From Division II to Dolphins, Sparano's rise impressive
In less than a decade, Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano has gone from relative obscurity to the highest level of professional football. But you wouldn't know it by watching how he conducts his everyday life, writes Matt Mosley.
This wasn't the first major setback in Sparano's coaching career. Sparano was the offensive line coach at New Haven in 1985 when head coach Larry McElreavy was hired at Columbia. McElreavy chose not to take Sparano to New York with him. "I remember that very clearly," said Debbie Chin, a highly successful volleyball coach at New Haven who became the athletic director in 1993. "I don't know what Larry may have been thinking, but Tony was absolutely devastated. In disguise, it may have been the best thing that could've happened." New Haven hired future Cleveland Browns coach Chris Palmer to replace McElreavy, and the athletic director at the time put in a good word for Sparano. Palmer not only retained Sparano, but gave him his first full-time coaching job. "Chris Palmer didn't know me from Adam," Sparano said. "I owe a great deal of this to him."
|Tony Sparano's rise to prominence in the NFL took some winding roads: 1979-82: Sparano was a four-year letterman on the offensive line at the University of New Haven. Quote: "Everyone on campus knew who he was," said New Haven athletic director Debbie Chin. "He was just as serious then as he is now." 1984-88: Sparano was the offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator at his alma mater. Quote: "I was making $2,000 and my wife was supporting our family," Sparano said. 1988-93: Followed Chris Palmer to Boston University, where he eventually became the offensive coordinator. Quote: "That's where I first heard him perform the Vince Lombardi speech," said former player Pete Rossomando, who went on to coach for Sparano at the University of New Haven. 1994-98: Was head coach at his alma mater, the University of New Haven. Quote: "In the summers, we would play nine holes at 6 a.m. and he'd be sitting at his desk by 9 a.m.," said Rossomando. 1999-2000: Browns head coach Chris Palmer hired Sparano to be his offensive quality control coach. In 2000, he was promoted to offensive line coach. Quote: "I owe a lot of this to Chris Palmer," Sparano said. "He gave me a shot." 2001: Redskins tight ends coach. Quote: "Marty Schottenheimer was another coach who taught me a lot about how to prepare," Sparano said. 2002: Jacksonville tight ends coach. Quote: "Chris Palmer told me about Tony," said former Jags coach Tom Coughlin. "We had an opening at that position and it seemed like a good fit." 2003-2007: Cowboys tight ends coach, offensive line coach, playcaller and assistant head coach. Quote: "Tony and Jeff [Ireland] are like guys who were supposed to be born 30 or 40 years earlier," said Bill Parcells. "They remind me a lot of the people I came up with in the league." 2008: Head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Quote: "Tony actually reminds me of Coach (Don) Shula," said Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning, "with just the way he goes about everything and how organized he is." -- Matt Mosley|
" 'We're gonna let this kid go,' " Rossomando recalled Sparano saying. "There was no wavering at all. He thought it was the right thing to do, and it made a huge impression on our players."The team advanced to the Division II national championship game that season.
The no-nonsense Sparano left nothing to chance when he was at New Haven. When Jeanette forgot to pick up his coaching outfit on the Friday before a road game in New Jersey, he was beside himself. After her suggestion of wearing another outfit was rebuffed, she talked the owner of the cleaners into meeting her at 6:30 on the morning of the game.Sparano was so detail-oriented that he worried what condiments were being used on sandwiches. If he arrived for a pregame meal and saw what he referred to as "soupy sauces," he would have them removed from the buffet. (Rossomando defined "soupy sauces" as beef stew or beef stroganoff.) "He's incredibly organized," Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said recently. "He's just the type of person who doesn't leave a stone unturned. It was pretty obvious he had some of the characteristics that a head coach needs."
Sparano takes the same approach at home. During family vacations, he would wake his sons, Tony and Andy, at 7 a.m. for workouts at whatever gym they could find in the area. When they were playing football at Grapevine (Texas) High School, Sparano would sit in the upper right-hand corner of the 9,100-seat stadium, away from all the parents. "He wanted it to be about us," Tony said. "He was very, very careful never to infringe on our coaches because he knows how tough a job it is."
Matt Mosley covers the NFL for ESPN.com.