Longtime Patriots assistant coach Dante Scarnecchia is retiring after more than three decades with the team.
“It’s been an unbelievable career, I would’ve never expected anything close to this,” he told the NFL Network.
“Dante Scarnecchia has been unbelievable in every way. As a coach, he was extraordinarily talented at teaching his players and bringing the most out of each of them,” said Patriots owner Robert Kraft in a statement released by the team. “Dante put everything he had into helping his players achieve their maximum potential — the mark of a great coach. His contributions to our team and to the game of football are unprecedented over the last four decades.”
Scarnecchia joined the Patriots’ staff in 1982 and, other than a three-year stint with the Colts, stayed with New England until 2014. Then, Scarnecchia retired for a first time that turned out to be temporary. He enjoyed two years at home, spending a lot of time with his grandchildren, before Bill Belichick helped convince him to return in 2016.
Tom Brady had been battered behind a struggling offensive line in 2015 and, at Belichick’s urging, Scarnecchia came back to help patch things up in 2016. He coached another four seasons, helping the Patriots win two more Super Bowls.
“It was a privilege to coach with Dante for so long,” said Belichick in a statement released by the team. “I knew that long before his initial retirement and throughout a second act of continued excellence. Dante is among the very best assistant coaches ever.”
Scarnecchia, who turns 72 in February, has five Super Bowl rings, all with the Patriots. He coached under six head coaches with the Patriots — Ron Meyer, Raymond Berry, Dick MacPherson, Bill Parcells, Pete Carroll, and Belichick — and been with the team through periods of extreme success and struggle. Scarnecchia was briefly the team’s interim head coach during a difficult season in 1992, when MacPherson was hospitalized with acute diverticulitis.
“I was joking with Dante and Ivan [Fears, the Patriots’ running back coach], I’ve been with them longer than I’ve been with my parents,” Tom Brady said at the Super Bowl last year.
The Patriots have a pair of in-house options who could replace Scarnecchia as offensive line coach. One is coaching assistant Carmen Bricillo, the offensive line coach at Youngstown State for nine years before joining the Patriots last season. The other is assistant running backs coach Cole Popovich, who spent his first season in that role in 2019 after joining the organization in 2015 as a coaching assistant and who often worked with Scarnecchia and the linemen.
Still, the loss of Scarnecchia is huge for the organization.
Both Super Bowl titles the Patriots won since Scarnecchia returned from his first retirement came in large part thanks to good offensive line play, and there’s a long list of players the Patriots acquired at low cost who have thrived under his tutelage.
Shaq Mason, a 2015 fourth-round pick, came in as an athletic but raw player out of Georgia Tech used to playing a far different style of offense than the Patriots asked him to, and he developed into a Pro Bowl-caliber starter at right guard. Left guard Joe Thuney, a third-round pick in 2016, was second-team All-Pro this season.
The Patriots had left tackle Trent Brown on the cheap for just one season in 2018, but Brown credited Scarnecchia’s coaching for his monster year that led to a record-setting free agent contract with the Raiders. Center David Andrews missed this season because of blood clots in his lungs but had gone from undrafted rookie in 2015 to a quality starter in three years.
“Thank you,” Andrews posted on Instagram Tuesday, placing the simple caption over a photo of himself and Scarnecchia.
There are plenty of earlier success stories as well, one of the most notable being Stephen Neal, an All-American college wrestler who came to the NFL with no football experience but became a multiyear starter at right guard for the Patriots under Scarnecchia.
“Dante does an excellent job of developing younger players and getting older players and the playing group to play cohesively, and with good communication, and trust and accountability for each other,” Belichick said this season. “He’s an excellent game-planning coach, and an excellent in-game coach in terms of making adjustments and recognizing what the problems are and fixing them. Very fortunate to have had the opportunity to coach with him for, going all the way back to ’96, for so many years.”
Scarnecchia’s retirement does not simply cost the Patriots a teacher and tactician. A former Marine, he was a cultural cornerstone for the organization, often seen at practice running every penalty lap or hill sprint with his players.
Scarnecchia was known by players for his brutal honesty, and though he’d often harp on small details, players often said the things Scarnecchia wanted were simple: hard work, accountability, and attentiveness. Players described the blunt criticism as worth it in return for top-level instruction and a clear commitment to making them and the team better.