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Dante Scarnecchia on his Patriots Hall of Fame surprise: ‘I just didn’t expect anything like that’

Scarnecchia will become the first assistant coach in the Patriots Hall of Fame.

NFL: NOV 25 Patriots at Jets Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Dante Scarnecchia will become the first assistant coach to be enshrined into the New England Patriots Hall of Fame.

The 75-year-old received the news on Thursday, when team owner Robert Kraft made a surprise appearance during a meeting of the Patriots Hall of Fame panel; Scarnecchia and others met to discuss potential candidates for nomination in 2023. The former assistant coach was not on the list, but he will now nonetheless get to wear the famous red jacket.

For Scarnecchia, the news came as quite the surprise. While he did spend 34 of his 36 NFL seasons with the Patriots, he served as an assistant coach and was therefore seemingly not in a position for Hall of Fame consideration.

And yet, he will now take his place among the franchise greats.

“Honestly, you don’t think of things like that,” he told WEEI’s The Greg Hill Show on Friday morning. “Whoever thinks about going into the Hall of Fame? That’s for the players, it’s for the head coaches, and it’s for really, really special people around the organization or in the organization. You’re just some assistant coach, so that really doesn’t enter your mind.

“So, it is really surreal in so many respects. Believe me, I’m flattered by it, appreciative of it, all the rest of it. I just didn’t expect anything like that, to be honest.”

Scarnecchia will be the fourth person to be inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame as a contributor. Team founder Billy Sullivan was enshrined in 2009, and later joined by longtime play-by-play announcer Gil Santos (2012) and the late cheerleader director Tracy Sormanti (2021).

“I went over to the stadium yesterday to be part of a panel reviewing the potential nominees for induction into the Hall of Fame,” he said. “I went there pointedly to make a case — a strong case, although I don’t think he needs one — for Logan Mankins, who I was fortunate enough to coach for nine years. In the middle of all that, Mr. Kraft came in and said he was going to execute executive privilege and put me in the Hall of Fame. That’s how it happened.”

Scarnecchia originally joined the Patriots in 1982 and originally served as a special teams and tight ends coach. He left for the Indianapolis Colts in 1989, but was back two years later as a special assistant, defensive assistant and, once more, special teams coach.

He remained on the staff through multiple head-coaching changes, and in 1999 moved to the offensive line — a role held after Bill Belichick’s arrival in 2000. Scarnecchia, who was also named assistant head coach under Belichick, helped the Patriots win three Super Bowls before his first retirement after the 2013 season. He was back on the sidelines in his previous role a O-line coach in 2016, and promptly won two more championships.