While the New England Patriots’ on-field departures stole most of the headlines this offseason — especially that of starting quarterback Tom Brady as an unrestricted free agent — the team also had to watch its most experienced assistant coach head off into the sunset: Dante Scarnecchia announced his retirement in late January after having spent 36 of his 38 years in the NFL in New England, most prominently as the team’s offensive line coach.
While Scarnecchia still continued to assist the organization during the pre-draft process as a member of its scouting department, the Patriots will need to fill the enormous void his retirement created on their coaching staff. In order to do that, it appears as if the club is banking on continuity: based on reports and player statements out of New England since January, Cole Popovich and Carmen Bricillo will be the two assistants to step into Scarnecchia’s shoes.
It remains to be seen how their roles and titles will eventually look like, but using the duo instead of going with an outside hire — something New England did when Scarnecchia first retired following the 2013 season and Dave DeGuglielmo was brought on board — does make sense: the offensive line itself lives through continuity, and the coaching situation in the room does not appear to be any different. The group’s leader, David Andrews, just recently pointed this out.
“Cole Popovich and Carm, it’s not like these are someone that they brought in and a lot of us haven’t even met,” Andrews said. “Cole’s been there for a while and Carm’s been there since last year. So, pretty much every one in the room right now, other than the rookies, have a relationship with those guys, are familiar with them, so I think that helps a lot having those guys that we’ve been around for a long time and have been in our system helps a lot because there’s a lot of continuity there.”
As Andrews noted, Popovich has been in New England for quite some time now: after originally joining the team as a coaching assistant in 2015 — a role he held for four years and one that saw him work with the offensive line quite a bit — he was promoted to assistant running backs coach under Ivan Fears last offseason. Now, it seems that he is moving back to the offensive line again to work alongside 2019 acquisition Carmen Bricillo.
Bricillo, meanwhile, arrived in Foxborough last offseason as a coaching assistant that worked closely alongside Scarnecchia in 2019. The 43-year-old certainly brings the necessary experience to the table to take the next step alongside Popovich now, even though most of it comes from the collegiate ranks: before coming to New England, Bricillo spent nine years coaching the offensive line at Youngstown State.
The continuity aspect inside the offensive line room extends beyond the two assistant coaches, however, as Andrews also noted.
“You know, Marcus [Cannonn], Shaq [Mason], Joe [Thuney] — I’ve played a lot of football with them. I obviously didn’t play much with Isaiah [Wynn] last year, but I played a lot of football with them,” said the team captain who has been cleared to return to the field after missing all of 2019 following the discovery of blood clots in his lungs. “A lot of those guys have played football [together], and now it’s going into Isaiah’s third year in the league.”
Continuity proved to be a major problem for New England’s offensive line last season despite Scarnecchia’s presence on the coaching staff: Andrews missed the entire campaign on injured reserve, while left tackle Wynn was sidelined between Weeks 3 and 12 due to a toe injury. Along the way, both Mason and Cannon struggled with short-term injuries while Ted Karras, Andrews’ replacement, missed one game as well.
Heading into 2020, the starting offensive line appears to be on its way to be fully ready again despite Karras’ offseason departure. While the unit did lose its veteran position coach (let alone its quick-trigger quarterback), it seems as if Popovich and Bricillo will try to make the transition as smooth as possible.