New England Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears has been coaching since 1976. After spending three years as a running back and graduating from William & Mary, he joined his college as a graduate assistant, before quickly moving from receivers coach to quarterbacks coach. From 1980 to 1990, he served as the wide receivers coach at Syracuse.
In 1991, Fears made his big break in the NFL as the New England Patriots receivers coach. When head coach Dick MacPherson was fired to make way for Bill Parcells in 1993, Fears joined the Chicago Bears and worked as a receivers coach from 1993-98.
And in 1999, Patriots head coach Pete Carroll hired Fears to be the receivers coach and Fears has remained with the team ever since, switching over to serve as running backs coach under Bill Belichick in 2002.
Fears is entering his 19th-consecutive season as a Patriots coach and 21st overall. But those 19 straight years of service with one team put him in seriously lofty circles in the NFL.
I went through the coaching staffs of teams around the league to find the coaches with 10 or more seasons in a row with one team as a coach (ex: Brian Flores served as a Patriots scout before becoming a coach and I did not include his scouting years). Fears is the third-longest tenured coach in the entire NFL- and fourth-longest if we give Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia credit for staying with the Patriots, even in retirement.
|Dante Scarnecchia||Patriots||OL||1991||25||*retired in 2014-15|
|Pete Carmichael Jr.||Saints||OC||2006||12|
|Joe Whitt Jr.||Packers||CB||2008||10|
The teams that boast the longest tenured coaches shouldn’t be a surprise due to their consistency at the head coaching position. The Patriots have Scarnecchia, Fears, Bill Belichick, Matt Patricia, Josh Boyer, and Brian Flores. The Cincinnati Bengals, where Marvin Lewis became head coach in 2003, has Paul Alexander, Darrin Simmons, Jonathan Hayes, Ken Zampese, and Paul Guenther. The Packers, Saints, Steelers, Cowboys, and Ravens all have decade-long head coaches, too.
I also wanted to credit some coaches that left their team, but joined back down the road.
Patriots OC Josh McDaniels was with the Patriots from 2001-08 and again from 2012-present. Panthers RB coach Jim Skipper has been with the team from 2002-10 and again from 2013 to present, with a two-year gap with the Titans. Washington LB coach Kirk Olivadotti was with the team from 2000-10 before going to the University of Georgia; he’s been back with Washington since 2014.
Bengals DB coach Kevin Coyle was with the team from 2001-11 and was re-hired in 2016 after spending time as the Dolphins defensive coordinator. Giants OC Mike Sullivan was with the team from 2004-11 and again from 2015-present.
Continuity on coaching staffs is one of the more underappreciated aspects of having a long-term head coach because it allows the team to build upon the prior year and to plan for the future. Fears and Scarnecchia have been staples on the Patriots that allows Bill Belichick to focus his attention on the other positions.
Fears has also been a leading figure in developing such a strong locker room over the years; his running back room might be the closest-knit unit on the team.
Both Fears and Scarnecchia have often been handed raw lumps of clay with the expectation they can turn them into valuable contributors. Fears has helped to make castoffs and question marks like Corey Dillon, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis, and more into reliable players. There’s never a question about whether the Patriots will have someone ready to go in the backfield.
The Patriots are fortunate to have a coach like Fears. Here’s to another couple of decades in New England.