If you eye closely the shots of the Patriots sideline on game days, pacing alongside the water jugs and behemoths is a man stern and stout, with a bald head and gray beard, clipboard in hand and headset by his ear.
That’s Dave DeGuglielmo, but you can call him Guge. Everyone does. Guge oversees the New England offensive line, and as the Patriots head into the playoffs hoping to defend their Super Bowl title, he is perhaps among the more important, and more anonymous, figures in that quest.
“You look at that — who’s the little guy with the beard?” said prominent area strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle, knowing better than most who the little guy with the beard is. “No one knows. I love the story.”
DeGuglielmo’s story is a fun one: part local boy makes good, part underdog overcomes long odds.
None of that is obvious with a glance at the bench. All you can tell is that he’s a coach, commanding the attention of offensive linemen who tower over him. What you can’t tell is that he once played at the old Sullivan (Foxboro) Stadium, that he can perfectly execute the role of Santa Claus, that he used to squat close to 700 pounds, that he won a pair of Super Bowls, and that he quit a job days after accepting it in part to help take care of a sick relative.
Through his football odyssey, from his playing days at Lexington High School and Boston University to a coaching career up and down the East Coast, DeGuglielmo, 47, has built a reputation as a straight shooter, a chop-buster, and — maybe most important — a talent maximizer.
“He would be able to get guys to play beyond what their abilities were at times,” said Randy Edsall, the former Connecticut and Maryland coach. “He had the ability to teach it and to get guys to believe in themselves that much more.”
The original project
To understand Dave DeGuglielmo the coach, you need to know Dave DeGuglielmo the player. His first project — the first guy he coached up and squeezed every ounce of talent from — was himself.
Born in Cambridge and raised in Lexington, DeGuglielmo was on the small side for a lineman, somewhere between 5 feet 7 inches and 5-9 and around 250 pounds, depending on whom you ask. What he lacked in size he made up for by getting after it in the weight room. He played offensive and defensive tackle for Bill Tighe, the longtime Lexington coach, except when Tighe spotted Guge at nose guard to intimidate the opposing center.
“He was so strong, he would drive the center into the backfield,” said Tighe with a laugh.
DeGuglielmo was a central figure in a pair of Middlesex League titles and a 1984 high school Super Bowl appearance at Sullivan Stadium in Foxborough, a loss to Brockton. Tighe considers him the strongest player he ever coached.
But college coaches never came calling. Guge was too small, they said.
So DeGuglielmo walked on at BU, where his father, Charles, an Italian immigrant, worked for the buildings and grounds department and where Dave could receive tuition assistance while trying to find a spot on the football roster.
Coaches initially paid him little attention, and Guge toiled away in the gym. That’s where he got to know Boyle, BU’s strength coach at the time.
‘If Guge was 6 feet tall, he would’ve played in the National Football League. He did it with a very diligent and disciplined approach to maximize what he had. And I think you see that in his coaching.’Chris Doyle, current strength and conditioning coach at Iowa, who roomed with Patriots offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo while at BU
“He got discouraged at one point,” said Boyle, who has worked with the Bruins, Red Sox, and many Olympians through the years.
When players get to campus, Boyle explained, the coach who recruited them tends to vouch for their ability. DeGuglielmo didn’t have that sort of relationship with anybody. But Boyle saw the 670-pound squats and 400-plus-pound power cleans.
“I was one of the guys pushing for him, saying, ‘This kid really is exceptional,’ ” Boyle said. “People would say, ‘He’s 5-7.’ I know he’s 5-7, but he’s crazy strong at 5-7. He’s really committed, he really wants to be a player.”
By his junior year, it happened. Guge blossomed. Playing under Tony Sparano (the future Miami Dolphins coach) and Chris Palmer (the future Cleveland Browns coach), DeGuglielmo was an undersized college center — like Bill Belichick — and became one of the best players on the BU team.
Folks on campus knew him for his big personality off the field and playing with an edge on it, like the time he found himself in the middle of a scrum against Harvard after Sparano told everybody to keep it clean.
By the time he graduated with a master’s in athletic administration after the 1990 season, DeGuglielmo, an All-New England selection, had a scholarship and the captaincy. Boyle said a Buffalo Bills scout considered him the best lineman in the East that year.
Chris Doyle, a Quincy native who is now Iowa’s strength and conditioning coach, roomed with DeGuglielmo at BU.
“If Guge was 6 feet tall, he would’ve played in the National Football League,” said Doyle, a 1985 Globe All-Scholastic from BC High. “He did it with a very diligent and disciplined approach to maximize what he had. And I think you see that in his coaching.”
Ah, coaching. DeGuglielmo was realistic about his chances as a pro, in that there was no chance, but he made it clear to those around him that he wanted to mold minds on the gridiron. Boyle secretly wished he’d become a strength coach.
Guge’s first job was just 3 miles up Commonwealth Avenue, under Tom Coughlin at Boston College as a graduate assistant. But getting there wasn’t as simple as a ride on the Green Line. When DeGuglielmo and Doyle expressed an interest in coaching to Sparano, Sparano invited them to help out with a summer football camp for high schoolers at Hofstra.
They hopped in Guge’s beat-up Cadillac and drove to Long Island.
Keeping in touch
Call up 91-year-old Bill Tighe at his Stoneham home and ask him about DeGuglielmo, one of the hundreds of athletes he taught during a high school coaching career that stretched into a seventh decade, and the reaction is instant.
“Boy,” said Tighe, pausing to corral a hearty laugh. “He’s having a tough time with that offensive line, eh?”
There’s no animosity there, just an acknowledgment of the reality. DeGuglielmo is one of Tighe’s all-time favorites, and Tighe is the best example of a habit DeGuglielmo has developed through the years: maintaining relationships with those who have helped him along the way.
Tighe rattles off a list of DeGuglielmo’s many coaching stops — BU, UConn, South Carolina. These are all places Guge called Tighe from, just once or twice a year to stay in touch, maybe set up a lunch when he visited home. The Giants, the Dolphins, the Jets.
DeGuglielmo hosted Tighe at Gillette Stadium when the Patriots beat the Jaguars in September. When New England played the Giants in November, Edsall — who coached with Guge on Coughlin’s early-1990s BC teams — came for a visit.
When DeGuglielmo won the first of his thus-far two Super Bowls, with Coughlin’s 2007 Giants at the expense of the Patriots, he reached out to Boyle with an appreciative text in the middle of the night.
“He could’ve been out at a bar ripping it up and enjoying the fact that he just won the Super Bowl,” Boyle said. “When you get that really sincere thank you from somebody, it’s worth more than the money anybody ever paid you.”
Edsall and Guge have known each other for a quarter-century, and Edall’s children — now in their mid-20s — still know him as “Dave Santa,” from that one time at a BC Christmas party when DeGuglielmo dressed up as St. Nick.
Staying in touch with Edsall turned into a potential job for DeGuglielmo at Maryland two years ago this month. Guge jumped at the offer.
Not a week later, Edsall was on a recruiting trip in Connecticut when his phone rang. It was Belichick.
“Randy, I know you’re not going to like this,” Belichick told Edsall. “I know I’m putting you in a bad situation. I want to hire Dave DeGuglielmo.”
The decision for DeGuglielmo to join the Patriots, and for Edsall to encourage him to go, was hardly a decision at all. It was a job in the NFL and near home, and it allowed DeGuglielmo to help his mother, who was ill. Guge never set up an office at Maryland.
Getting the most out
Nate Garner was a self-described nobody as a right tackle out of Arkansas, and he didn’t expect to get drafted until the New York Jets picked him in the seventh round in 2008. His first year-plus in the NFL saw him bounce from the Jets to the Dolphins and on and off the practice squad.
DeGuglielmo arrived in Miami — head coach Sparano was finally able to steal him from Coughlin and New York — in Garner’s second year. That’s when he took off, playing in all 16 games and starting eight. Midway through the season, against the Panthers, circumstances thrust Garner into playing four of the five spots on the offensive line — a lot like when Bryan Stork saw time at center, guard, and tackle against the Redskins in November.
“He took my knowledge and my size and developed that into someone who could actually play football,” said the 6-7, 320-pound Garner, who has sat out this season while battling concussion issues. “I credit him for seeing that in me and bringing that out of me.”
That seems to be DeGuglielmo’s specialty, taking athletes who are not prototypical NFL offensive linemen — guys like himself — and helping them carve out careers.
“He’s able to get something out of those players,” Sparano said. “Get an awful lot out of those players.”
DeGuglielmo, who was not made available by the Patriots for media interviews, may have his toughest coaching job yet. The Patriots offensive line clearly has had its issues this year, and it’s been in especially rough shape of late. Early in the season, it was inexperience, with an interior made up largely of rookies David Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Tre’ Jackson. Since then, the story has turned to injuries, first to Stork and then Ryan Wendell, Nate Solder, and Marcus Cannon. Now, Sebastian Vollmer and newcomer LaAdrian Waddle are hobbled.
Can Guge pull it off? With a little bit of coaching up, rest via the bye week, and a more quick-release offense (aided by the expected return of Julian Edelman), can this group of linemen patch it up enough to win in the playoffs?
If the line comes together the next four weeks, it won’t be entirely to DeGuglielmo’s credit. If it completely falls apart, if won’t be all his fault. But it’s his job to make sure the result is closer to the first of those options.
DeGuglielmo will, at least, remind his charges of what’s important. Andrews pointed to Guge helping him with the finer points of certain techniques, and tackle Cameron Fleming says Guge tells them all the time they have to rely on each other more than any other position group does. Sometimes that comes with Guge’s quick wit, guard Josh Kline said, as he dishes out one-liners (most of them unfit for print).
Whether you were drafted early or not at all, according to Solder, DeGuglielmo makes you earn it. That’s what Andrews has done this year. He signed as a rookie free agent in May, then played every snap at center through Week 10.
“He’s a smart guy, he has a lot of things working against him — smaller, he’s a rookie,” Solder said of DeGuglielmo’s view of Andrews, while unintentionally echoing BU coaches describing a late ’80s Guge. “He’s able to overcome them with his brains and his technique, his effort, and those sorts of things.
“The guy could play from the very beginning. And if you can play, it’s not, ‘Hey, this guy is undrafted, let’s not play him.’ It’s like, ‘If the guy can play, let’s play him.’ That’s the way Guge has shown us how he is.”Tim Healey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @timbhealey.