Friday, January 13, 2012
Tony Sparano wants 'physical style'
By Rich Cimini
Tony Sparano sounds a lot like his new boss, Rex Ryan. He wants a tough, physical offense. In Rex-speak, it's called "Ground & Pound." First, Sparano needs to get the players to stop grounding and pounding each other.
The New York Jets' new offensive coordinator steps into a volatile situation, a dysfunctional locker room divided by rifts, finger pointing and clashing egos. Before he can get around to coaching, Sparano will have to be a peace-keeper.
"I'm kind of a show-me guy," said Sparano, who was introduced Friday via a conference call with reporters. "This is a show-me business, it's a show-me game. ... Once these players get here, there will be a blank piece of paper as far as I'm concerned. I think that's a positive, OK? Sometimes change is good."
Welcome to a new offensive era for the Jets.
Sparano's aggressive, no-nonsense style will be a direct contrast to his predecessor, Brian Schotteheimer, who resigned under pressure this week after six seasons with the Jets. Clearly, Ryan is looking to bring more accountability to a team that came unglued late in the season.
Ryan said he interviewed only two candidates for Schottenheimer's job -- Sparano and offensive-line coach Bill Callahan -- claiming he chose Sparano based largely on the interview. Callahan, a Jets assistant since 2008, was thought to be the front-runner once it became apparent at the end of the season that Schottenheimer was a goner.
"I felt great about Bill -- I thought he would do tremendous job as coordinator -- but when I met with Tony, it was like, wow, I was blown away," Ryan said. "We knew Tony was our guy."
Like Schottenheimer, Sparano will have full control of the offense, meaning he will call plays.
As Ryan explained, "We don't want me coaching the offense. I'm not going to, all of a sudden, think I'm Don Coryell. I'm not going to hold him back."
This will be the first time in Sparano's career as an assistant coach that he's had autonomy. He called plays for the Dallas Cowboys in 2006, but it was "a joint venture," former Cowboys coach Bill Parcells told ESPNNewYork.com.
Ryan stepped outside his comfort zone because he had no previous background with Sparano, but he insisted, "This man can coach football, there's no question about it. He did a great job in Miami."
Sparano compiled a 29-32 record as the Dolphins' head coach, including a 3-2 mark against Ryan, and was fired with three games remaining in his fourth season. Under Sparano, who was involved in the offensive game planning but didn't call plays, the Dolphins never finished above 15th in scoring offense and 12th in total offense.
But he and Ryan share the same philosophy: They want to be a physical, run-oriented offense. Ryan said "we're definitely like-minded coaches." Sparano didn't disagree.
"This is a physical football team, and I like playing a physical style of offense," he said, adding that there are "a lot of weapons" on the Jets. "I think anybody who knows me knows I want to be physical."
Sparano also said he'd like to employ a vertical passing attack, which leads into Mark Sanchez. That will be his No. 1 priority, fixing the Jets' quarterback. Sanchez took a step back in his third season, committing a career-high 26 turnovers, including nine over the final three games.
The Jets say they're committed to Sanchez, and now it's up to Sparano to get him right. But he's had little experience in developing quarterbacks, which makes it imperative they hire a proven quarterbacks coach.
The previous quarterbacks coach, Matt Cavanaugh, still is under contract, but Sparano is interviewing potential replacements. Former Kansas City Chiefs coach Todd Haley, who interviewed Thursday for a position, reportedly is mulling his options. The Jets are meeting with "a lot of people" for various positions, according to general manager Mike Tannenbaum.
One person the Jets did decide on was Sanjay Lal, hired Friday as the team's wide receiver coach. Lal spent the last five seasons with Oakland as a wide receivers coach (2009-11) and offensive quality control assistant (2007-08).
Sparano gave a mostly positive review of Sanchez.
"He has a lot of good qualities," he said. "First of all, he's athletic. Good release. Can make all the throws and get out of trouble. When you have that combination in a quarterback, it becomes dangerous because he can get out of trouble and extend plays."
But Sparano also noted that he'll take a back-to-basics approach with Sanchez, stressing fundamentals and game management -- things he said he'd do with any young quarterback.
Sparano said it's important to establish an offensive identity. The Jets used to have an identity -- Ground & Pound -- but they strayed from it during the season, finishing 25th in total offense. Ryan found a kindred spirit who wants the same things.
"I'm a guy that believes you have to form an identity," Sparano said. "I want players to be able to walk into the meeting room and not be surprised by what's in the game plan each week. That's going to be important going forward."
That, and making sure the players aren't fighting among themselves.
Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com.