FOXBORO — there are several legendary figures that work behind the scenes of the Patriots’ two-decade-long and counting dynasty.
Some of those figures never speak to the media; they’re ghosts. But despite his best efforts, one of those legends is starting to get the credit he deserves for an unprecedented run of success.
Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnnechia is arguably the best position coach in the history of football.
In the three seasons since he returned from a two-year retirement, the Pats OL ranked in the top 10 in both pass blocking and run blocking grade every year, according to Pro Football Focus.
Scar is made available to the media a few times every season, and it’s incredible to listen to him talk about football, but he’d never brag about himself, and he doesn’t do any other press.
To understand what makes Scar so successful, you have to go to the players that he coaches in the back corner of the Patriots’ practice fields behind Gillette Stadium.
And what you’ll find is that it starts with respect, work ethic, history, and maybe most of all, repetition.
“He’s a man that I respect second-most only to my father,” Pats offensive lineman Ted Karras told me. “He has changed the way that I look at the game. I like to do everything the way he wants to do it. I try to buy in and do it the way he wants it done. I really believe in what we do here, and I take a lot of pride in playing for him. He’s a great teacher, he’s a great man, and he holds the respect of every man in that room.”
“It’s such a blessing to get to work with Scar. It’s his job to hold us accountable and he kind of sets the tone, and then we hold each other accountable in that room,” added center David Andrews.
“His history; everything behind it. It’s proven that it works. So you know he’s not just out here feeding you something. Everything clearly works,” explained 2018 first-round pick Isaiah Wynn.
Playing for Scarnecchia is no easy task. In fact, three offensive linemen in the last few months retired once they got a taste of football with the 71-year-old.
“It’s tough. It’s very tough,” Andrew said. “You’ve got to love this game. You’ve got to love the competition of it, and you’ve got to love to come to work every day because it’s not easy at times.”
“This is football. This is training camp. And this is a big-time, high-stakes business. You take your lumps, and you just try to get better. This is a thick-skinned business,” said Karras of Scarnnechia’s strict coaching style.
Now in his 36th season as an NFL assistant, Scarnnechia’s coaching points are about repetition and building a strong foundation based on fundamentals that have worked for decades.
And Andrews gave me a glimpse of what goes into the work on the field for the Patriots’ offensive line under Scar’s watch:
“He believes in his fundamentals and those key, essential fundamentals. I think we work on those, we buy into those fundamentals. We know that they work and we practice them every day, a lot, and we don’t make up fancy drills. It’s the same drills pretty much every day, so we’re just building repetition, building conditioning and building good habits.”
Andrews continued, “every drill correlates to a fundamental which will correlate to a block. We have different blocks that start with different fundamentals. We don’t go out there and start running combination blocks. We build up first, and the individual fundamentals and then you put it together, and you build, and you build, and you build. Kind of like building a house – you’ve got to start with a good foundation.”
Along with Andrews, an undrafted free agent that has gone on to start 66 games, New England’s offensive line is mostly made up of players that weren’t high draft picks.
Fourth-round pick Shaq Mason, fifth-round pick Marcus Cannon and third-rounder Joe Thuney have all blossomed into multi-year starters and near-Pro Bowlers under Scarnecchia.
Mason signed a five-year, $45 million contract extension with the Patriots last August and was a first-team selection to Pro Football Focus’s All-Pro team in 2018.
The 2015 fourth-rounder wasn’t invited to the NFL scouting combine and came from a triple-option offense under former Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson.
Although he was always a terrific run blocker, pro-style pass protection was almost entirely new to him when he got to New England.
Scarnecchia returned to Bill Belichick’s coaching staff in Mason’s second season, and his game took off from there.
“He means the world to me,” Mason told CLNSMedia.com. “When he came in here, it was my second year and he kind of re-shaped my game and fine-tuned everything. That’s all I could ask from him because he understood where I came from and he was patient. I can’t praise him enough. From the details to the day-to-day, just caring, that’s rare in position coaches.”
“I was surviving off of athleticism. Detail after detail. He definitely helped me elevate my game.”
Mason is hardly the only one that signed a lucrative contract after working with Scar.
Both Andrews (3 years, $9 million) and Cannon (5 years, $32.4 million) received extensions to remain with the Patriots.
Plus, in back-to-back offseasons, the Patriots produced left tackles that set new highwater marks for offensive linemen in free agency.
Both Giants tackle Nate Solder (4 years, $62 million) and the Raiders’ Trent Brown (4 years, $66 million) signed record deals after their time in New England.
Playing for Scarnecchia is a challenge, but those that buy into his coaching not only become rich, they also become Super Bowl champions.