Tony Sparano should be one of, if not the most important offseason acquisition in the minds of Raider fans. He's been in some tough places as a coach, but always gets the most out of the running game. He has turned multiple teams into strong playoff contenders and has had a track record of success at every level of coaching. His attention to detail and work ethic are legendary and he is the right man for the job of putting the Raider rushing game back on top where it belongs.
When you look at the coaches Sparano has served as an assistant for, you can see where his reputation as a hard-nosed coach comes from: Marty Schottenheimer, Tom Coughlin, Bill Parcells, Rex Ryan. These are all tough, no-nonsense coaches. Sparano has also been an assistant to noted buffoon Wade Phillips, who counted on Sparano to add some toughness to the team. To fully appreciate Coach Sparano, however, we must go back to the beginning and examine what he has had to work with year by year, and look at what he has done for the running games of every team he has coached for. Some teams have been better than others.
In 1999 after a successful career at the Division II college level, Sparano was hired by his longtime mentor Chris Palmer to join the staff of the expansion Cleveland Browns. Insert ominous sound here. The expansion Browns were one of the worst teams ever assembled. Tim Couch was a bust and the team had very little in the way of talent to work with. In 1999, Sparano served as Offensive Quality Control and in 2000 became the offensive line coach. These were the Browns though, and while the team was offensive, it had neither quality nor control. In the 2000 season, the Browns allowed 40 sacks. Following the year, the entire coaching staff was fired to bring in Butch Davis and his crew, who after some initial success didn't fare much better in the long run.
After being fired in Cleveland, Sparano was hired by Marty Schottenheimer in 2001 to be the Washington Redskins' tight ends coach. The Redskins had Tony Banks and Jeff George under center and were a rush-first team, as Marty's teams traditionally were. The three tight ends under Sparano- Stephen Alexander, Zeron Flemister, and Walter Rasby, combined for 409 yards and four touchdowns. They were seldom used in the passing game (Jeff George and Tony Banks are noted members of the Screw It I'm Going Deep Club) but were fine blockers, helping Stephen Davis rush for a beastly 1432 yards and five scores. After the season, Schottenheimer was fired in favor of Steve Spurrier and Sparano was hired by Tom Coughlin to serve as the Jaguars' tight ends coach for the 2002 season.
In 2002, Sparano's tight ends with the Jaguars were Kyle Brady and Pete Mitchell. They combined for 707 yards and six touchdowns. This was a definite step up from the previous season, when Brady without much in the way of other tight ends on the roster accounted for 386 yards and two scores. After not having a 1,000-yard rusher in 2001, with Sparano on the staff Fred Taylor ran for 1314 yards and eight scores. While the Jaguars' record stayed at 6-10, Sparano was seen as a rising star in the NFL coaching ranks. After Tom Coughlin was replaced by Jack Del Rio as Jaguars head coach, Sparano was hired in 2003 by Bill Parcells' Dallas Cowboys He would make a strong name for himself here, spending five years in Dallas working his way up the ladder with a lot of success. Unlike his previous stops, in Dallas his entire coaching staff would not get fired.