End of an era: Dante Scarnecchia to retire having made immense impact on Patriots dynasty

End of an era: Dante Scarnecchia to retire having made immense impact on Patriots dynasty

MIAMI — It's the end of an era in New England. While there is still no determination on Tom Brady's future whereabouts, we do know that another Patriots staple will not be roaming the sidelines at Gillette Stadium in 2020.

Dante Scarnecchia is retiring. 

The longtime offensive line coach, who will turn 72 next month, has been with the team in a variety of capacities since 1982. He began as a special teams and tight ends coach, departed briefly for a stint in Indianapolis, and has been back since 1991.

He's coached all three phases, and even taken on head-coaching duties when he was asked late in the 1992 season. But Scarnecchia has developed what might one day be considered a Hall of Fame résumé as the offensive line coach in New England. 

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Since 1999 — first under Pete Carroll, then under Bill Belichick — Scarnecchia has directed the offensive line group in Foxboro. He retired following the 2013 season and stayed away from the game for two years before getting back into it in 2016. He's won five Super Bowl rings coordinating the blocking schemes that protected Tom Brady. 

Throughout his career, he's been lauded by players and fellow coaches alike for his unyielding work ethic and his attention to detail. The hours he's put in — oftentimes on off days or after practices — have helped mold everyone from first-round picks to undrafted free agents into championship players.

It was under Scarnecchia that Stephen Neal went from a wrestler who'd never played offensive line to a Super Bowl-winner. Both Nate Solder and Trent Brown have fallen into record-setting free-agent contracts in recent years after working with Scarnecchia.

"You really see that and how detail-oriented he is, and how much he puts into it each week," center David Andrews told me back in September. "It's really impressive. He makes sure, for us, there's no stone unturned. That's what makes us go out there and play really confident. We feel so prepared. 

"Whatever they throw at us is nothing we're not prepared for. Maybe we haven't seen it. Maybe it's a new wrinkle. But somewhere, somehow we've been prepared for it. Whether it's the techniques we've learned, or the communication, or just the overall schemes and how we want to run our offense."

Andrews added: "He's definitely a demanding coach for sure. But I think there's two sides of him, and I think that's what makes him so special and loved and respected by not only us as players but the whole team. 

"He cares for us. He has our back. He sticks up for us. We're all in it together . . . He includes himself in that. I think that means a lot to you as a player."

Scarnecchia has had a pair of assistants in recent years who've helped him coach his linemen. Coaching assistant Cole Popovich has worked with that group, but more recently those duties fell to Carmen Bricillo, who was in his first year with the Patriots in 2019. The Patriots typically like to promote coaches from within, making Bricillo and Popovich among the leading candidates to fill Scarnecchia's role. 

No matter who it is, it is the end of an era for the Patriots. 

Patriots QB Cam Newton and Josh McDaniels are in the honeymoon phase

Patriots QB Cam Newton and Josh McDaniels are in the honeymoon phase

Any coach worth the dried spit on their whistle knows player-coach relationships hinge on communication and expectations.

An avalanche of instruction is actually counterproductive if the coach doesn’t know what a player already knows or how he learns or what motivates him.

Early in any coach-player relationship, the simple phrase, “Help me help you,” has to be said.

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Josh McDaniels said on Friday that he and Cam Newton are already well down that road.

"I think he's a really good communicator,” McDaniels said when asked how the interpersonal fit with Newton has been. “He tells you when he when he feels comfortable with something and he tells you when he doesn't, and I think at the beginning of any relationship, I think that's a really good place to start (by saying), 'Hey, I'm going to be trying to move at a pace that suits you. Just be honest and tell me what I need to do better in terms of trying to communicate it to you.'

Care-and-feeding protocols for every player are a little bit different. And, if we’re being honest, the more talented and important the player is to the team’s success, the more important it becomes to make sure he’s comfortable.

Coaches aren’t lying awake at night worried that a practice squad player was sad after getting yanked out of a rep. A quarterback? A veteran quarterback? A veteran quarterback just getting to know new teammates? Different equation.

"The process of learning how to communicate and … coach and motivate each player comes with more experience and exposure to him on the field,” said McDaniels. “What happens when we make mistakes? When we correct them? Those opportunities, I think, we're all looking forward to going through them together that's how you build a good relationship."

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Newton and the Patriots are in the honeymoon phase. It's running and stretching on the field with the strength coaches and studying in the meeting rooms with the coaches and teammates.

What can go wrong? 

It’s well-established, the approach of the Patriots coaching staff is unique. There aren’t lobbing bouquets and high praise when a guy does, basically, what everyone expects him to.
Some veteran players have a hard time adjusting to that. Jerod Mayo told me once of a veteran Pro Bowler who wondered during his first training camp with the team why he never even got told, “Nice play…” by Bill Belichick.

McDaniels indicated that Newton doesn’t need a steady stream of positivity. And Newton himself said the pressure he puts on himself to perform means he’s right there with the coaching staff in being hard on himself.

“I've talked to some people that have been with them in the past and he's a very coachable guy,” said McDaniels. “This guy wants to work and he's worked really hard since since we signed him, and he's trying to gain every day, which is really all we can ask of him.”

After a week of spitballing about how Newton will respond to the Patriots’ style – first by me, and then (and more importantly) by former teammate Kyle Love -- this angle has been pretty well covered. So far.

But it’s an ongoing and fascinating subplot to the 2020 season.

Newton’s a once-brilliant quarterback trying to prove he’s still brilliant by going to a team that’s played a style completely different from what he’s used to.

Belichick nudged and cajoled Tom Brady toward the door and, now that the New England portion of one of the great rags-to-riches stories in sports history is over, the Patriots coach is turning to a guy who won the Heisman, went first overall and has always been The Man. And he’s telling him to compete for the job.  

Can these two men share an NFL sideline without driving each other crazy?

As weary as people may get by body-language interpretations and lip readings, how it works between Newton, Belichick and McDaniels will go a long way toward determining how well it works in general.

How Julian Edelman let Cam Newton know about Patriots' complex playbook

How Julian Edelman let Cam Newton know about Patriots' complex playbook

Remember when Cam Newton jokingly compared the Patriots' playbook to "calculus" after signing with New England last month?

Turns out that wasn't his own assessment. (Not yet, anyway.)

Rather, it was Julian Edelman who made Newton aware of what he was dealing when the quarterback called his new Patriots wide receiver for the first time.

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"We were both excited just to be on the phone with each other," Newton told reporters Friday in a video conference. "Then all of a sudden he just said, 'Hey bro, this (explicit) is calculus.'

"He said it and it was just funny. From that whole 15-minute conversation, that's the only thing that I just remembered: Calculus."

The Patriots playbook that Tom Brady spent 20 years mastering is notoriously complex and has stumped talented veterans like Chad Ochocinco and Reggie Wayne. Edelman has dealt with that playbook for a whole decade, so it's no wonder his comparison stuck with Newton.

Not that the 31-year-old QB is intimidated by learning a challenging offense after nine seasons with the Carolina Panthers.

"At the end of the day, football is still football and you just can’t make too much on it than what it already is,” Newton said of the playbook. "(Offensive coordinator) Josh (McDaniels) has been there every step of the way as well as (quarterbacks) coach Jedd (Fisch). Just been hammering away. All the quarterbacks have been trying to learn this whole system from what it is."

Newton admittedly faces a tall task picking up the Patriots' offense in short order without the benefit of the on-field workouts of a traditional training camp.

The three-time Pro Bowler has his means of getting up to speed, though: Newton is a "visual learner" who famously relied on a large three-ring binder in Carolina stuffed with notes on the Panthers' offense.

"We all have our different methods of how we (learn) and go about different ways to retain as much information as possible,” Newton said. "I don’t think the binder is actually here, but some type of retention methods have adapted towards New England."

Newton has a few more weeks to study, but his first test -- the Patriots' 2020 season opener against the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 13 -- is rapidly approaching.

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