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Work ethic gives Scarnecchia staying power

HOUSTON -- Typical Dante Scarnecchia. So unassuming. Yesterday was Super Bowl Media Day, which meant a rare public speaking opportunity for New England's assistant coaches. Scarnecchia is one who prefers to be seen and not heard, and that pretty much says it all about the Patriots' assistant head coach ("a title, nothing more than that," he said) and offensive line coach. So Scarnecchia, dressed in slacks, a plaid shirt, and a brown leather jacket, sat, legs crossed, alone, high above it all -- literally and figuratively -- in Section 104, Row J, Seat 16 at Reliant Stadium.

He had more on his mind than speaking his mind.

"I'd rather be doing something else, to be honest with you," Scarnecchia said. "Rather be back at the office getting ready for the Carolina Panthers. I'd rather be in meetings. I'd rather be on the practice field. I understand this is all part of the deal. It's something you've got to deal with for a couple of hours."

If you were wondering why six coaches have had Scarnecchia on their staffs and how he has managed to remain a Patriot since 1982 (save for a two-year stint as the Colts' offensive line coach), there's your answer. A couple of hours mean nothing to most of us. To Scarnecchia, the only coach in team history who has done so for all four Super Bowl teams, a couple of hours can mean the difference between the Patriots winning their second title or losing it for a third time.

His work ethic is legendary in Foxborough. It's dark when he leaves and arrives at Gillette Stadium.

"I don't know many guys that can outwork him," said Jeff Davidson, New England's assistant offensive line and tight ends coach. "I think that's the No. 1 thing that you'd say about Dante, that he works unbelievable hours and they're not only hours where he's just there in his chair. He's actually working the whole time. Watching tape, taking notes, writing down ideas all the time. That, to me, is what makes him a great coach."

That's how almost all of the Patriots feel about Scarnecchia, that he's a great coach. The one dissenter: Scarnecchia. "A lot of people think I'm not," he said. "I don't care about all that. Just do what you're supposed to do, and try to do it as good as you can do it."

Carolina's defensive line is as good as it gets in today's NFL. It's not that he's anti-social, but the less Scarnecchia gets done, he felt, the less the chances of New England's offensive line getting it done Sunday.

"I just think we have to do everything we can to prepare ourselves to beat these guys," Scarnecchia said. "These guys are really good. Really good. This game, you don't win this game, all the rest of it's for nothing. Say all you want about `did this, did that,' you gotta win the last game or it doesn't count. That's the thing about the Super Bowl that a lot of people don't understand. There's no great thrill in coming in second. I've been on teams that have come in second, and it ain't fun. We've got to see this thing through. Hopefully, we'll play our best, because that's what it's going to take to beat these guys, because they're really good."

Regardless of what he says, Scarnecchia has to at least be pretty good for the Patriots to be here with a young offensive line that has had eight players start at the five positions and six starting lineups. Perhaps New England's offensive linemen aren't the most talented or most experienced, but if they have one strength, it is their collective resiliency. "I don't think many people would say we have any strengths," Scarnecchia said. "We just try to do what we're supposed to do as good as we can do it. That's about it.

"You've got the guys you've got. You coach the guys you've got. The guys you've got have to go out there and play as good as they can play. Basically, that's about it."

Typical Scarnecchia. Keep it simple. Punch in. Do your work. Punch out. The humble assistant head coach's face rarely is seen, though his influence is evident.

"When you sign on to a job, you're asked to give a full day's work for a full day's pay," Scarnecchia said. "You've got to have a passion for what you do, and you have to work hard to help the guys that you're coaching. You have to give them everything necessary to be successful. I just think you've got to work your [rear] off. I'm not talented. Believe me. They're never going to use the word genius in front of my name."

Three-fifths of the line that started the season will end it on injured reserve. But Scarnecchia's group hasn't allowed a sack of Tom Brady in two postseason games and has opened holes for Antowain Smith.

Scarnecchia, 55, coaches in a Super Bowl an average of once every five years with the Patriots (four in 20). He approaches each not like his first, but rather his last.

"There's a lot better football coaches than me that have never been to this game who are far more deserving than I am who should be at this game," he said. "It's an honor to be a part of this. It's the Holy Grail of professional football."

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