Super Bowl column flashback: on NAU’s strong ties to the NFL coaching fraternity

This column appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on Feb. 6, 2005

NAU has strong ties to today’s Super Bowl

By Ed Odeven

Our fine city, a picturesque college town with two interstate freeways passing through it and dozens of tourist destinations in close proximity, is a place with a young, shifting population. You know your neighbors today, but tomorrow they might load up the U-Haul and say adios.

But you might be surprised to learn Flagstaff has another distinct characteristic: It’s a steppingstone for NFL-bound coaches.

Five ex-Lumberjack assistants will be working today at Super Bowl XXXIX: Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid, Eagle assistants Brad Childress (offensive coordinator), Tom Melvin (tight ends) and Marty Mornhinweg (senior assistant) and Dante Scarnecchia, the assistant head/offensive line coach of New England Patriots.

“(NAU) is just a place where a lot of good, young coaches go through,” Scarnecchia told a Daily Sun correspondent earlier this week in Jacksonville, Fla. “There are a number of places like that. Some might refer to them as steppingstones. As a result, a lot of names go through places like that.”

This was especially evident during the heyday of “Cheers” and “The Cosby Show.” As the NAU head coach from 1985-89, Larry Kentera proved to be an astute judge of coaching talent.

He hired Reid in 1986 (he moved on to Texas-El Paso the next year), Brad Childress the same year (he took a job at Utah in 1990), Melvin the same year (he went to California-Santa Barbara in 1988) and Mornhinweg in 1988 (he went to Southwest Missouri State in 1989, but after three seasons there and three more at Missouri he returned in 1994 for another one-year stint and then joined the Green Bay Packers in ’95).

Another ex-Kentera assistant, Bill Callahan, who was a Lumberjack in 1987-88, was the head coach of the Oakland Raiders when they went to Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003 against Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (And don’t forget about ex-Jacks assistant Mike Shanahan, who was here in 1977, who led the Denver Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl triumphs in 1997 and ’98 as John Elway capped off a great career.)

“Coach Kentera hired great coaches,” Childress said. “He was able to assemble (a staff of) guys who were motivated. Maybe it was the altitude.”

The Lumberjacks went 26-29 during Kentera’s five years at the helm, but wins and losses aren’t what Kentera’s ex-assistants now talk about when the topic is discussed.

“It’s a great school and it was a privilege to work with Larry Kentera,” said Reid, who still keeps in touch with his ex-boss. “There were a number of great coaches there.”

Even in those days, Reid, a former offensive lineman at BYU who played in three Holiday Bowls, was recognized as a bright mentor.

“Andy was a very good offensive line coach,” Childress said. “He was able to teach pass protection. We (played) in the Big Sky and we needed offense in that league. It was important to protect the quarterback, and he did a great job motivating the offensive line. The offensive line was not very good the year before Andy got here, and it congealed when he got here.

“You could tell he was committed to the coaching profession.”

No one should argue with that statement, especially in Philadelphia, where Eagles fans are rejoicing that their team made the Super Bowl – the team’s first since a 27-10 loss to the Raiders in the 1981 game — after three straight losses in the NFC Championship Game.

On the other sideline, Scarnecchia will be returning today to place that’s become quite familiar: the Super Bowl.

In fact, Scarnecchia is the answer to a super-tough trivia question: Who is the only coach to be with the Patriots for all five of their Super Bowl appearances?

After leaving Flagstaff following a one-year stint as an assistant, he returned to Southern Methodist University, where he worked in the mid-1970s, in ’80 for two years. And then he joined the Patriots’ coaching staff in 1982. Except for a two-year stint with the Indianapolis Colts (1989-90), Scarnecchia has been with the Patriots ever since.

And he’s had a remarkable career, reaching The Big Game while working for Raymond Berry (Super Bowl XX in 1986), Bill Parcells (Super Bowl XXXI in 1997) and Bill Belichick (Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002, XXXVIII in ’04 and XXXIX today).

So what does this year’s Super Bowl mean for Scarnecchia?

“Just to get here ain’t enough,” said Scarnecchia, who enjoyed swimming at Oak Creek Canyon when he lived amongst the cool pines. “When they shoot off confetti at the end of the game, if it’s not red, white and blue, it doesn’t count. Winning this game is all that matters, all that counts.”

But in a profession where it’s common to move every few years, a profession where stability is often not attained, Scarnecchia, 56, is a fortunate fellow.

“We’re very lucky, very blessed to be here this long,” said Scarnecchia, referring to his family, his wife Susan and their two children, Steve and Lisa. “It’s something you never think will happen, and it has happened. It’s home. Hopefully we will retire here.

“So many great coaches have never been to a Super Bowl, and to be a small part of New England’s Super Bowl, it’s very special.”

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