August 18, 2012
Spotlight on Sparano
Looks to rejuvenate Jets offense
When Tony Sparano joined the New York Jets as their new offensive coordinator back on Jan. 11, it was a bit of a homecoming for the former Miami Dolphins head coach.
Sparano was born in West Haven, Conn., and he played four years of football at the University of New Haven, where he earned his degree in criminal law.
He began his coaching career at his alma mater in 1984 before moving on to Boston University as offensive coordinator in 1989. He returned to New Haven as the school’s head coach in 1994 and manned that spot for the next five years.
So joining the Jets provided the chance for the 50-year-old to return close to his northeast roots, providing the chance to get the offense untracked after missing the playoffs a year ago.
“I am honored to be a part of this organization here with the Jets and to be part of this team that Coach (Rex) Ryan, (General Manager) Mike Tannenbaum and (Owner) Woody Johnson have put together,” Sparano said after the final public practice at SUNY Cortland this past Wednesday. “It’s really exciting for me to also get closer to home for me, being in New Jersey. I’m from Connecticut.
“As far as this group of people, I’m excited to be working them. They are a pleasure to work with. They’re are hard-working group of guys who really want to do well,” he added.
Sparano has been under the spotlight for three weeks at Camp Cortland, installing a new offensive scheme directed by fourth-year starting quarterback Mark Sanchez and heralded newcomer Tim Tebow. Sparano will add his special touch to the Jets’ Wildcat formation to be conducted by former Denver Bronco Tebow, who brought Tebowmania — and plenty of national media attention — to town.
One thing that also drew plenty of attention to the SUNY Cortland camp were the closed practice sessions that enabled Sparano and the offense to prepare in relative secrecy.
That new offense will be tested this evening when the Jets play ‘host’ to the New York Giants at 7 p.m. at the MetLife Stadium both teams share in East Rutherford, N.J. The Giants defense stood out during a Super Bowl run last season that featured playoff wins over explosive Green Bay and New England offenses.
THE JETS ARE THE fifth NFL team Sparano has worked for, that career started with stops in Cleveland (1999-2000), Washington (2001) and Jacksonville (2002).
He had five seasons (2003-07) on the Dallas staff, during which time the Cowboys made three playoff appearances. He coached the team’s tight ends his first two seasons before he tutored the Cowboys’ offensive line the last three years there. Sparano also held the title of assistant head coach the final two seasons with the Cowboys.
In 2008, Sparano became the eighth head coach in Miami Dolphins history.
In his first season he led the Dolphins to the greatest turnaround in NFL history as Miami posted an 11-5 regular-season record while capturing the team’s first AFC East title since 2000. His career head-coaching record, after leaving the Dolphins after 13 games in 2011 season, is 29-33. His final Dolphin game was a 26-10 loss to Eagles on Dec, 11, 2011. Dolphins were 4-9 when he was relieved of his duties.He was out of work for just one month when the Jets, dreaded AFC East rivals, came calling.
“Quite honestly, competing against each other,” said Sparano of his previous dealings with Coach Ryan before the job offer arrived. “Rex and I would speak at the (NFL) Combine, at the owners’ meetings, and things like that. I’ve known Mike Tannenbaum for a little while through Coach (Bill) Parcells. But, it was really just through competition. I would see him when we played each other and he would see me. It’s really just two guys with a great passion, trying to get this thing together and I’m glad he has given me this opportunity.”
Ryan likes Sparano. And with the newcomer being a former coach, it takes some pressure off Ryan with the offense.
“Absolutely, there’s no doubt,” Ryan said earlier in camp of Sparano lessening his work load. “We’re staying on the same formula. This is what we had as a blueprint for our team. The first night I told the guys the blueprint I had for this organization when I took it over. So when you look at it, I’ve learned a lot of things. It’s my fourth year as a head coach, fourth year here and I’ve learned a ton of things. But I am who I am, I’m going to be myself.
“There are some things I have spent my whole life (preparing for) if I could take a team over, that I feel strongly about,” he continued. “I have everything in place right now. There is no question about it, no question. And Tony is a big part of that. And I’m telling you, and I made sure the team knew, that this is why we brought him in. When you look at it, he’s sees things through, not just as an offensive coordinator, but as a team.
“I’m not saying that Brian (Schottenheimer) didn’t, but things are a little different,” added Ryan, former Offensive Coordinator Schottenheimer moving from the Jets to the St. Louis Rams this season. “When you sit in that big chair (as a head coach) in two-minute situations, you understand that the number one thing is that other side doesn’t get a possession. Then it’s ‘I’m going to score.’ That’s how you do it, especially in situations where you seem to have the momentum on your side.”THE MESHING OF FORMER coaching rivals works because Sparano knows Ryan, and there is a mutual respect there.
“Absolutely, it been a pleasure to have the opportunity to work with Rex and him giving me this opportunity,” said Sparano. “One of the things is that I really respect ‘The Chair.’ I know it so I truly respect the chair that Rex sits in every day. He has our job there and he has a lot to juggle. It’s my job to make that a little easier from the offensive spot if I can. I understand what my job is.”
Being a proponent of the Wildcat offense, Sparano has the pieces in place, including a quarterback in Tim Tebow, to run it, but it still is not the priority.
“Tim has had some background in that stuff and he can throw the ball,” Sparano explained. “Right now our only function is to figure out how to get a little better each day with what the guys are doing offensively. When your putting in a new system, one of the things you don’t want to do is get too far ahead and put the gimmicks in before you put the core in. We’ll see about it down the road. Right now, we are still working on some of our base stuff.”
Ironically, Sparano missed HBO’s Hard Knocks when it was with the Jets in 2010. Hard Knocks is in Miami this season.
Is he upset that he missed that Hard Knocks experience?
“Honestly, for me it’s good timing,” he chuckled. “The whole Hard Knocks thing worked out well for the Jets here. From my end, though, I don’t miss it one way or the other.”
While every game is going to be important, one key date that Sparano will face comes early in the season when the Jets travel to Miami Sept. 20 in the third weekend of the regular season.
“It will be different there’s no question about it,” Sparano said. “I have a lot of good memories there and I have a lot of good friends there. That football team was special to me because I thought they fought their tails off for me right to the end. Nonetheless, we have a job to do here and it’s to win as many games as we can.”
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