There’s more change coming to the New England Patriots, and it’s significant.
Offensive line coach Dante Scarneccia, who will turn 72 next month, has confirmed to media that he is retiring.
34 seasons in New England
Scarnecchia is one of the most respected assistant coaches in the league, and for good reason: his unit was consistently considered one of the best in the NFL.
“Dante Scarnecchia has been unbelievable in every way,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a statement. “As a coach, he was extraordinarily talented at teaching his players and bringing the most out of each of them.”
It might not be a stretch to say that Scarnecchia’s retirement could factor into whether Tom Brady returns to the Patriots: Brady will be 43 by the time the regular season starts, and keeping him upright and protected will be critical.
This is actually Scarnecchia’s second retirement. He first stepped away after the 2013 season, but after the 2015 AFC championship, when Brady was sacked four times and hit 17 times, Bill Belichick asked him to come back.
Scarnecchia coached in the NFL for 36 years, and all but two of those seasons were with New England, making him the longest-tenured coach with a single team. He first joined the Patriots in 1982 under Ron Meyer, going with Meyer to Indianapolis in 1989-90. He came back to New England in 1991. He coached under six head coaches and was part of five Super Bowl wins (he missed the win over Seattle at the end of the 2014 season).
While the Patriots could go outside of the organization, as they did in 2014 when Dave DeGuglielmo was hired, they do have two in-house candidates: Carmen Bricillo was the assistant O-line coach in 2019, and assistant running backs coach Cole Popovich, who previously worked with Scarnecchia and has experience coaching the line at the college level.
Beloved by players
Scarnecchia, or “Scar” as he’s usually called, is beloved by his players. He was tough on them, but he also loved them back.
During training camp, if the O-line had to run a lap for a false start Scarnecchia would be right there with them, and he often was spotted after camp practices running laps back-and-forth across the width of the field.
“He's definitely a demanding coach for sure,” center David Andrews said last September via NBC Sports Boston. “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.”
Backup tackle Korey Cunningham, who joined the Patriots in 2019 after being drafted by Arizona in 2018, said last September that when he first joined the team he met with Scarnecchia for hours at a time, even on off-days, going over scheme, working on technique.
“He could be doing something else,” Cunningham told NBC Sports Boston. “But he's there making sure we know what we're doing. That's why he's the greatest coach to do this on the offensive line. You always heard about it. Now you get to play for him. It's an honor.”
Damien Woody, New England’s first-round pick in 1999, wrote on Instagram what Scarnecchia did for him:
“It was a privilege to play [for] and be coached by this man,” Woody wrote. “From my predraft visit, where we sat through and watched the worst game of my college career [Syracuse], to my last game in a Pats uniform, this man taught me more about the game than I could ever imagine. Never relenting on the details, I always used to wonder why he was so damn hard on me my first couple yrs in the league and looking back on it...he did me a HUGE favor! That foundation is what carried me for 12 yrs in the #NFL and beyond. I want to thank coach from the bottom of my heart for helping turn a young pup from [Boston College] into a pro on and off the field.”
On Twitter, Woody said Scarnecchia deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
More from Yahoo Sports: