A Look at the Tony Sparano Era in Miami

By Craig Ballard

Tomorrow the New York Jets visit the Miami Dolphins. They are a familiar foe, but they also have a familiar face who is making his return to Florida. This article is a look back at the Tony Sparano era in Miami.

The 2007 Dolphins were a nightmare. 1-15 record under head coach Cam Cameron (soooo lucky to even get the 1 win as the Baltimore Ravens handed the Dolphins that win). Out went Cameron and that regime, in came Bill Parcells and he brought in Tony Sparano to run the show.

Sparano’s team opened 2008 at 0-2. On the airplane ride home from week 2 loss at the Arizona Cardinals Sparano implemented the Wildcat to the offense. Next game was at the New England Patriots. I watched this game at the house of 3 MASSIVE Patriots fans. They sat in stunned silence while my butt never hit the couch as I was up cheering all game. The ‘Phins Wildcat was effective, actually it was dominating in a 38-13 win at New England. In this moment I was as happy as I had been in ages as a ‘Phins phan. Question was – Would it last?!?!

No. It wouldn’t.

Not long-term anyway.

Sparano would use the Wildcat to win 11 of the next 14 games, which of course was great…but…It was not sustainable. The NFL caught up to the Wildcat and defenses began to not only game-plan for it, but they also became adept at stopping the specialty formation (in fact Miami does not even use that formation anymore). The main point of the Wildcat was that it was an opportunity for Sparano to get Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams on the field at the same time (during this time those 2 were – by far – Miami’s best weapons on offense). Miami added talent like Brandon Marshall, and opponents were rendering the Wildcat ineffective.

11-5 in 2008 plummeted to 7-9 in 2009, and again 7-9 in 2010. Things got so bad, so quickly, that owner Stephen Ross and GM Jeff Ireland scoured the country looking for a replacement for Sparano (at this point the guy who brought Sparano in, Parcells, was no longer with the organization). Guys like Jim Harbaugh, Jon Gruden, and  Bill Cowher were sought after by Miami. The organization was not as hush-hush about that as you may think (looking for a new coach when you have one employed is not done often…at least not as publicly as Miami did).

Sparano had his guys playing hard, but the 3rd place finishes were piling up. The home play was very concerning. Ross has tried like crazy to bring Dolphins football back to relevance in Miami, but the losses were piling up and the ‘Phins phaithful were rapidly losing faith (attendance began suffering). In Sparano’s debut season Miami went 5-3 at home. Good, not great. The 2+ seasons that followed prior to his firing the ‘Phins were a putrid 8-15 in front of the home fans. Unacceptable. This led to Sparano’s firing to end 2011 calender year (oddly enough Ross gave Sparano a 2-year extension in Jan 2011 to make up for the public attempts to replace him, only to fire him December of 2011).

Miami went 29-32 in Sparano’s 3+ seasons. Jake Long (4), Joey Porter, Ronnie Brown, Yeremiah Bell, Dan Carpenter, Randy Starks, Brandon Marshall, Cameron Wake, John Denney, and Paul Soliai all had Pro Bowl seasons in the Sparano-era.

Sparano returns to Miami as the offensive coordinator for the Jets. They have play-off aspirations, but a loss to his former team would put the Jets at 1-2 which is not the start they envisioned.

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