Remembering former Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano
By Brian Miller
You could say that in 2008 and 2009 that Bill Parcells ran everything. He “bought” the groceries and Tony Sparano had little input but on the field, it was without question Tony’s football team. Sparano stood about 20 yards from us as the team lined up for pre-game warm-ups.
It was impressive and something I hadn’t personally seen before. First he entered to loud applaus from the stands. He waved and half-smiled and then as his players stretched he walked down the line and touched each and every one of them. Some got the handshake while others got the pat. He did this before every game up until his last and every day in practice.
"“each player is touched by daily…good or bad, they know I have touched them.” – Tony Sparano, 2008 Web Weekend."
I was impressed with Sparano and at that time he was my favorite head coach since Jimmy Johnson, maybe in some ways more than Johnson. There was no ego about Sparano, just business. He loved the game of football and he loved his football players.
Sparano didn’t throw his players under the bus. Even when Joey Porter faced a potential suspension, Sparano kept as much of it as he could in-house. Make no mistakes though, Sparano, as I learned in that interview session, hunted down players when they made mistakes.
"“Sometimes they come off the field and try to avoid me. Sometimes they think they can slide to the bench without me finding them. I always find them. One way or the other.”"
Sparano would speak to us again in 2009 and an article I wrote back then summed up the same thing I carried with me throughout his time with the Dolphins and after he left. He loved the game of football and was authoritative in his job. He earned respect from his players.
In 2011 we spoke to Sparano for the last time. The NFL was coming off a lockout and Sparano was coming off one of the worst seasons of his career both in terms of win/loss and personal issues.
Sparano was feeling the heat of being fired. A year earlier he was at the unwelcome and unasked center of controversy as Stephen Ross flew across the country to try to replace him. Without telling him. His relationship with management was fractured.
At this years event Sparano was slightly more agitated. When asked about the continued use of the Wild-Cat despite the fact it no longer worked, Sparano fired back with his own jab. “Yeah, it was the greatest thing in the world three years ago, now it sucks.” His comments were directed at the writers who had turned.
The reality is Sparano suffered through a power struggle with Ireland and Parcells, then was handed players like Pat White. He endured through the Jim Harbaugh fiasco and season ending injuries to Chad Henne and Ronnie Brown in 2011. And then he lost his job.
Sparano never spoke ill about the Dolphins when he left. At the time there was no other course of action. He needed to move on both for the team and himself.
"For more on Tony Sparano listen to the special edition of DolphinsTalk where they discuss the untimely passing. – DolphinsTalk.com"
I never knew him personally but I spoke with him and watched him up close. He was a guy’s guy. A coach that you loved to watch. A coach with as much energy on the field as the passion he carried off of it. With Sparano you knew where you stood. He was impressive even if his record didn’t indicate it. He was made to be a head coach but like everything in the NFL, sometimes your one opportunity is all anyone sees and not the reasons behind the failure.
He will be missed in the NFL but he has touched so many he will not be forgotten. Thanks Tony Sparano for taking the time out of your day to speak with people like me way back when.