Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Patriots lose part of their identity with Scarnecchia retirement

Dante Scarnecchia retired on Wednesday, leaving the New England Patriots with a 2-6 record as their head coach.

Dude, wait...what?

Only old school, hardcore types with a serious self-abuse fetish will allow themselves to remember Scarnecchia's interim term as the Patriots figure head when head coach Dick Macpherson fell ill and was forced to relinquish command of the team for the second half of the 1992 season.
Scarnecchia going over one of his patented blocking sheets

The fiery special teams and offensive line coach took over a rarely competitive 0-8 team at the turn and made them competitive - getting blown out in his first game by the New Orleans Saints, he won his next two and his team hung tough though five consecutive losses to finish a brutally forgettable season, tied with the Seattle Seahawks for the worst record in the NFL at 2-14.

Due to his tireless preparation and his knack for getting the most out of those players, Scarnecchia would be the only coach on the staff that year to survive the purge as owner James Orthwein fired MacPherson and his staff - clearing the way for Bill Parcells to assume the reigns, literally, of a team that was rumored to be on their way to St. Louis to become the Stallions...

...but Bob Kraft bough the team from Orthwein after the 1993 season, blocking the move of the team - and Scarnecchia has remained in Foxborough ever since.

Until today.

For certain, the team will hold a special halftime ceremony next season for the long-time Patriots' coach, but don't expect a man with the nickname "Scar" to get all welled up with emotion, rather, he might just pick up a microphone and start handing out one of his patented ass chewings if the team isn't playing up to his lofty expectations.

That's what the Patriots organization is losing, the man that defined the term "Old time tough", a relentless tactician who made the New England offensive line the gold standard for the rest of the NFL for years, a man that demanded not perfection, but effort - a man that took it personally if one of his players was beaten by a mental error, after all of the coaching he had put in.

"They may get physically beat occasionally by someone better, but they don't make mistakes." Patriots' running backs coach Ivan Fears said of the offensive linemen during the team's Super Bowl run in 2011, "And that's Scar.  Whoever has to step in there, that's a well-coached Dude."

Stories abound of his ornery side, and no one was above his temper and sharp tongue.  He demanded that his players work just as hard as he did, to study his blocking sheets, to be in the best shape of their lives - which is to be expected of a coach who served in the Marines while playing as an offensive lineman and earning a degree in physical education at California Western University in the mid-60's.

So enamoured and respectful of Scarnecchia's work ethic and skill with the players when they worked together on Bill Parcells' Patriots' teams of the mid 1990's that Bill Belichick named him assistant head coach of the team in one of his first official acts as their head coach in 2000...

...and now, 13 years later, the Patriots lose that part of their identity.

Everyone was equal in Scarnecchia's eyes, or as Belichick so eloquently quipped in a statement on Wednesday, "In an industry of constant change, Dante remained a fixture here for the simple reason that he helped every player reach his highest potential, regardless of whom he was, how he was acquired or how much raw talent he had."

From Bruce Armstrong to Matt Light to Dan Koppen to Logan Mankins, every one of them was treated the same by Scarnecchia - and every one of them was a better player and a better person by having him as their coach, and the Patriots are a better team and a better organization for having his professionalism as a beacon to lead the way.

There's a reason why Scarnecchia survived four owners and six coaches in 30 years in Foxborough - because he was the one fixture that could never be replaced, that could never be superseded and could never go out of style...

...because in football, "old-time tough" never goes out of style.

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