NEW YORK – Dave DeGuglielmo may be coming home this season when he coaches the Patriots offensive line. But the Cambridge-born 45-year-old who went to Lexington High School and Boston University has to acknowledge that he’s an outsider in terms of the legend he’s replacing.
Dante Scarnecchia, who retired last week after 30 years as a Patriots coach (the last 14 with the offensive line), was one of the best position coaches in the league.
“I had nine offensive line coaches in seven years including some of the biggest names ever along the offensive line like Joe Bugel and Jim McNally,” said former Patriots offensive lineman Ross Tucker on Monday at the Sheraton Times Square. “But Scar was the best. He maximized every single player because he got the most out of them physically and mentally.
“It will be hard (for DeGuglielmo),” Tucker predicted. “Hard. I know he’s got big shoes to fill. You don’t want to be the guy that follows (the best). This is the same kind of deal.”
DeGuglielmo’s coached the Giants’ offensive line from 2004 to 2008, the Dolphins offensive line from 2009 to 2011 and the Jets offensive line in 2012.
His Jets’ tenure was an interesting one.
He came out hot in his first press conference with the Jets, proclaiming in May 2012 that then-right tackle Wayne Hunter was “the starting right tackle. Until they tell me otherwise, until they ship him out of this building or until they shoot me dead in my office, that son of a gun is going to be the starting right tackle and he’s going to play well.”
Hunter was traded before the season. When Vladimir Ducasse replaced Matt Slauson at left guard later in the year, DeGuglielmo said it wasn’t his decision. The directive, he said, came “from high above” him.
DeGuglielmo then said of Ducasse, "He's playing well enough to be an every third series guy, maybe. Slauson is a big, tough, smart, strong kid. That's what he is. There are too few of those guys in the world."
It wasn’t a surprise, then, that the Jets parted ways with DeGuglielmo after that season. He was out of football in 2013 then agreed to a job with the University of Maryland six days before the Patriots offered him the job replacing Scarnecchia.
The contrast between Scarnecchia’s ability to stick in one spot by doing his job well with no histrionics and DeGuglielmo’s Jets tenure is obvious.
What made Scarnecchia so successful?
“The individual period (of each practice) was by far the most grueling period I’d ever had in my life while with New England,” said Tucker. “It was to the point where every day we were beyond winded, to the point we were almost throwing up. It was grueling. It was intense and we were just running. Which is why you never saw them have any fatsos. He doesn’t believe in that. Guys were lean and mean, 305-pounders but guys who can move. And I think (Scarnecchia) and Belichick do a good job of picking the right guys. Smart. Tough. The kind that didn’t make mental errors. Mental errors were just not accepted. Other places, they would be a little more forgiving on mental errors if you had a certain amount of physical ability. But they’re not OK there. They’re not willing to forgive a mental error because you have a certain amount of physical ability.”
Given DeGuglielmo’s vocal support of the sixth-rounder Slauson over the second-rounder Ducasse, it would seem DeGuglielmo’s viewpoint is the same as New England’s in that regard.
“(The Patriots) do a good job of placing a premium on mental and physical toughness over raw ability,” said Tucker.
Scarnecchia made good linemen out of castoffs or players perceived as marginal. Consider the work of Russ Hochstein in the Super Bowl against Carolina’s vaunted defensive line. Or Grant Williams stepping in at left tackle in Super Bowl 36 after losing his job earlier in the year to rookie Matt Light. Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, Tom Ashworth, Brandon Gorin – all are players who, Tucker pointed out, had their talent maximized by Scarnecchia.
“He got so much out of these guys,” said Tucker.
“Would you rather have three Pro Bowlers and two guys that are bad or five solid guys?” Tucker asked. “You want five solid guys. It really is like a chain and you’re only as good as your weakest link. They did a really good job of making sure they never had a weak link.”
DeGuglielmo won’t just be facing the challenge of making sure weak links are strengthened but keeping that unit as strong and reliable as Scarnecchia made it.