It’s a hot topic around the Miami Dolphins fan forums these days, should Tony Sparano’s job on the line? Adam Schefter reported late last week that Sparano was on the hot-seat. Go to just about any Dolphins fan forum, including ours, and you will inevitably find the topic being debated up and down. Names like Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher, and Brian Billick being mentioned as replacements. Even talk of Jeff Fisher if he leaves Tennessee. So while the fans are starting to throw wood on the fire, let’s answer the question. Should Tony Sparano lose his job at the end of the season?
The first thing you have to look at is his record as a head coach since taking over the job from Cam Cameron. Tony Sparano is 23 -19 with one playoff loss. He finished 11-5 in year one behind an offense that exploded with the use of the Wild Cat. He finished in 3rd place last season and is currently in 3rd place in the division this year through nine games.
While the numbers would indicate that Sparano is over the .500 mark it’s also telling that the one season that he took the team to the division title was when the WC was the focal point of the offense. So is that misleading? Perhaps. Let’s take a deeper look on page two and then answer the poll question and see what others think.Players – Sparano has the respect of his player. He is a tough no-nonsense coach who will not throw players under the bus or call them out in the media. His focus has always been team first and the players are buying into that mantra. While the success on the field has yet to pay off from that mentality. Make no mistake though, much like Don Shula for all those years, Sparano does not make friends with the players. He is all business.
Game Day - In Sparano’s first season as an HC, he made mistake after mistake after mistake. From calling ill advised timeouts to play challenges that had no business being challenged. While he improved on his skills in year two, his clock management agenda still lacked considerably and became a gameday joke to fans. Year three and Sparano seems to have a grasp on his clock management but there still is a lot of improvement needed. While he is using the clock in terms of his timeouts far better, the lack of urgency on the field and two minute drills makes Sparano look as though he is lost.
Offensive issues - Ultimately, what is on the field is the responsibility of the HC. For the Dolphins the plays are called in by OC Dan Henning, a Bill Parcells hire and personal friend. Make no mistake, regardless of whether Sparano wanted to or not, Dan Henning will not be fired because Parcells is still involved to some degree with the team. So how much of the play calling can really be attributed to the head coach under these circumstances?
Unfortunately we don’t know. We don’t know how the Dolphins gameplan each week and who is at the heart of that plan. Does Sparano sit down with Henning and draw it up or does Sparano wait for Henning to hand the plan over to Sparano before the first practice? Regardless it is still the HC’s responsibility but I wonder if Sparano would be more aggressive or less aggressive with an OC that he hired himself.
Defensive issues – The Dolphins have improved from the league ranking last year and that has a lot to do with the addition of Mike Nolan whom I have been told was more a push from Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano than Bill Parcells. For the most part the defense has been good. On the field far too much at times but overall, Mike Nolan has done a good job with the units youth and continuity on that side of the ball will allow the team to only get better. However, where Sparano is concerned, he is more hands off with that side of the ball.
Personnel - The players on the field are a combination of Bill Parcells draft picks and Jeff Ireland’s free agency additions. Tony Sparano has said in previous media interviews that he goes to Jeff Ireland to look for players and while that is the norm for any team that has separate HC and GM’s, you have to wonder ultimately how much input the HC has in adding players that he wants or getting players added that he doesn’t want. I have to assume that Sparano and Ireland pull these shots together so I think in terms of the personnel that have come to the Dolphins VIA a route outside of Bill Parcells should be attributed to both equally. The question there is which players are Ireland/Sparano and which ones are Parcells?
Continuity – Three years ago the Dolphins replaced the one and done Cam Cameron and Bill Parcells brought in his entourage of coaches and management team. Most fans argued that a 3-5 year window would be needed to truly view the changes on the field. It’s year three in a rebuild that saw almost a 55% change in players in the first two years alone. The issue with the Dolphins is that they are in a division where one team, the NY Jets rebuilt with a new HC and high-profile free agent picks and trades and are now the front runners in the division, and the New England Patriots that are atop the division with the Jets while rebuilding as well.
Each team took a different path to rebuild themselves. The Jets spent a lot of money locking up pricey free agents and resigning key components of their roster that existed prior to the arrival their new HC Rex Ryan. The biggest change however was the approach and brazen attitude of Ryan. In New England, a winning team already was in place. They didn’t switch head coaches but they did start to lose key veteran players on the defensive side of the ball. Still, the Patriots were able to rebuild their roster using contributing veterans on offense and defense to quell the changing tide to younger players. New England already had Tom Brady to work with and a core of offensive players that could keep the team competitive while the defense developed.
In Miami it was a different story and a different approach. The Dolphins gutted a 1-15 team that had zero stars or true veteran leaders. To compound the issue, the age of the team was much older and they lacked any QB structure at all. They had been through four head coaches in five years as well. Bill Parcells took the approach to dismantle the roster and rebuild it. It’s still being overhauled today.
Consider this final thought before you vote, had the Dolphins finished 7-9 in year one of Tony Sparano which many expected, would you still have the same view of him now? The Dolphins overachieved two seasons ago with the addition of WC, something that Dan Henning seemed to have stuck with a little too long. The Dolphins need continuity and Tony Sparano gives them that. If in fact the mess on the field is not entirely his fault. Still, when a team shows up for a game and looks lost, it’s hard not to point to the coaching. It is after all their responsibility to make the team prepared.
So what do you think?