The Blame Game: Tony Sparano
By Brian Miller
There is a lot riding on this off-season. Tony Sparano will enter the 2011 season in a contract year and the Miami Dolphins on the field will be looking at him as either their future leader or a lame duck who will lose his job before the end of the campaign. First, he has to make it out of the 2010 season and a sit down with owner Stephen Ross and GM Jeff Ireland where his 2011 fate will be decided.
There are a lot of things that a fan or anyone can say about Tony Sparano but none will doubt that he is dedicated. His workaholic mentality is appreciated by the players. His no nonsense talk is appreciated by the media. Sparano is a players coach who doesn’t demand respect, he earns it. Much like a young Bill Cowher. He only lacks the pedigree and the experience.
So is that enough for him to keep his job? Is someone else to blame for the mess that is on this field? It all starts with the head coach. Or so they say.
So let’s blame Sparano!
Dolphins fans don’t really have a name for Tony Sparano. They call him the Field Goal guy or the Time Out Waster but really he doesn’t have a name anymore than he has established himself an identity. His enthusiasm on the field is mocked as a result of his high energy FG fist pumps and the national media have even taken note. Televised games clearly focus on Sparano’s reactions after field goals and because they don’t show his reactions after TD’s fans often wonder if he is as excited.
His dry and bland conservative nature is reflected on the field offensively. It’s clear that his finger isn’t on the defense as that is a clear representation of Mike Nolan. For lack of a better word, Sparano is boring. That is not necessarily a bad thing as we don’t need a head coach is going to sling future Coors commercial quips. We need a coach who understands more than play counts and numbers. This team needs a coach who has the moxie to over-rule his OC and change the pace of a game.
Sparano isn’t a bad coach he just doesn’t seem to get it at times. That has left fans wanting something new.
His allegiance to OC Dan Henning has made him look foolish at times. Is his reluctance to rid himself of a bad OC the result of his respect and loyalty to Bill Parcells who hand picked the veteran coordinator? Does he rely on Dan Henning too much as that long ago proclaimed genius? Sparano has done well in turning the defense over into capable hands but his offensive mindset, either a result of a passive OC or his own grind it out dictation has left a dry impression on the fan base.
Sparano has other issues as well. Three years into the HC game and he still doesn’t manage the clock well. He has gotten much better than he was three years ago but his time mismanagement and his history of challenges puts him in the cross hairs of the scope. Part of this time management issue regarding time outs specifically can be attributed to Chad Henne’s lack of urgency on the field.
Henne calls some untimely TO’s. Unfortunately it’s difficult to blame all of those on Henne. Late plays getting into the huddle are part of the issue. Plays being called with the wrong personnel on the field are a part of the problem, and the inability Henne has to change plays on the line means that he has to take time outs to get critical plays changed rather than audible them himself. That is on Sparano and Henning.
Sparano has not “improved” this offense or this team. It’s clear Nolan has made an impression in one season defensively and with a very young unit at that. Offensively, the changes have not been made. While personnel was improved, Brandon Marshall for one, Dan Henning was not able to utilize them, but that’s another “Blame Game” article.
Ultimately, right or wrong, Tony Sparano is the responsible party for what is on the field and how that is being run. He is the one responsible for every play that goes wrong and gets credit for nothing that goes right. Offensively, nothing has gone right this year.
Some will argue that Sparano is tied to Chad Henne. That isn’t true. Sparano is tied to Dan Henning and the question becomes what would Sparano be like with an explosive minded OC? Is that in Tony’s nature? Or is he simply that Bill Parcellian coach who simply wants to grind it out and win it in the fourth quarter? The Dolphins did neither this year.
Sparano doesn’t hire the players but he does make the cuts and he decides who starts and who doesn’t. An offensive line genius at every stop, the Dolphins offensive line has been suspect since year one. Proverbial beasts on paper prior to each season, the Oline has taken more injury hits in the last three seasons then the three prior combined. The one player that should be sitting out, Jake Long, is still being played. Again that is on Sparano.
It’s difficult to say whether Sparano will be here next season or not and win our lose in New England won’t likely change his fate. He may stick around simply because there are not a lot of alternatives. Which is why I don’t believe that Stephen Ross will fire Sparano at seasons end, but more likely after he has a chance to truly gauge the interest and the demands that it will take to bring in new coaches.
That is when Sparano’s future will be decided.