Offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo had a tough job replacing Dante Scarnecchia, but he did it well. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
PHOENIX — It’s never easy replacing a legend — just imagine what it’s going to be like for whoever has to replace Tom Brady.
That was exactly what Dave DeGuglielmo was facing this season when he became the first Patriots’ offensive line coach in 24 years, as Dante Scarnecchia retired after last season. Scarnecchia had been a coach in the NFL since 1982, including different stints with the Patriots along the way.
Bill Belichick was asked Wednesday why he went with DeGuglielmo and the process that led to the hire to replace one of the greatest offensive line coaches in the history of the NFL.
“He was available – he wasn’t in football last year,” said Belichick. “We interviewed him at the end of the season — I think it might have been during the bye week last year before the Indianapolis game if I remember correctly, but somewhere in there. Because we knew that Dante [Scarnecchia] was going to be retiring, we wanted to kind of try to jump on the process. Met with our staff, we all spent time with him, brought him back for a second interview and hired him. So not a normal process I would say. Again, he’s got a lot of experience, works hard, knows our system very well.”
DeGuglielmo was no stranger to people in the Patriots organization, as he served as the offensive line coach of the Miami Dolphins when current Patriots tight end coach Brian Daboll was the offensive coordinator a few years back.
He is also a local, being born and growing up in Lexington, Massachusetts and having coached at Boston University when they had a football team.
He has served as an offensive line coach with the Giants from 2004-08, the Dolphins in 2012 and the Jets in 2013. He said coaching the Patriots as a local isn’t easy.
“It’s harder to be a Bostonian and work for the Patriots than it is to be a New Yorker or a Californian because everyone and their brother knows my name and when guys [in the media] tear me apart in the media my mom feels bad,” DeGuglielmo said. “I know it’s part of the business, but mom feels bad. When it was the Jets killing me, my mom didn’t read it because she wasn’t opening up the [N.Y. Post]. She didn’t care.”
The 46-year-old didn’t even think about who he was replacing when he started with the Patriots, as Belichick wanted him to be himself, and no one else.
“Actually he wants me to be me,” said DeGuglielmo. “He wants me to coach the way I coach. He wants me to be who I am all he time because he is who he is. Everyone in our building is free to be who they are. The difference is they don’t parade me out [in front of the media] which I appreciate.”
With that being said, the transition didn’t go as smoothy as one would’ve hoped.
The Patriots started the season 2-2 and the offensive line wasn’t performing very well, as Brady was sacked nine times over the first four games and the offensive line was struggling to find a combination that worked. Even with the issues, he didn’t let that affect the transition and his first four games with his new team.
“It [was] more of a perceived heat,” he said. “As long as Bill [Belichick] was pleased with what I was doing I followed his message, we stayed on the track, we stayed on what we do and it worked out some games better than others, but it worked out fairly well.”
The vast majority of the offensive line returned from last season and were now playing for just the second offensive line coach of their professional careers. Despite what came across from the outside at the start of training camp, the players have grown to love ‘Gooj’ as he is known as.
“[Gooj] has done a great job,” guard/center Ryan Wendell said. “I’m not a coach, but it had to be a tough position to come in and take over a group of guys that has had the same coach for so long. I think he’s done an excellent job of coming into our system, meeting the guys and trying to make the best out of them.”
“I have really enjoyed him coming in this year,” guard Dan Connolly added. “We had a great coach in Dante Scarnecchia and it was sad to see him retire, but I think Gooj has done a really good job. I have enjoyed playing for him. He’s a fun guy to be around and he’s a good coach. He expects a lot of us, like this team expects a lot out of everyone.”
Once the Patriots found an offensive line combination that worked in (left tackle-to-right tackle) Nate Solder, Connolly, Bryan Stork, Wendell and Sebastian Vollmer their play picked up. That unit began playing together in Week 5 and in eight total games together in the regular-season, the Patriots were 7-1 and allowed just four sacks. In the other eight games, they allowed 17 sacks.
“The more time that you have with guys, whether it be in practice or in the games that kind of experience is beneficial and you can’t beat it,” Wendell said. “Of course the more time that guys have with guys next to them it will pay off.”
Even with the early season struggles, it was DeGuglielmo keeping the unit in line and not letting them get too down on themselves.
“I think it’s been a year of ups and downs,” Solder said. “We’ve had good weeks and then weeks that we weren’t really happy with our performance. Through all of it we take it one week at a time. We work on improving and fixing the smallest of details — we take nothing for granted.”
While Scarnecchia was a hard, intense coach, it appears DeGuglielmo keeps things fun, while still being able to get the most out of his players and being hard on them when need be.
“He is a guy that makes friends very fast,” said Wendell. “It seems like wherever we go he knows somebody, has someone to talk to. He’s always telling stories. He’s the kind of guy that has no problem talking to strangers.”
“They have similarities and differences, but both of them seem to work,” he added when comparing the two coaches.
With the Patriots reaching the Super Bowl and seeing his players being able to play on the biggest of stages, that is everything DeGuglielmo wants as a coach. He described his group as the hardest working team he’s even been on, which makes it even more gratifying to see the Patriots reach the Super Bowl.
“It’s only satisfying when the players are happy at the end of the game,” DeGuglielmo said. “To me, a game is a game and as long as those guys have a smile on their face more than they don’t that’s all that matters. These guys fight. These guys work hard. This is the hardest working much I’ve ever been around. Smartest working, toughest group of guys I have ever coached.”
It’s become clear DeGuglielmo isn’t going to be Scarnecchia, but that seems to be OK because even with the contrasting styles, the results have been the same.