Dante Scarnecchia returns to the same gig he left following the 2013 season. (Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports)
1. Dante Scarnecchia is facing a unique set of challenges as he returns to the world of coaching this year. The veteran offensive line coach, who stepped away after the 2013 season, was rehired by the Patriots this past offseason to help try and fix a leaky line. While Scarnecchia’s bonafides in the program should give New England fans cause for optimism, what does history tell us about coaches who stepped away from their old job, only to return to the same gig? Here are six examples of three assistants and three head coaches who moved on, only to be lured back to their old address. (Thanks to Eric Edholm for coming up with a few names.)
a) Howard Mudd is probably a pretty fair comparison on a few levels. One, he’s a veteran offensive line coach who can trace his roots in the pro game back multiple decades. (All in all, he spent 38 years in the NFL as an o-line coach.) And two, he also stepped away after a few years, only to eventually return to the same position. Mudd, who served as the offensive line coach for the Niners, Seahawks, Browns, Chiefs, Colts and Eagles, had two tours of duty with Seattle: His first go-round came from 1978-82 (under Jack Patera), and his second was from 1993-97 (under Tom Flores and Dennis Erickson). On both occasions, his offensive lines held up pretty well. Now retired (again), he recently wrote a book about offensive line play, and has plenty of very strong opinions about the state of offensive lines around the league.
b) Locally, when it comes to returning to the same job, Josh McDaniels is the standard. McDaniels was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2006-08 with the Patriots before leaving to take over as head coach of the Broncos. After a year-plus with Denver and a quick stopover as the offensive coordinator in St. Louis (2011), McDaniels returned to the Patriots and was later named OC again after Bill O’Brien left. He’s maintained the job ever since, and the New England offense hasn’t missed a beat. One of the reasons McDaniels’ return was so smooth was because he stepped back into a situation with the same quarterback (Tom Brady) and same head coach (Bill Belichick) as hen he left. But in many ways, this is the ideal scenario for the Patriots and Scarnecchia.
c) Dick LeBeau is another veteran assistant who can provide a blueprint for Scarnecchia in that he didn’t seem to miss a beat when he returned to his old gig. The Hall of Famer was the defensive coordinator for the Bengals from 1984-91, before taking a new job with the Steelers as their defensive coordinator (1995-96). That was just the beginning, as he returned to Cincy as the defensive coordinator in 1997, and became the head coach of the Bengals in 2000, a stretch that ended in 2002 with the ascension of Marvin Lewis to Cincy head coach. He then returned to Pittsburgh to work as the Steelers’ DC from 2004-14. All the while, he helped craft some of the best defenses in the league, and in his second stretch with the Steelers, he was able to nab a pair of Super Bowl rings.
d) Joe Gibbs is probably the least successful example of a coach who returned to his old gig after walking away. In his first stint as head coach of the Redskins (1981-92), Gibbs led three Super Bowl teams, and at that point in his career, was accorded as one of the best coaches in the history of the game. His second act as a head coach wasn’t nearly as successful; lured out of retirement by Washington owner Daniel Snyder in 2004, he spent four years as the head coach of the Redskins. Twelve years older, he went 30-34 with no playoff trips in four seasons and stepped away from the game for good.
e) Art Shell guided the Raiders on two separate occasions: once, from 1989-1994, and again in 2006. His first stretch was impressive mark — four seasons of at least nine wins, one AFC West title and a 54-38 record. Lured back to the Raiders after an apocalyptically bad stretch after Jon Gruden walked away, he was placed in charge of the 2006 team, which went 2-14. It would be the final head-coaching gig of his career.
f) Bud Grant was the head coach of the Vikings from 1967 through 1983, and led the franchise to four conference championships in that stretch. He retired after the 1983 season and was replaced by Les Steckel, but Steckel turned an 8-8 team in 1983 to a 3-13 bunch the following season. He was let go, and Grant returned for one more year — the 1985 Vikes finished 7-9 before Grant again stepped aside for good, handing the reins to longtime assistant Jerry Burns. He remains the only coach to win 100-plus games as a head coach in the NFL and CFL.
2. Earlier this offseason, the fact that the Ravens released left tackle Eugene Monroe — who missed 15 games the last two years — got us thinking about durability, dependability and what it all means in the context of roster-building. The ability to consistently answer the bell on a weekly basis can be an underappreciated talent, and it’s one New England values. To that point, the Patriots current have three players among the league leaders in consecutive regular-season games played: quarterback Tom Brady (112, third best at his position), defensive end Rob Ninkovich (102, third best at his position) and kicker Stephen Gostkowski (80, tied for fifth at his position). Just seven other teams have more than three players who are among the top five at their position when it comes to consecutive regular-season starts. (For the record, both the Cowboys and Steelers lead the league with six players each.) When it comes to the quarterback, Brady is the only quarterback in the history of the league to put together two consecutive games played streaks of 100-plus contests. For what its worth, if Brady hadn’t been injured for almost the entirety of the 2008 season and if he had stayed healthy, he’d be sitting in second place overall with a streak of well over 200, well ahead of Peyton Manning’s string of 208 straight regular-season starts, which ran from 1998 to 2011.
3. NFL Media announced this week that for the first time ever on YouTube, the NFL will upload full network broadcasts of three games for each NFL team. Fans can vote for their favorite games by visiting NFL.com/youtubegames. The page provides links to each teams Facebook page where a poll is posted asking fans to vote for their favorite game. The three most-voted games per franchise (five options are provided in each poll) will be uploaded to the NFL’s official YouTube account (youtube.com/nfl) prior to the start of the 2016 season. Voting is currently open and will run through early next week. For the Patriots, fans can vote on the following games: Super Bowl XXXVIII, Super Bowl XXXVI, Super Bowl XLIX, 2001 AFC Divisional Round vs. Oakland, and the 1985 AFC Championship Game vs. Miami.
4. When the Patriots cut loose veteran defensive lineman Vince Wilfork prior to the 2015 season. the feeling was that Wilfork was (relatively) close to the end of the road. But after a solid first season in Houston alongside J.J. Watt, it appears the 35-year-old might be hanging around longer than some thought. The 6-foot-2, 325-pounder told the Houston Chronicle this week that he wants to keep going as long as his body will allow it. “I feel good,” Wilfork said. “I said until I feel like I cant perform at a certain level or my body cant take it, or I’m mentally not there anymore, it’ll be time for me to hang it up. But I think I have a couple more good years in me. I think, mentally, it’ll go before my body will. Its just the amount of stress over the years you’ve been in the game. To play this game, you have to be mentally there. If you’re not mentally there, I dont care who you are. You wont make it.” If you missed it, he’s also one of the models for this years “ESPN: The Magazine” Body Issue.
5. It would have been fun to think about the prospect of Calvin Johnson catching bombs from Brady, but it sounds like Megatron is going to stay retired. Speaking for the first time since he made his official announcement, the 30-year-old Johnson said hes not coming out of retirement for anything. “No. I’m not coming back,” he told the Detroit Free Press with a laugh. “You ain’t got to worry about that. … My decision, I made my own decision. I’m good with it.” There was some talk of Johnson and his reps figuring out a way for him to land in New England, a prospect fueled by Johnson’s former teammate Nate Burleson saying Megatron should un-retire and join the Patriots. However, if Johnson is really done, he leaves the game with 11,619 receiving yards, 83 touchdowns, and a legacy as one of the best to ever line up at the position.
6. For those of you keeping track at home, Thursday marked the one-month anniversary of Bradys Deflategate appeal filing. If history is any guide, the decisions on those hearings usually take between three and six weeks. (At least, that’s what ESPN business analyst Andrew Brandt told SportsCenter the morning Brady’s appeal was filed.) Just as a reminder: If Brady’s petition is granted, its likely that the decision from the entire Second Circuit wouldn’t come until after the 2016 season is completed, which means the quarterback would likely be able to play this coming year. If its not granted, Brady and his legal team could still appeal to the Supreme Court.
7. Because they’re the NFL’s only publicly owned team, the Packers are required to disclose their financial information, and the franchise unveiled its records from 2016 this past week. If their coffers are any indication, its a good time to own a professional football team. Despite the fact that Green Bay is the leagues smallest market, it was ninth in the league in total revenue at $409 million in 2016, an eight percent increase over last year. It’s the 13th straight year with a new high for one of the NFL’s marquee teams. (According to the Associated Press, revenue from national sources rose six percent to more than $222 million. It was outpaced by the nearly 11 percent growth in local revenue to $186 million.)
8. Heading into 2016, Bill Belichick has 223 career regular-season wins, and will likely move into fourth place overall sooner rather than later, surpassing the legendary Curly Lambeau (226 career wins). Belichick, who will kick off his 42nd season in the NFL next month and 22nd year as a head coach, could climb into third place within the next two seasons, as hes just 27 career wins behind Tom Landry (third overall with 250 wins). Given where he is at this stage of his career, it would take a monumental task for him to reach the top two — you never say never, but Don Shula is tops overall with 326 career wins as a head coach, while George Halas is second with 318 career victories. For the record, Belichick has the fewest career years (21) of any coach in the top five when it comes to regular-season wins. (Marty Schottenheimer, who has 200 career wins, good for seventh all-time, was a head coach for 21 years.)