NFL Nation: George DeLeone

Sparano elaborates on ex-player assistants

March, 31, 2011
3/31/11
2:05
PM ET
Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano felt it was important to add former NFL players to his coaching staff.

I posted a story Wednesday that looked into the importance of assistants with playing experience. To follow up, I wanted to share Sparano's thoughts on his three new position instructors: assistant wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard, tight ends coach Dan Campbell and pass-rush coach Bryan Cox.

[+] EnlargeBryan Cox
AP Photo/Beth A. KeiserBryan Cox played for the Dolphins, Jets, Bears, Saints and Patriots over a 12-year career.
Cox is the most familiar player to fans who follow the AFC East. He was a lightning-rod linebacker who played for the Dolphins, New York Jets and New England Patriots in a 12-year career. He recorded 51.5 sacks, 22 forced fumbles and a nice double-bird salute to Buffalo Bills fans.

Cox never played for Sparano, but former Dolphins vice president of football operations Bill Parcells -- the man who hired Sparano -- coached Cox for two seasons with the Jets. Cox's entire coaching career has been working as Eric Mangini's defensive line assistant for the Jets and Cleveland Browns.

"Since I came into the league with Bill Parcells, Bryan is a guy I've always talked to Bill about in different ways," Sparano said at the NFL owners meeting in New Orleans last week. "Bryan's a unique guy. His passion for the game is tremendous, and that's something that really intrigues me. Putting him in the role I have him in now gives me great luxury."

Former Dolphins defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni often would pull pass-rushers out of defensive drills to work with them individually. But current coordinator Mike Nolan doesn't like to leave the group much for one-on-one work -- although outside linebacker Cameron Wake didn't appear to suffer from a lack of instruction last season.

Cox "gives me the ability to split the pass-rushers up and get them away from the inside drills and exclusively work on pass-rush with a guy that's going to be able to help them," Sparano said.

Sparano was a Dallas Cowboys tight ends coach when Campbell was there. Sparano promoted him from intern to tight ends coach, replacing George DeLeone.

Sparano said Campbell, a 10-year veteran with three clubs, is "a guy I think an awful lot of" and called him "one of the toughest players I ever coached" and "fundamentally really good."

Hilliard was a receivers coach for the UFL's Florida Tuskers the past two seasons. He played a dozen NFL seasons for the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He caught 546 passes and scored 35 touchdowns. He'll help first-time NFL position coach Steve Bush.

"Ike Hilliard comes highly recommended to me from a lot of people that I respect in this business, guys that he played for," Sparano said. "Steve Bush is very good from a mental standpoint, scheme, how he attacks people. But Ike Hilliard would be a guy from a fundamental standpoint that would help those guys, particularly with the man-to-man stuff and how he played the position.

"It's unique to have a guy that has played the inside position as well as Ike has played it in our league, to be able to bring some of those details to the table for a guy like [Davone] Bess or [Brian] Hartline or even Marlon Moore. These guys can learn a lot from him."

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