Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Jets hire Tony Sparano to staff
By Rich Cimini
Tony Sparano, who presided over one of the greatest turnarounds in NFL history, has a new challenge: Fixing the New York Jets' dysfunctional offense.
The Jets made it official Wednesday afternoon, hiring the former Miami Dolphins coach as their offensive coordinator. He replaces Brian Schottenheimer, who resigned under pressure after a tumultuous end to six up-and-down seasons.
Welcome to the nut house, Tony.
The Jets haven't commented on Sparano's exact role, but he presumably will be the play caller.
Sparano was in the Jets' facility Wednesday, according to sources, and began to meet with members of the previous offensive staff. The holdovers, all of whom have contracts for 2012, are Matt Cavanaugh (quarterbacks), Anthony Lynn (running backs) and Mike Devlin (tight ends).
The Jets parted ways Tuesday with Bill Callahan (line) and Henry Ellard (wide receivers). There was speculation that coach Rex Ryan wanted Callahan to succeed Schottenheimer, but he was hired by the Dallas Cowboys to replace retiring line coach Hudson Houck. And it was actually Sparano that Ryan identified as his No. 1 choice before the season ended, sources said.
"When we sat down with Tony, I knew that he was the right person at the right time for our offense," Ryan said in a statement. "I've admired his work as a competitor in the division for the past three seasons. His teams were always physical, tough and hard-nosed."
The Jets didn't make Ryan or Sparano available to the media, releasing only a statement -- probably to shield them from having to answer questions about unnamed players making critical comments about Mark Sanchez in a New York Daily News story. The Jets said Sparano and Ryan won't be available until next week.
"I'm very proud to be part of such an outstanding organization and to have an opportunity to work with these players," Sparano said in a statement. "I know this division very well and I'm looking forward to that challenge."
At least one player thinks the shakeup is a good idea.
"A breath of fresh air might be what this team needs," Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold told "The Michael Kay Show" on 1050 ESPN New York.
The Jets are also trying to hire a former Sparano colleague, former Chiefs coach Todd Haley, who began his career in 1997 as a quality-control coach for the Jets. Sparano and Haley worked together as assistants with the Cowboys -- Lynn also was on that staff -- and the Jets would like to put Haley in charge of the passing game, sources said. Haley also is drawing interest from another former team, the Arizona Cardinals.
Haley is scheduled to meet Thursday with team officials at their Florham Park, N.J., facility.
Jets and Bills are both talking to former Ole Miss offensive coordinator and former Dolphins quarterbacks coach David Lee about joining their coaching staffs, league sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
Ryan, who insisted after the season that he had no plans to revamp his coaching staff, has done just that. He has no previous working experience with Sparano, but they appear to be a philosophical fit.
Sparano believes in a power-running game and emphasizes pass protection, two areas in which the Jets slipped dramatically. The Jets dropped to 22nd in rushing offense after leading the league in 2009 and 2010, combined.
One knock on Sparano is that he lacks experience as the primary play caller. He did do it for the Cowboys in 2006 and the offense ranked fourth in scoring and fifth in total offense, producing two 1,000-yard wide receivers (Terrell Owens, Terry Glenn) and a 1,000-yard rusher (Julius Jones).
The other criticism of Sparano is that he has no experience in developing quarterbacks. In three-plus seasons with the Dolphins, he failed to make Chad Henne into a productive starter. His No. 1 priority with the Jets is fixing Sanchez, who slumped in 2011 after reaching the AFC Championship Game in his first two seasons.
Sparano is accustomed to adversity. In 2008, he inherited a 1-15 team and led it to the playoffs, with a former Jets quarterback -- Chad Pennington -- at the controls. Sparano never was able to duplicate that success and was fired after Week 14, finishing 29-32 with one playoff appearance.
In New York, Sparano will have an offense that was ripped apart by locker-room turmoil, with rifts between Sanchez and his receivers, Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress. But Sparano is known as a disciplinarian and that, according to a source, is one of the reasons why he was hired.
Meanwhile, al.com reports that Schottenheimer is talking to Nick Saban about becoming offensive coordinator of national champion Alabama. He would replace Jim McElwain, who became the head coach at Colorado State.
Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Information from ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter contributed to this report.