 64 on Feb. 15, do it?
The words most often heard about him are demanding, loyal, smart, and dedicated.
One word that isn’t spoken, but seems to be the underlying theme, is surprising: love.
Yes, love. The man on the staff who knows the most variations of curse words gives out a brutally tough love that seems to endure long after his players leave his charge.
“To me, he’s the one that laid out the foundation for me,’’ said Woody, the current ESPN analyst who left the Patriots in 2004 and played with the Lions and Jets. “A lot of the things I used in my game, I got from him.
“For me, he was tough because when I came in, I was a first-round pick and there was a lot expected of me and he was really hard on me. As I went along, he eased up and things got a lot better, but he holds guys accountable, which you’re supposed to do, and expects guys to play at a really high level.
“I can still vividly see him having an explosion on the sideline, but that was OK with me because he wanted things done right, and that’s fine by me.’’
Ah, the blowups. You see them daily on the practice field during training camp. You see them on the sideline during games, as when rookie Nate Solder blocked right against the Broncos while the rest of the line shifted left and Elvis Dumervil nearly made Tom Brady a permanent part of the turf at Sports Authority Field.
“He’s one of those fiery coaches,’’ said center Dan Connolly. “He expects a lot out of us, he’s very demanding, but we all appreciate what he does for us.’’
It didn’t take long for Connolly to realize what he was in for when he came to work out for the Patriots early in the 2007 season after being released by the Jaguars.
“I expected it to be pretty relaxed,’’ Connolly said. “And he gave me the cadence in some drill and I flinched to go offsides. And he laid right into me. I couldn’t believe it.
“I was like, ‘Man, what have I gotten myself into? This is the guy that’s going to be coaching me? That was just a workout.’ ’’
Even Waters, who went to five Pro Bowls and was twice named All-Pro with the Chiefs, heard it on his first day.
“I didn’t know what to expect and then right away he’s on me,’’ Waters said. “He’s like, ‘Hey, let’s go, we ain’t got time to wait.’
“I thought I was in shape until I got with Dante. I figured out I still had some work to do.’’
That’s the thing that enamors Scarnecchia to his players: It doesn’t matter who you are, everyone gets treated the same.
“That gives our young guys the ability to step in because they’re learning the same way we are and they prepare the same way,’’ said Waters.
Yet some players do think that Scarnecchia plays favorites.
“He’s always easier on the centers,’’ said Light, who at 11 years has been with Scarnecchia the longest. “So Koppen’s his favorite.’’
Informed of his supposed preference for centers, Scarnecchia said, “That’s not true.’’
But when told that Koppen was his perceived favorite, he didn’t deny that.
“Well, Koppen’s smart,’’ he said. “The thing about Koppen is every time we’re in meetings, and I start talking and I think to myself, ‘Am I saying this right?’ And if I look over and Koppen’s going like this [nodding his head], I say, ‘OK, then I must be right.’
“And if he’s giving me that look, then, uh-oh, I’ve got trouble.’’
Preparation the key
Light points out that Scarnecchia has softened since the birth of his first two grandchildren in the past three years.
“I keep telling his daughter [Lisa] to keep having more kids,’’ Light said.
Yup, Old Scar has a soft spot.
“I think he’s right,’’ Scarnecchia said. “We see them all the time because they only live a mile from us. It’s great.’’
That’s one side of Scarnecchia that others in the organization get to see.
“He’s an awesome guy,’’ said Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, the former director of player personnel for the Patriots. “He’s one of my favorite people that I’ve met in my 21 years in the NFL.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. He’s honest about everything, you know what I mean? He’s a good man, and one heck of a football coach.’’
And that’s the bottom line with Scarnecchia.
“I know how I want things done a certain way,’’ he said, “and I think it’s important that we all do things a certain way and we all do them exactly the same - especially when critical things come up that everyone knows what to expect of one another. I think those things are really important, I really do.’’
Said Chiefs coach and former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, “He’s a good teacher and he can get his point across. And he puts the pressure on the players to do it the way it needs to be done.’’
It starts with Scarnecchia’s legendary preparation.
“I guarantee you, in this league, there’s nobody that gets in first or leaves later than Dante Scarnecchia,’’ said running backs coach Ivan Fears, who is in his 15th season with the Patriots. “There’s nobody that works harder at what he does than Dante. I guarantee you that.’’
Basically, all the linemen have to do is stick to his meticulously planned blocking sheets. And Lord forgive the player that does not.
“He’s the most demanding son of a gun, he demands his players to learn every little bit,’’ Fears said. “He says, ‘Did you study my blocking sheet.’
“He worked all night to finish those blocking sheets. A kid won’t finish studying them and that [upsets] him, because he’s going to make a mistake out there.’’
Fears thinks the finished product the world will see in Super Bowl XLVI could be Scarnecchia’s finest work. From injuries to right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, to being down to a fourth center at one point, the Patriots have endured, and Scarnecchia may have melded this into perhaps the finest line he has produced.
“My 13 years being around him now, this is the best bunch of blockers you could . . . I mean . . . pass protection . . . they don’t make mistakes,’’ Fears said.
“They may get physically beat occasionally by somebody better, but they don’t make mistakes. They are a well-coached bunch of guys.
“And that’s Scar. Whoever has to step up in there, I guarantee that guy’s a well-coached dude.’’
That’s because of Scarnecchia. He has marked the time of what has become a world-class franchise.
But how much longer will that be the case?
“I don’t know,’’ Scarnecchia said. “I like it. I like going to the office. I love the games, I love the practices, I love the meetings. I like the job. But I’m 63. So . . .’’
Doesn’t appear as if he’s done yet. That means the Patriots can continue on.