On Thursday, Dante Scarnecchia was informed by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft that he would be inducted into the franchise Hall of Fame as a contributor.
The team’s long-time offensive line coach, Scarnecchia spent 34 of his 36 seasons as an NFL coach in New England. When he retired after the 2019 season, he did so as one of the most successful assistant coaches in NFL history and a cornerstone of the Patriots’ two-decade dynasty.
The 75-year-old is as deserving as any coach to make it into the club’s Hall of Fame. That said, he also has a strong case for another jacket: the famous golden one handed out by the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
The odds are against Scarnecchia — of the 24 coaches in the Hall of Fame not a single one was voted in based on his contributions as an assistant — but if there ever was a candidate to break that streak, it’s the long-time Patriots assistant. There are three main reason why he would make sense as a candidate.
Success: 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 filled numerous roles on New England’s staff before eventually taking over the offensive line in 1999. From that point on, he helped establish an NFL dynasty that is looking for its equal.
Scarnecchia helped the Patriots win three Super Bowls before his first retirement in 2014. After his return in 2016, he played a pivotal role in bringing two more Vince Lombardi Trophies to Foxborough.
As noted above, his career in pro football spanned 36 seasons and saw him regularly coach some of the best performing offensive lines in the game. Five of his O-linemen were voted to either a Pro Bowl or All-Pro team during their tenures in New England, while Scarnecchia himself was named Sports Illustrated’s Assistant Coach of the Year in 2007 and also received the Pro Football Writers of America’s Dr. Z Award for lifetime achievement in 2015.
Now, he will also be able to add “Patriots Hall of Famer” to his résumé.
Respect: Back when Scarnecchia retired for good in January 2020, Bill Belichick summed up his contributions quite well: “Dante is among the very best assistant coaches ever.” The Patriots’ head coach and avid football historian is correct in this assessment, but the respect Scarnecchia enjoys goes beyond his former boss.
Take former NFL offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger, who spent the first three years of his six-year career in New England under Scarnecchia. Calling him “the best position coach I have ever had,” one particular anecdote speaks about how he was seen by his players and reflects upon the status he enjoyed on a league-wide scale.
“Dante is putting us through our paces, and we’re working on snapping the ball to the quarterback. He’s playing quarterback and receiving the snaps,” Ohrnberger recalled (via the Boston Globe’s Christopher Price). “My first snap, I misfire, and turn around to see what happened and pick up the ball. He shoves me in my chest plate and he’s immediately inside my face mask. ‘What are you doing? If that’s a game against the Ravens, why would you turn around to see what happens? You’re going to get your quarterback killed!’
“He was doing chin ups on my facemask, and just took the ball and fired it into my belly and told me to do it again. It was baptism by fire, this tongue-lashing I got from this tiny man who I came to respect immensely. You work your tail off for the guy, because you love him and want to make him proud by playing the best ball you can.”
Body of work: Scarnecchia took over as Patriots offensive line coach in 1999 and through the years found success no matter the pedigree of players he worked with. Whether it was turning undrafted rookie David Andrews into a starter on two Super Bowl teams, first-round draft pick Nate Solder becoming a cornerstone on a pair of 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 his ability to elevate players no matter their background played a huge role in this.
It is a big yet underrated reason why the Patriots were as successful as they were in the 2000s and 2010s. It’s also why Scarnecchia is deserving of the Pro Football Hall of Fame debate.