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When watching a New England Patriots football practice, it was easy to gravitate toward the offensive line coach authoritatively barking orders. Dante Scarnecchia, who ran sprints with players and whose early-morning arrivals at the stadium well before the sun came up were legendary, had a presence about him that was captivating.
Scarnecchia, who turns 66 next month and coached 30 seasons in New England, called it a career on Wednesday. He is at peace. Clearly.
"I think anytime you are able to have a vision of what you want out of this life, to have it come to fruition like it has for me ... after all these years, I never once thought of doing anything else," he said.
|Dante Scarnecchia walks away with no regrets over a 32-year NFL coaching career.|
"I've gotten honestly everything out of this I ever hoped and for that, I am eternally grateful and pleased. I would use the word satisfied. Whether anyone thinks it's good enough or not, I'm very, very satisfied with the way it all came out. I'm also satisfied this is the end. I'm not looking back on it and wishing I had it to do over again. I feel good about it."
Scarnecchia said the time is right to "step in to the next stage," which means spending more time with his wife, Susan, while also pursuing other interests outside of football he prefers to keep to himself at this time.
He was the longest-tenured coach in the NFL in 2013, his run with the Patriots coming in two separate stints -- from 1982 to '88 and then 1991 to 2013. The two years in between, 1989-1990, were spent with the Indianapolis Colts as he followed former Patriots coach Ron Meyer there.
Why did he leave? It's a question that has piqued curiosity over the years and this is the way Scarnecchia addressed it: "I honestly believe this: We're all standing in this place right now as a result of everything that's happened in the past. If we're pleased with our lot in life, you never question what happened before. It you're not pleased with your lot in life, you always wish you had things and decisions made to do over. I'm very pleased with where I am in my life. Everything happened then, for a reason. I got a lot out of that."
Just as he did in his time with the Patriots.
"I'm eternally grateful to Robert [Kraft] and Myra for the owners they are," Scarnecchia said. "Bill [Belichick], he offered me a job 13-14 years ago and allowed me to coach the way I like to coach and approach the game the way I like to approach the game. I'm really grateful to all the players I've coached and been around all these years. I won't mention names, and of course, the fans, who were extraordinary. The people around our offices who make our lives so much easier in all areas, there are thousands of them -- those who clean the offices, serve food in the dining hall, pick up junk. Those people mean as much to me as anyone."
The NFL is different now from the league he first came to know in 1982. So, too, is the coaching grind. But even after 32 seasons, he still felt challenged as ever before.
"When I first came into professional football, you might have looked at three games of opponents in preparation for playing them the next week. Now you have access to every game they've played the last 10 years. With the new video age and computer age, you have access to all those things and that has caused you to be working more than what you used to work, even if you're still doing a lot of the same things," he said.
"You're driven to succeed and you want every bit of information you possibly can and try to process it. That's a lot different than when I came in. It's better [now] and harder. The game is a really good game. From a spectator standpoint, you really enjoy watching it, especially the way it's being played right now. All those things are great."
Asked what he's most proud of from his career, Scarnecchia said he'd leave that for others to judge. He talked about how coaches take a little bit of every head coach they worked for and "kind of weave it into your own personal philosophies, throw it out there, and see how well it goes."
Scarnecchia seemed to go out of his way to avoid the spotlight, which meant in the latter part of his career avoiding interaction with the media. At Super Bowl media days, he would practically hide in the tunnel of the stadium in hopes no one would find him.
It's why this reporter was unsure what the response would be when Scarnecchia picked up the telephone.
|Scarnecchia has mostly kept out of the media spotlight, but his players appreciated his commanding presence.|
"I don't know, I just feel a lot more comfortable outside of that setting," said Scarnecchia, who chatted for more than 20 minutes Wednesday night and couldn't have been more cordial. "I just liked to focus on what we are doing, how we are doing it, and not worrying about all that other stuff. I respect what you guys do. I like all you guys and have enormous respect for all you guys.
"When I first got here, I was honest, forthright, and friends [with some reporters]. What happened is that [reporters] have a job to do, [my] work is being criticized, and I'm thinking 'Why are my friends criticizing me?' But they were just doing what they were supposed to do. [I decided to] not get into that deal. I'd give them the respect and when I had to answer questions, not take them personally."
He has some great stories to tell, like the time he was on a scouting trip to Salisbury, N.C., in 1991 to work out a small-school tight end. When he arrived for the workout, the football field didn't have lines.
"I had to take a yardstick and measure out 40 yards to have him run a 40-yard dash," Scarnecchia recalled. "I remember flipping that yardstick, thinking 'this kid runs well' and he measured out well too."
The player, of course, was Ben Coates, a future member of the Patriots Hall of Fame whom scouts at the time credited Scarnecchia with finding at little-known Livingstone College.
Scarnecchia always had an eye for talent and he will soon hook up with Coates once again, because the Patriots might as well waive the four-year waiting period and induct him to the team's hall of fame right now.
He is, simply put, one of the franchise's all-time greats.
He's also a retiring football coach who is clearly at peace with the life he's leaving behind, and the one he's anxious to begin living.
"My dream when I was very young was to be a football coach, and I lived that dream for 44 years," he said. "There hasn't been one day in all that time I ever wished I had done something else with my life."