Tony Sparano Becomes Eighth Head Coach In Dolphins History

January 16, 2008
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By Andy Kent
Special for

Less than a week ago, Tony Sparano was busy game-planning for the New York Giants as a member of the Dallas Cowboys' coaching staff, trying to come up with a strategy that would help Dallas advance to the NFC Championship. Now he is the new Head Coach of the Miami Dolphins, his first NFL head coaching job, and the eighth head coach in the team's 42-year history.

Andy Cohen: Sparano Seems Like An Excellent Fit

Tony Sparano Introductory Press Conference Video

The Dolphins offered the position to Sparano this morning on the heels of a Tuesday night meeting with Owner Wayne Huizenga, Executive Vice President of Football Operations Bill Parcells and General Manager Jeff Ireland. Parcells and Ireland worked with Sparano when both were with the Cowboys, and Ireland had interviewed Sparano for four hours back on Jan. 5 in Dallas, but what helped seal the deal was Sparano's impressions of Mr. Huizenga and the organization's commitment to winning.

"I think the point in the process (when he knew he wanted the job) was last evening after I had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Huizenga," Sparano said at his introductory press conference. "When I left that meeting with Coach Parcells, Mr. Huizenga and Jeff and a few others I felt very comfortable and I only hoped that when I woke up this morning that this would be the situation."

Sparano is a veteran of nine seasons in the NFL and this will be the fifth different team he has been with. The New Haven native, who has 24 years of coaching experience overall, got his start in the league with the Cleveland Browns in 1999 as the offensive quality control coach. He was promoted to offensive line coach in 2000, and then became the Washington Redskins' tight ends coach in 2001.

Prior to the 2002 season, Parcells disciple Tom Coughlin hired Sparano as his tight ends coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and then recommended him to Parcells when Parcells took over as head coach of the Cowboys in 2003. He was Dallas' tight ends coach from 2003-04, then offensive line/running game coordinator in 2005, assistant head coach/offensive line/running game coordinator in 2006 and assistant head coach/offensive line this season.

From 1994-98, Sparano was head coach at his alma mater, the University of New Haven, and before that he was at Boston University from 1989-93 as the Terriers' offensive coordinator and in 1988 as their offensive line coach/recruiting coordinator/academic liaison. His first coaching job also was at New Haven, where he was the offensive line coach/recruiting coordinator from 1984-87.

"When Bill and I discussed what we were looking for in a head coach we talked about one of high character," Ireland said. "We wanted someone that understood how to develop young players, coach the team and one that could instill a culture that's all about winning. We think we found that guy. We know we found that guy and that guy is Tony Sparano."

Sparano's wife, Jeannette, sat beside him as he was being introduced by Ireland and he emphasized how important the support of his family has been throughout his career and especially throughout this process. The couple has three children, sons Tony, 21, Andrew, 18, and daughter Ryan Leigh, 15. Tony and Andrew play football at the University of Albany.

So as he tried to put into perspective what this past week has been like for him, from coaching a playoff game against his team's rival – which also happened to be his favorite team growing up and still is his father's favorite – to taking this job, Sparano also revealed one of his stronger characteristics.

"Obviously, it's been a real crazy week for me, but I'm glad that it ends this way," he said. "At the end of the day, if you're going to lose a football game like we lost down there in Dallas this week, it does leave a bitter taste in my mouth. Anybody that knows me knows that I'm about finishing. It's not about starting this thing, and I learned this from somebody else, putting your toe in the water, you've got to finish, and we didn't finish, so it left a bad taste in my mouth. Once that was over and I was able to get involved in some of these opportunities, that sort of cleared the smoke a little bit, but I think about last week a lot right now."

In case any of the current Miami Dolphins players were listening, Sparano stressed how important discipline and respect are to his approach as a head coach, as well as conditioning. He's looking forward to not only going about the process of putting together the rest of his coaching staff (David Lee was hired as quarterbacks coach last week), but also to implementing his off-season training program, which is why he insinuated that he might travel to Mobile, Ala., next week for the Senior Bowl.

Cornerback Will Allen, who played for Coughlin in New York, came to the training facility but did not hear Sparano's press conference. However, knowing that Sparano learned under Coughlin, Parcells and Giants quarterbacks coach Chris Palmer, Allen has a good sense of what to expect and is confident that things can get turned around quickly for a team that is coming off of a 1-15 season.

"The one thing you can say about all those guys is, all they want to do is win," Allen said. "As a player, that's all I want to do. I want to win. That's it. Nothing else matters. This whole business is about winning football games. If you break the game down, they're good at recognizing talent and bringing good talent in."

Sparano described himself as a "football buff" who is big on the history of the game, which is one of the reasons he is excited about coaching a Miami team that is so rich in tradition. He is not at all worried about working in the shadow of Parcells and, to a degree, Hall-of-Fame Head Coach Don Shula, and he even said he hopes he can discuss coaching tactics with Parcells. Sparano also has worked with Marty Schottenheimer, so he has learned from the best and earned the respect of coaches he also considers to be his idols and role models.

Being a former offensive lineman in college, Sparano has a special affinity for that particular area of the team, but he is not close minded when it comes to the types of players he can work with. Parcells had a reputation for finding players with size to build his offenses and defenses around, and while cognizant of that, Sparano again stressed endurance and being "physically ready to play."

"It goes back to the whole offseason program. Bigger isn't necessarily better for me. Our players are going to be in outstanding shape," Sparano said. "We're going to work them hard. … Endurance and stamina are important. You've got to be able to go the long haul. Not 16, maybe 20, 19, games; whatever it takes to get into this thing."

Even though he has not been a head coach in the NFL, Sparano is confident that his ability to communicate with players combined with the valuable experience of working for people like Parcells and Schottenheimer will go a long away in making this transition a little bit easier.

As far as what type of system he plans to run and how he's going to evaluate the current players on the roster, Sparano still wants to look at film of the 2007 Dolphins and get a good feel for what each player can and cannot do.

"First of all, what I believe in is that I believe it's important that the system fits the players, not the players fit the system," Sparano said. "I think you've got to look at what we have here right now and when we get our coaching staff together and we sit down and we're in this place until 12, one o'clock in the morning, we'll get some of these questions ironed out. At the end of the day, whatever is going to be best for the Miami Dolphins is what we're going to do."

In addition to getting things going in the right direction on the field, Sparano echoed the sentiments of Ireland and Parcells when it comes to restoring the winning atmosphere to the Dolphins as a whole.

"I think part of it is, obviously, you have to go through a culture change here right now," he said. "I don't really care what happened in the past. That isn't my concern. My concern is what's happening today, right now as we're standing here. We're going to surround our players with outstanding teachers, outstanding coaches and we're going to work them as hard as we can work them. At the end of the day, we hope that that's going to be good enough.

"I've been involved in some of these kinds of projects, and I know the way that thing has to go. It starts with having good people. I'm going to say it again, Jeff Ireland, Coach Parcells and Mr. Huizenga – all great people, all great pieces to this thing here and I'm just happy to be part of the family."

Now the newest member of that family will get right to work on trying to move the Dolphins closer to ending their six-year drought of missing the playoffs.

Miami's gain appears to be Dallas' loss as Cowboys Owner and General Manager Jerry Jones had nothing but high praise for Sparano.

"I commend Wayne Huizenga, Bill Parcells and the Miami Dolphins on the hiring of an excellent football coach," said Jones in a released statement. "I have a great deal of confidence in Tony and his ability to get the job done there in Miami. He fulfilled several very key roles here and was productive with every assignment. He is a dedicated and hard working man. His players respect him and work hard for him. I wish Tony and his family the very best."


1984-87 New Haven – Offensive Line Coach/Recruiting Coordinator

1988-93 Boston University – Offensive Line Coach/Recruiting Coordinator/Academic Liaison (1988); Offensive Coordinator (1989-93)

1994-98 New Haven – Head Coach

1999-2000 Cleveland Browns – Offensive Quality Control Coach (1999); Offensive Line Coach (2000)

2001 Washington Redskins – Tight Ends Coach

2002 Jacksonville Jaguars – Tight Ends Coach

2003-07 Dallas Cowboys – Tight Ends Coach (2003-04); Offensive Line/Running Game Coordinator (2005); Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line/Running Game Coordinator (2006); Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line (2007)

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