No one knows who the next head coach of the Miami Dolphins will be. Todd Bowles will have his place in Dolphins lore alongside former coordinator Jim Bates who stepped in after Dave Wannstedt quit mid-way through the 2004 campaign. Unlike Wannstedt who could no longer take the pressure, Sparano never quit. He got fired, and he deserved a lot more than the disrespect he received by the media, the fans, and by management.
Stephen Ross did what was right this time around, for him. He released Sparano so that he could begin exploring the options for a new head coach unlike last year when he explored his options with Sparano still on board. Had he fired Sparano first, he may have landed the man he coveted in Jim Harbaugh. We will never know. Sparano did not deserve that. Yet he kept his head high and his dignity in tact. He deserved better.
I have been fortunate to have spoken personally with both Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano and I can tell you that as for Sparano, he changed. A lot since that first year that he walked into a room full of web head writers to field questions not knowing what to expect. He walked down the side aisle of the teams meeting room and was greeted by a standing ovation. This of course was in the middle of his 11-5 playoff run.
Tony Sparano was jovial to say the least. He wore his sunglasses as he always does and was decked out in a gold tinted suit. He spoke about his philosophy and then simply said, “o.k., what do you want?’ A member of our group said, “This is the first time I have ever met you and I am scared of you!” he said laughing. Sparano countered, “Good, then I am doing my job…do you have a question or is that it?”. He was direct, to the point and had fun answering the questions that were thrown his way. The following year he was still his happy self, appreciative and willing to speak with the fans that we all were.
This year, not so much.
Sparano looked worn out. He looked tired and it was only week 2. Gone was the smile and inviting aura and in it’s placed was a grizzled man who had just endeared and painful if not personal off-season. No idle chatter, straight to the questions. Someone asked whether or not we had seen the end of the “Wild Cat”. He answered they did not have that in the offense. The person let out a soft ‘yea’. Sparano turned and said “you say that now, three years ago you called it genius”. He thanked us for our coverage and dedication to the team and walked out signing autographs as he left. Heading to the team hotel to wrap up the evening.
Sparano never wavered from who he was. He handled himself the same way he always did. He took the shots to the team on his own chin and left the players out of it, chiding them in his own way behind closed doors. We will, I am certain, bound to hear the stories from the players now that he is gone and it may paint a different picture. At the podium, win or lose, he kept the subjects on the game and away from anything that could distract his team. Questions regarding his future would be met with with the obligatory, “ask your sources I don’t know”.
On the field, Sparano never managed to win the minds of the fans. His field goal fist pumps were laughed at and his timeout tendencies became a joke. In our Sunday game chats here on this site, it was thrown around to “drink when Sparano calls a timeout”. The innuendo that we would all be drunk by the end of the third quarter. While Sparano struggled to move forward, he never really had a chance in Miami to be the coach he may have wanted to be. His fault or someone else’ is open to interpretation.
Sparano did not buy his own groceries and for the first three years held little say in the drafting of players. That was the jobs of Jeff Ireland and Bill Parcells. Parcells gave Sparano the players he would have coached. He gave Sparano the offensive coordinator that he once employed and didn’t allow Sparano the choice to change. Dan Henning called the plays, he coached the offense, and Bill Parcells pulled that string. Sparano managed the game.
After Parcells left, the Dolphins were saddled with Henning for one final season and when that concluded, Sparano hired his own guy. Brian Daboll. The base offense hasn’t been this exciting since Dan Marino was playing. It was spread out, aired out, and most of the time unpredictable once the players got used to the system itself. It was however too little too late.
Sparano was given Chad Pennington in year one to run Dan Hennings’ offense. He was given Chad Henne and Pat White in year two. Chad Henne and Tyler Thigpen in year three. In year four? He watched the draft room pass on QB’s like Andy Dalton and Ryan Mallett but was given Matt Moore to compete in a shortened training camp. He didn’t complain, he didn’t whine, he made lemonade the best he could.
Sparano was never given the direction that he should have been given from Bill Parcells. Instead, Parcells hung out at the Cardinals spring training center, or talked with NY Jets management about draft tactics, and consulted for the 49′ers draft. He drove around on a golf cart and pointed out players who were slacking and talked to Jeff Ireland about running the WC full time. He didn’t talk up his head coach, a man he personally tapped for the job.
Tony Sparano kept his cool amid turmoil. He put up with the rumors and innuendo associated with Jim Harbaugh and while he privately exchanged words with Ireland and Ross his marriage to the team was sealed when Ross decided to flirt with a bigger name. Sparano signed his deal, took Ross’ money, and smiled for the camera shoulder to shoulder with the man who tried to replace him.
2011 was not a fun year for Sparano and as the year wore on, his gray hair got a little more gray and his short answers became shorter. He never faltered however in his approach. Faced with the realization that his career in Miami was coming rapidly to a close, he dug in his heals and changed his tactics and fought back. He rallied his players and convinced them they were better than 0-7. He convinced everyone they were better than 0-7.
Upon learning of his firing, Sparano is rumored to have accepted it but mentioned that the timing was bad. He said nothing else from what I have been told. He packed his office and left the complex. He and his wife will sit back, relax, and enjoy the fact that on Sunday’s he doesn’t have to stand in front of a microphone and take questions from people who want sound bites that he wasn’t willing to give.
Sparano is not likely to talk to the media now or in the future about his time in Miami. He will likely talk about his gratitude for the opportunity and how the players played their hearts out for him and that it simply wasn’t enough. He will walk away from Miami with a losing record but with as much dignity and class as Don Shula.