After the 2013 season, Dante Scarnecchia retired from coaching, only to return to the New England Patriots’ sideline two years later.
On Tuesday, two weeks shy of his 72nd birthday, the Patriots’ longtime offensive line coach called it a career again, confirming to multiple media outlets he intends to retire this offseason.
Here are four takeaways from Scarnecchia’s decision and the effect it will have on the 2020 Patriots:
1. The Patriots have another hole to fill on their coaching staff
New England now has lost eight assistant coaches since the end of the 2018 season. That includes three departures so far this offseason: wide receivers coach/special teams coordinator Joe Judge, defensive line coach Bret Bielema and Scarnecchia, who spent 34 seasons as a Patriots assistant.
WEEI’s Christian Fauria, who was the first to report Scarnecchia’s retirement, said the team is expected to promote from within to replace him. The top two candidates for that role are coaching assistant Carmen Bricillo and assistant running backs coach Cole Popovich.
Bricillo spent nine seasons as the O-line coach at Youngstown State before joining the Patriots last offseason. Popovich focused on running backs in 2019 but had worked closely with Scarnecchia in previous seasons as a New England coaching assistant.
2. Scarnecchia’s decision comes at an inopportune time
Even without a coaching change, the Patriots’ O-line would have faced questions heading into the 2020 season.
Standout left guard Joe Thuney is set to hit free agency next month and likely will receive more lucrative offers from other teams after earning second-team All-Pro honors this season. Center/guard Ted Karras also will be a free agent and could fetch starter’s money elsewhere after serving as a solid fill-in for David Andrews.
Speaking of Andrews, who missed the entire season with blood clots in his lungs, the veteran center is “optimistic” about his chances of playing in 2020 but couldn’t say with certainty that he’ll be healthy enough to return to the field. Right tackle Marcus Cannon also struggled this season at age 31, and Isaiah Wynn, despite showing flashes down the stretch, remains an unfinished product at left tackle.
3. This change could be detrimental for New England’s 2019 draft picks
Tackle Yodny Cajuste (third round) and guard/center Hjalte Froholdt (fourth round) both redshirted as rookies. Froholdt suffered a season-ending injury during the preseason that landed him on injured reserve. Cajuste has yet to even practice with the Patriots after undergoing pre-draft surgery to repair a torn quad.
Both of these players — plus any others the Patriots might draft this spring — would have benefited from another season under Scarnecchia, who was lauded for his ability to develop young O-linemen. (You can include Wynn in this group, as well.)
Andrews, Thuney, Mason and Cannon all became multi-year starters despite being drafted outside the top two rounds (and, in Andrews’ case, not being drafted at all). Scarnecchia also was instrumental in elevating Trent Brown’s game during the gargantuan tackle’s lone season in New England.
“Honestly, everybody in the facility loves Coach Scar,” Brown said during the 2018 playoffs. “That’s definitely my favorite coach on the staff — my favorite coach that I’ve had since junior college. I definitely appreciate him more than anything. I appreciate our friendship and everything.”
4. The Patriots are losing one of the best
There’s no debating that. Scarnecchia is one of the NFL’s elite position coaches and a foundational pillar of the Patriots organization.
“I think the world of Dante,” head coach Bill Belichick said in 2016 after Scarnecchia returned from his first retirement. “I think he is as fine of a coach as anybody that I’ve coached with and I’ve had the opportunity to coach with a lot of them, certainly.”
“I’ve learned more from Dante than I can possibly describe,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said last season. “He’s just a great teacher, great person — great, great football coach.”
The Patriots will miss him dearly.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images