The Patriots announced Wednesday that assistant head coach/offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, the longest-tenured coach in the NFL, is retiring after spending 30 of the last 32 seasons with the team.
Scarnecchia will be replaced by former Jets offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo.
Scarnecchia, who turns 66 next month, was initially hired by Ron Meyer in 1982 to coach tight ends and special teams. He remained in that role until 1988, leaving for Indianapolis in 1989 to coach the offensive line.
But he returned to the Patriots in 1991, and has remained here every season since, through five head coaches — unheard of in this day and age.
“Dante Scarnecchia is a Patriot and NFL legend who defied the phrase ‘not for long,’ ” coach Bill Belichick said in a statement. “In an industry of constant change, Dante remained a fixture here for the simple reason that he helped every player reach his highest potential, regardless of who he was, how he was acquired, or how much raw talent he had.
“In whatever category a coach can be assessed — evaluator, teacher, motivator, problem solver, disciplinarian, team player, winner — Dante is as good as it gets.
“As many games as he helped us win and as much as we would like to work with Dante forever, we are blessed with the opportunity to have been with him as long as we were.”
A renowned taskmaster, Scarnecchia was tough on his players, but he was also fiercely loyal and dedicated to them.
“I’m still in shock right now — I never thought he would ever retire,” former Patriot Damien Woody said. “I wouldn’t have had the career I had without him. He’s the one that laid the foundation for the type of player I turned out to be.”
New England’s first-round draft pick out of Boston College in 1999, Woody recalled his predraft visit with Scarnecchia.
Woody knew Scarnecchia would go over game film with him, but he was taken aback when Scarnecchia pulled up the tape of probably his worst game with the Eagles and grilled him on the mistakes he’d made.
“He wanted to see how I would react, how I’d react to the pressure,” Woody said. “Once I got to the Patriots, he was on me hard. He was tough on guys. I’d ask him: ‘Why are you riding me so hard? Why are you so tough?’ And he’d say, ‘Because I know your abilities; I know what you’re capable of. I don’t know if you know what you’re capable of.’
“That was really profound for me. It really opened my eyes. Things he taught me about the game, things to look for, I carried on, even after I left the Patriots, to a bad situation in Detroit, I kept the same study habits, and when I was with the Jets.
“I wouldn’t have been anywhere near the player that I was if it wasn’t for him.”
Robert Kraft expressed admiration for Scarnecchia’s methods.
“Dante Scarnecchia has been the only coaching constant since I purchased the team in 1994,” the Patriots owner said in a statement. “Not coincidentally, he retires as the only coach to have been a part of all seven Super Bowl teams in Patriots franchise history. I want to thank Dante for his leadership, professionalism and always putting the team first.’’
Scarnecchia was SI.com’s assistant coach of the year in 2007, and his units were regularly recognized as being among the best in the NFL. In 2009, the Patriots allowed just 18 sacks, a franchise record for a 16-game season.
Though five of his players have been named to the Pro Bowl since 1999 (Woody, Matt Light, Dan Koppen, Logan Mankins, and Brian Waters), some of them multiple times, the hallmark of Scarnecchia’s lines and what made him so valuable to New England was his ability to get almost any player — whether first-round pick or street free agent — game-ready.
As the Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years, they did so with three different starting fives on the offensive line, a total of 10 different players.
A Lexington native who played at Boston University, DeGuglielmo, 45, spent 2013 out of coaching. He was the line coach with the Jets in 2012, the Dolphins from 2009-11, and entered the NFL coaching ranks with the Giants in 2004 as an assistant offensive line/quality control coach. DeGuglielmo had accepted a job as Maryland’s offensive line coach just last week.
Welker hit deemed clean
NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said Wes Welker’s pick on Aqib Talib in the AFC Championship game “was a legal hit.”
Using video replay, Blandino pointed to Welker in the slot.
“The first potential foul would be for offensive pass interference. The receiver can’t block downfield before the ball is touched, so the timing is important,” Blandino said on NFL Network. “You see Welker run the route, and he does appear to angle back toward Talib and come into his path, creating that contact.
“Now we have to look to see when the ball was touched in relation to the contact. You’ll see, as the contact occurs, the ball is touched almost simultaneously. We don’t have a foul for pass interference.”
He added that under current rules, Welker’s block is not considered unnecessary roughness — contact between him and Talib did not come late and Talib was considered part of the play when contact occurred. Blandino’s assessment appears to confirm that Welker will not be fined or otherwise punished by the league.
During an interview with WEEI Wednesday, Belichick said Talib, whom the team said suffered a knee injury, would not need surgery as a result of the collision. The cornerback was unable to finish the game.
Scarnecchia is the second longtime New England assistant in as many days to leave the team, after linebackers coach Pepper Johnson. On Wednesday, Belichick released a statement on Johnson, whom he coached on three teams — the Giants, Browns, and Jets — before giving him his first job as a coach with New England in 2000. “I am proud and honored to have spent more years of my career with Pepper Johnson than any other player or coach,” Belichick said. “Of all the people I coached or worked with, nobody has more passion and love for the game than Pepper. “His energy and wisdom for football knows no limits. Pepper made me a better coach and person and helped create some of the greatest moments of my career. He is a great player, coach and lifelong friend and I am sure he will enjoy continued success as he moves forward.” . . . According to several media reports, Patriots tight ends coach George Godsey is leaving the team to become quarterbacks coach on Bill O’Brien’s Texans’ staff.