Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Tony Sparano should be top priority for Cowboys
By Tim MacMahon
Tony Sparano’s return to Valley Ranch makes so much sense that Jerry Jones needs to offer as many dollars as necessary to make it happen.
Maybe that won’t matter, as Sparano has financial security from the contract extension the Dolphins gave him through 2013 before deciding to fire him as their head coach in December. Maybe Sparano will be offered a true offensive coordinator job with play-calling responsibilities, which Jason Garrett will not give up, that he considers too good to pass up.
But Jerry has to give it his best shot if he really wants Garrett to succeed.
Jones has proven in the past that he’s willing to pay top dollar for assistant coaches, compensating Garrett like a head coach to keep him on Wade Phillips’ staff and making Hudson Houck the NFL’s first million-dollar offensive line coach. Sparano, a key factor in helping Bill Parcells rebuild the Cowboys’ respectability last decade, justifies that kind of offer.
Loyalty to Houck, who is in his second tour of duty at Valley Ranch, can’t get in the way of what’s best for the franchise. Jones and Garrett can’t let their personal feelings for Houck cloud their judgment.
If Houck and Sparano can co-exist on a staff, that’s swell. But if Houck has to go to make room for Sparano, so be it.
There are many reasons why Sparano, who is respected tremendously by team leaders like Tony Romo and Jason Witten, should be a priority for the Cowboys. The main ones:
1. Sparano would make Garrett a better head coach: Whether he wants to publicly admit it or not, everybody knows that Garrett made critical clock-management errors in a couple of losses. One solution would be to give up play-calling duties to allow Garrett to focus more on the big picture during games, but that isn’t going to happen. He’d benefit from having somebody else on the headset with significant head coaching experience.
2. Sparano would make Garrett a better offensive coordinator: This isn’t just a theory. It’s fact. Garrett’s best season by far as an offensive coordinator was in 2007, the only season that he worked with Sparano. The Cowboys ranked second in the NFL in scoring (28.4 points per game) that season despite it being Romo’s first full year as a starter. They’ve been a top-10 scoring offense only once in the four seasons since then, when they ranked seventh (24.6 points) in 2010.
3. Sparano would make the offensive line better: Dallas’ offensive line has steadily regressed since Sparano’s departure. His edginess and expertise have been missed. Hiring Sparano would increase Tyron Smith’s chances to reach his immense potential. It would increase Doug Free’s odds to return to his 2010 form. It’d give the Cowboys’ young, unproven offensive linemen – which should include another early-round pick in April – their best shot of developing into long-term solutions.
One man could help fix a few of the Cowboys' biggest flaws. What's that worth to Jerry?
UPDATE: Houck is retiring, as reported by ESPN's Chris Mortensen. He will be replaced by Bill Callahan, whose résumé includes stints as a play-caller and head coach for the Raiders and University of Nebraska.