What can Tony Sparano's career tell us about the Raider rush attack? (Part 2)

USA TODAY Sports

Taking a look at Sparano's more recent career with the Cowboys, Dolphins and Jets.

Click here to start at Part 1 of this piece.

In 2003, Bill Parcells was hired as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Emmitt Smith had moved on and all remnants of the Cowboys' Super Bowl teams were gone, save Darren Woodson. Parcells' job was to rebuild the team after two consecutive 5-11 seasons. He assembled a coaching staff that includes two NFL head coaches in Sean Payton and Sparano, who at the time was not so well-known a commodity as he is today.

Sparano started as the tight ends coach for Dallas in 2003, which happened to be the year that Jason Witten was drafted. Witten is arguably the finest tight end in Cowboys history, and Sparano had a huge hand in his development. In 2003 Witten only played six games, but collected 347 yards and a touchdown. In 2004, with Sparano still the tight ends coach, Witten blew up for 980 yards and six scores. Witten came within a single yard of leading the team in receiving yards, behind only Keyshawn Johnson with 981. Following the 2004 season, Sparano was promoted to offensive coordinator for Dallas.

He also served as an assistant head coach and offensive line coach on the 2005 Cowboys, along with Sean Payton who served as assistant head coach/passing game coordinator. That staff also included two more future NFL head coaches in Todd Bowles and Todd Haley. With Sparano coaching the offensive line in addition to being the running game coordinator, the Cowboys became a strong rushing team with Julius Jones as the feature back, as well as Marion Barber III. The Cowboys gained 1861 rushing yards and scored 13 touchdowns on the ground. The following year, with Sparano as the offensive play-caller the ground game was even better, with the Cowboys gaining 1936 rushing yards and 21 rushing touchdowns. Everything Sparano touched in Dallas turned to gold.

Following the aforementioned 2005 season, Sean Payton left the Cowboys' staff to become the head coach of the New Orleans Saints. Payton wanted to bring Sparano to New Orleans to serve as the Saints' offensive coordinator, but Bill Parcells blocked the move, feeling that Sparano was too valuable an assistant to lose.

In 2007, Wade Phillips took over as Cowboys head coach and kept much the same staff, with the notable exception of Jason Garrett being the new offensive coordinator and primary play-caller. Sparano remained an assistant head coach to Phillips and resumed his duties as offensive line coach. The 2007 Cowboys were an absolute juggernaut, going 13-3. Tony Romo and Terrell Owens set the league on fire and the team rushed for 1746 yards even with the offense being pass-first. While the team didn't get statistically that much worse in 2008 after Sparano's departure, it did begin the Cowboys' descent into mediocrity, particularly along the offensive line, a condition they are still trying to rectify to this very day.

Sparano's success in Dallas led him to be hired by Miami as their new head coach in 2008. Sparano took over a Miami Dolphins team that had gone 1-15 the previous year. He led them to a 11-5 record, and Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown combined to rush for 1570 yards. The following season's record was not so good at 7-9, but Williams and Brown combined for 1769 yards, and 19 touchdowns. The Dolphins that year led the NFL in rushing touchdowns, and Jake Long developed into one of the NFL's finest offensive linemen.

The 2010 Dolphins season was marred by instability at quarterback, with Chad Henne, Chad Pennington, and Tyler Thigpen all starting games. Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown would again split carries but were not as effective as previous years, only combining for 1397 yards. As the Dolphin QBs that year were very turnover prone, this led the offense to be generally ineffective and the Dolphins had a 7-9 record mostly on the back of their excellent defense.

2011 was the last year Sparano would coach the Dolphins. It was the beginning of the Reggie Bush era in Miami and even though he had a lot of success, Chad Henne at QB lost his the first 4 games of the season and gave way to Matt Moore, who fared a little better, going 6-6. Sparano was fired after Week 14.

In 2012 Sparano was hired to the thankless position of Jets offensive coordinator. He was tasked with fitting Tim Tebow in somewhere to do something and making Mark Sanchez good. Both of these proved too much, and the Jets butt-fumbled their way to a 6-10 record. Under Sparano, Shonn Greene did continue his status as a bona fide feature back gaining 1063 yards and eight TD, but the Jets had very few weapons at WR and the offensive line gave up 47 sacks on the year. Sparano was sacked following the season, and the Jets drafted Geno Smith.

So we see a pattern emerging here. Wherever Sparano goes, the rush offense becomes much better, even to the point of dominance. Even when the passing game is miserable, the running game performs admirably. Sparano has had a hand in developing players like Flozell Adams, Jason Witten, Andre Gurode, Ronnie Brown and Jake Long into the Pro Bowl caliber players they became. He turned a 33 year old Ricky Williams into top five fantasy pick. He did the best he could with an extremely dysfunctional Jets offense and probably was the fall guy for Rex Ryan and the inexplicable moves of the Jets front office.

Now he is with the Raiders, coaching a group of promising young players. Sparano's track record shows that he can and will develop the offensive line into one of the best units in the league, and give the running game a huge boost as well. His presence spells good tidings for Darren McFadden and Matt Flynn alike.

Click here to return to Sparano's early NFL career (Part 1).
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