— By Brian Hall, The Sports Xchange —
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Among the giants of the New England Patriots’ offensive line stands one man whose size doesn’t embody his presence.
Dante Scarnecchia is two weeks shy of his 70th birthday, a football lifer who has spent almost half his current 69 years with New England.
Once retired, only to return to the Patriots two years later, Scarnecchia has plenty of vigor and can be seen running along with his players. He speaks softly when talking with THE media, but his voice carries plenty of weight in New England.
“If you know him and have talked to him, you’d know he has a commanding presence and it doesn’t matter his size,” Patriots left tackle Nate Solder said. “He controls the room.”
Bill Belichick was a little-known linebackers and special teams coach under Bill Parcells with the New York Giants when Scarnecchia was hired by New England to join head coach Ron Meyer.
He would last through coaching changes, working under seven different head coaches with the Patriots. His coaching resume includes 46 seasons, 34 in the NFL and 32 in New England. He’s been a part of four Super Bowl winning teams with another chance coming Sunday in Minnesota against the Philadelphia Eagles.
He’s the longest-tenured coach in Patriots history and owns the NFL’s current longest streak.
“This is home,” Scarnecchia said. “New England’s home, we’re not leaving. We love it there. We’re dug in. We’ve got grandkids there. Our experiences with the Patriots have transcended some tough years, good years, bad years and some great years. The last 15, 17 years have been a blur. It’s pretty amazing. It’s been great.”
Scarnecchia retired after the 2013 season but stayed involved with the Patriots. He was replaced by Dave DeGuglielmo. The offensive line began to collapse around quarterback Tom Brady and DeGuglielmo and the team mutually parted ways after two seasons with Scarnecchia returning.
Belichick is the standard bearer for NFL head coaches, with the chance to win a record sixth Super Bowl this weekend. Scarnecchia has been there almost every step of the way and has become someone for Belichick to lean on.
“He does a great job of game planning, teaching fundamentals, great motivator, does a really good job with our young players and our veteran players, coaching staff,” Belichick said. “He’s a great mentor for our younger coaches; can’t say enough about Dante. I’ve known him, been with him since, really, ’96 when I first came to the Patriots. He and Al Groh, Romeo (Crennel), we were all together on that staff in ’96.
“He’s been a great friend and a great coach.”
Scarnecchia’s return helped the offensive line come together again and the team won the Super Bowl last year. This year, New England has had relative cohesion along the line with Solder, left guard Joe Thuney and right guard Shaq Mason starting every game. Center David Andrews missed two games with an illness, but Scarnecchia has had his work cut out for him at right tackle.
Marcus Cannon, who was a second-team All-Pro last year, was limited to seven games because of an ankle injury that eventually sent him to injured reserve. LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming have split time filling in.
“I’ve been very fortunate to get to work with Scar for two years now,” Andrews said. “He’s a great coach. Seeing him work sometimes is pretty unbelievable to me. The love of the game and things like that, just get to learn from a guy like him who’s detailed and how he sees the game sometimes is pretty awesome. He’s a tough coach and it’s definitely a pleasure working with him.”
The offensive line has been his focus for the past 17 seasons and 30 of his 46 years in the profession. He’s also coached special teams, defensive backs, tight ends and linebackers.
“He’s very knowledgeable about the game,” Mason said. “Anything he knows, he pours it into us. It’s definitely a great feeling.”
This week, Scarnecchia has shunned any talk of his future and if he would return next year. He turns 70 on Feb. 14 and hopes he’s basking in another Super Bowl victory. After all, the Patriots’ success – in which he’s played a big part – is enjoyable.
“All the hard work, it makes it fun,” Scarnecchia said. “It’s no fun when you lose.”