For the first time since 1991 the Patriots will take the field without Dante Scarnecchia on the sideline. With the exception of two seasons spent in Indianapolis (1989-90), Scarnecchia has been a constant for the Patriots coaching staff since 1982. Not only was he present for nearly thirty seasons, but he worked in every phase of the game. For the entirety of the Bill Belichick era (2000-present), Scarnecchia served as both assistant head coach and offensive line coach. He joined the staff as a special teams assistant under Ron Meyer and worked as a defensive assistant during the Bill Parcells regime. Dante could coach in all three phases and contribute beyond his assigned role. No wonder Bill Belichick trusted and respected him so much. Not even Robert Kraft had more tenure or institutional memory than Dante Scarnecchia.
While much will be written about the 2014 Patriots’ front line and the transition to new offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo, Scarnecchia’s retirement will be felt at every level of the organization. DeGuglielmo will be unfairly compared to Scarnecchia, who had become one of the best OL coaches in the NFL. Struggles on the field will be met with “I wish Dante was still around!” laments from fans and media alike. But experience like Scarnecchia’s cannot be replaced with one person. Many of the roles he filled in the locker room, the film room, the practice field and the coaches’ meetings will need to be filled by the “next man up”.
Fans can take comfort that while retired, Scarnecchia is not gone. He formally retired after the end of last season but reportedly did some consulting and workouts with draft prospects in the spring. His presence has not been reported at the team facility, but no one reports on Ernie Adams’ whereabouts either. Scarnecchia has left the day-to-day grind of NFL coaching and is presumably enjoying retirement, but it would not surprise anyone to find Scarnecchia is in regular contact with Belichick (and/or Adams) and that he will consult on an informal basis. Football is in his heart.
Scarnecchia’s dedicated service through some of the darkest years of the franchise’s history deserves more than a gold watch and a handshake. For nearly three decades, he was a critical piece of the organization. Hopefully fans will see him one more time on the sidelines at Foxboro – on the day he is inducted into the Patriots’ Hall of Fame.
Follow David on Twitter @SoSH_davemc.