If you have spent your career primarily as an assistant coach, there is essentially no chance that you will enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame: of the 19 men who have been selected to the NFL’s hallowed halls exclusively for their work on the sidelines, not a single one was voted in based on his contributions as an assistant. That does not mean, however, there are no assistant coaches deserving of this honor. One of them retired just recently.
After 36 seasons in the NFL — 34 of which with the New England Patriots — Dante Scarnecchia will call it a career, as was announced on Tuesday. The 71-year-old is of course one of the most decorated assistant coaches in league annals, and a key member of the Patriots’ dynastic run that started in the early 2000s. If there ever is an assistant deserving of Hall of Fame recognition, Scarnecchia is it based on his tremendous body of work.
With that being said, let’s make the case for him to join not just the franchise’s own Hall of Fame but professional football’s as well.
Dante Scarnecchia’s success speaks for itself
In 1982, Scarnecchia moved from SMU to the Patriots to work as the team’s tight ends and special teams coach. Over the years that followed he not only filled numerous roles on New England’s staff before taking over the offensive line in 1999, he also earned multiple honors: Scarnecchia helped the Patriots win three Super Bowls before his first retirement in 2014, and played a pivotal role in bringing two more Vince Lombardi Trophies to Foxborough after his return to coaching in 2016.
All in all, his career in pro football spanned 36 seasons and saw him regularly coach some of the best performing offensive lines in the game as evidenced by five of his offensive linemen being voted to either a Pro Bowl or All-Pro team during their tenures in New England. As a result and recognition of his work with the Patriots, Scarnecchia was named Sports Illustrated’s Assistant Coach of the Year in 2007 and he also received the Pro Football Writers of America’s Dr. Z Award for lifetime achievement in 2015.
Dante Scarnecchia was well-respected within the coaching community
Bill Belichick’s statement about Scarnecchia’s retirement sums up the feelings not just in New England but within the entire football community: “Dante is among the very best assistant coaches ever,” said Belichick about one of the few assistants he kept after joining the team as its new head coach in 2000. This view is reflected throughout the league, as Scarnecchia’s experience and success through the years has made him a living legend.
Dante Scarnecchia was able to elevate his players
As noted above, Scarnecchia took over as the Patriots’ offensive line coach in 1999 and through the years found success no matter the pedigree of players he worked with. Whether it is undrafted rookie David Andrews turning into a starter on two-Super Bowl teams, first-round draft pick Nate Solder becoming a cornerstone on two championship squads, or trade or free agency additions such as Trent Brown and Brian Waters playing the best football of their careers in New England, Scarnecchia was able to get the best out of all of them.
Just look at it from this perspective: between 1999 and 2019, the Patriots selected only four offensive linemen in the first round of the draft, yet they consistently fielded one of the top O-lines in the league. Scarnecchia’s coaching and ability to elevate his players no matter their background played a huge role in this.