Following their playoff departure in January, the New England Patriots saw four members of their coaching staff leave the organization. Among them was veteran offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who announced his retirement after 36 seasons in the NFL. No official replacement for Scarnecchia has been announced by the team just yet, but it looks like the Patriots may have already made a decision — at least according to one of their players.
During his introductory media conference call shortly after getting picked by New England in the sixth round of last week’s draft, guard/tackle Justin Herron also spoke about a video call he had with the team during the pre-draft process. As the following excerpt from this Q&A session shows, the rookie did mention one of the Patriots’ assistant coaches by name:
Q: What was your pre-draft contact with the Patriots and were you surprised at all when you got the phone call?
JH: I actually talked to them a good amount at the Senior Bowl and at the Combine, and I had a couple FaceTime interviews after the Combine, as well. Honestly, it was hard to get a gauge, but that’s what it was like. It was a great feeling to be drafted to a great organization, for sure.
Q: Do you recall who you talked to in those FaceTime conversations?
JH: I talked to Cole Popovich once and then I talked to one of the scouts for the Patriots, as well. I also spoke with [scouting assistant Taylor Redd] at the Combine.
While Cole Popovich being listed by Herron as the lone Patriots assistant to talk to him before the draft may not be definitive confirmation of him taking over Scarnecchia’s old role, it does raise eyebrows. Popovich worked closely alongside Scarnecchia between 2015 and 2018, after all, when he served as a coaching assistant with a focus on the offensive line. Entering his sixth season with the organization, Popovich was therefore identified as a candidate to fill Scarnecchia’s shoes back in January.
That said, he did hold a different title during the 2019 season: assistant running backs coach. However, the possibly temporary move from coaching assistant to right-hand man of veteran backfield coach Ivan Fears may have only been another step in Popovich getting groomed to take over the offensive line by giving him a more holistic look on New England’s offense and the role of the running game within it. Whatever the intention was, Popovich’s last gig was not as closely associated with Scarnecchia as his previous one.
In the meantime, Carmen Bricillo took over as the team’s offensive assistant with a focus on the men up front. Bricillo joined the organization during the 2019 offseason after having spent the previous nine years as the O-line coach at Youngstown State, and was also listed as a possible successor for Scarnecchia. While him eventually taking over the role still appears to be in the cards, Popovich being mentioned as the lone coach to speak to Herron before the draft adds further intrigue to the situation.
Scarnecchia’s old position remains the only one still unaccounted for: former assistant quarterbacks coach Mick Lombardi will likely take over Joe Judge’s former role as wide receivers coach, with offseason addition Jedd Fisch working closely with the quarterbacks. On the defensive side of the ball, no moves have been announced just yet to fill the vacancies at Bret Bielema’s old role with the defensive line and the coordinator title. Cam Achord, meanwhile, was all but confirmed to take over Judge’s other role on special teams with ex-USC kicker Joe Houston as his assistant.