AFC East: Leonard Davis
|Miami head coach Tony Sparano visits the site of the new Ralph F. DellaCamera Stadium on the campus of University of New Haven. Tony was the head coach for the UNH Chargers from 1994-1998.|
In case you missed it, my Tony Sparano story is now appearing on ESPN.com's NFL page.
From the start, Sparano was very reluctant to do the story even though we've known each other fairly well for the past six years.
"I need to have a few wins first," he kept saying.
I finally convinced him to take me on a tour of his hometown, New Haven, Conn., but he refused to let the ESPN TV cameras come along. He grew up in New Haven, met his wife there and landed his first head-coaching gig there. But he's very protective of his blue-collar roots and wasn't really comfortable sharing them with the world.
After assuring Sparano that most people don't read my stories, we finally reached an agreement. I sat at his parents' breakfast table and eventually spoke to at least 13 family members.
His father, Tony Jr. and mother, Marie, seemed to thoroughly enjoy bragging about their son. When Tony Jr. told me about his son's record-setting 17 home runs in one Little League season for a team called the Apps, Sparano rolled his eyes and appeared to be in pain.
In his mind, he hasn't earned the right to have a feature story written about him. Even when I tried explaining that being a head coach in the NFL wasn't conducive to keeping a low-profile, he just grumbled something.
I read several of your comments at the end of the story. One reader wanted to know why Bill Parcells was allowed to prevent Sparano from taking the offensive coordinator's job in New Orleans following the 2005 season. He thought there was a rule in place allowing coaches under contract to leave if they were offered a better title.
Well, that rule's no longer in place because too many teams were taking advantage of it by inventing bogus titles to lure away coaches. Unless an assistant is offered a head-coaching job, owners aren't required to let them leave. In Sparano's case, Parcells thought he was too valuable as an offensive line coach to let him go. And he'd already lost linebackers coach Gary Gibbs, who became Sean Payton's defensive coordinator in New Orleans.
That episode may have been the darkest day of Sparano's NFL coaching career. Parcells wasn't exactly apologetic about the decision and Sparano thought he'd missed a golden opportunity.
He took over play-calling duties the next season, but in 2007, he was pushed aside to make room for Jason Garrett. He wasn't happy with the arrangement, but he poured himself into coaching an offensive line that included free-agent right guard Leonard Davis.
He also helped new head coach Wade Phillips and Garrett tremendously during the transition. That said, Sparano was ready to become a head coach again. Anywhere.
I didn't put this in the story, but he actually was interested in the opening at the coaching graveyard known as Baylor University in Waco, Texas. BU grad and current Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland, who went to school with me, put in a call on Sparano's behalf. The Cowboys assistant never even received a courtesy call.
A few weeks later, Sparano was one of the hottest head-coaching candidates in the league. He interviewed with the Falcons and Ravens, but everyone assumed that Parcells would hire him in Miami. And that's exactly what happened.
The man who once blocked his path welcomed him into an exclusive fraternity. OK, that's about 2,400 words on Sparano. I think you've probably had enough.