As the 2022 New England Patriots coaching staff met the media this week, one name and familiar face was conspicuous by his absence.
Ivan Fears imparts his wisdom
Ivan Fears looks on during training camp drills
While talking heads and terrestrial drive-time radio continue to stir the panic pot when it comes to job titles for the Pats coaches, long-time running backs coach Ivan Fears was not among those coaches designated to meet with Pats beat reporters via video conference.
Though a formal announcement has yet to be made, Fears has been the subject of retirement rumors.
No matter how much his candor and entertaining style may be missed by members of the media, the biggest void Fears leaves behind will be the lack of his presence on the field.
The 67-year-old is the longest-tenured coach on the Patriots staff, having spent 25 years with the team both as a wide receivers coach and running backs coach. Fears joined the Patriots' coaching staff in 1991, serving as the team’s receivers coach under Dick MacPherson. He spent two seasons with the Patriots before moving on to coach the Chicago Bears' wide receivers starting in 1993. Fears rejoined New England’s coaching staff in 1999, once again assuring the role of wide receivers coach under Pete Carroll. After Carroll’s dismissal in 2000, Bill Belichick retained Fears’ services. In 2002, he was reassigned to running backs coach, a role he has held since that time.
Fears has been a part of all six Patriots’ Super Bowl Championship teams, providing his tutelage to some of the franchise’s most prolific running backs. That list includes Kevin Faulk, Corey Dillon, James White, and current Patriots’ feature back Damien Harris. In fact, Fears was spotted in an emotional postgame embrace with Harris, at the conclusion of the Pats season-ending loss to the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card round of the 2021 playoffs. In a touching moment between coach and player, Fears could be overheard telling his pupil that he has a ‘great career’ in front of him, further fueling retirement speculation.
Assuming retirement rumors are true, Fears’ longevity and success will be nearly impossible to duplicate. During his tenure in Foxboro, New England has finished in the top 10 in offense 13 times in the last 19 seasons. The Patriots finished first in offense in the 2007, 2012 and 2017 seasons, with their running game playing a notable role in their success. In 2021, New England ranked eighth with 124.4 rushing yards per game, led by Harris and rookie Rhmaondre Stevenson. The duo are once again expected to be key components in the Patriots offensive game planning for the upcoming seasons.
Vinnie Sunseri, who assisted Fears in 2021, looks to be the heir-apparent to coach the Pats rushers in 2022. The 28-year-old began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, the University of Alabama, under known Belichick-associate, Nick Saban. Sunseri coached alongside his brother, Tino, who also was a graduate assistant and his father, Sal, who is the Crimson Tide’s linebackers coach. In 2020 he was hired by the New England Patriots in a support staff role. In 2021, Sunseri was named an assistant running backs coach; shadowing Fears while developing solid relationships with Harris, Stevenson, veteran Brandon Bolden and second-year back J.J. Taylor.
Although Fears is said to have already completed his Pats tenure, it is a safe assessment to say that he will be acknowledged by the team for his numerous accomplishments in the near future. In fact, a celebration of sorts may be in order. After all, a coach of Fears’ stature unquestionably deserves his moment in the spotlight.
In 2021, Belichick’s prolific, yet enigmatic assistant, Ernie Adams announced his retirement via a rare video conference with the media. Whether a similar send-off is planned for Fears is still a matter of conjecture.
For someone who has always been among the most compelling coaches to cover in Patriots’ history, there may not be a more fitting way for Fears to ride off into the Foxboro sunset.