|Ryan and Sparano are now BFFs. (Getty Images)|
New Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano has the unenviable task of jump-starting a pedestrian offense, preferably with the team's franchise quarterback, Mark Sanchez, all while resisting the inevitable public pressure to give the job to backup quarterback/Wildcat specialist/punt protector Tim Tebow. But if anybody's up to the challenge it's Sparano, who was once described by Giants head coach Tom Coughlin as one of the two best assistant coaches that he'd ever had.
Sparano, who was fired as Dolphins head coach during Week 14 of the 2011 season, wasn't an obvious choice to replace Brian Schottenheimer in New York. For starters, he hasn't officially called plays since 1993, at Boston University (although, technically, he did call plays occasionally while an assistant with the Cowboys). More than that, however, Jets head coach Rex Ryan wasn't a big fan.
Back in October, 2009, moments after the Dolphins had beaten the Jets and Ryan had just shaken hands with Sparano, he turned to a Jets employee and admitted, "I don't like this dude."
As the New York Daily News' Manish Mehta writes, the Dolphins had just piled up 413 yards of offense on the Jets' D, including a last-second, game-winning rushing touchdown (yes, it was out of the Wildcat formation). "I was pissed," Ryan remembered. "I'm like, ‘I'm going to kick that dude's ass next time.'"
More via Mehta:
Ryan's respect and appreciation for Sparano grew that night. When the Dolphins fired Sparano after Week 14 last season, the Jets head coach knew that he'd be lucky to have him on his staff. When the team parted ways with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer after the season, Sparano was the only external candidate Ryan considered for the job. "After he became available," Ryan admitted, "I'm like, ‘Oh, hell, yeah… that's my guy."After Schottenheimer and the Jets parted ways, the organization first interviewed assistant Bill Callahan for Schottenheimer's job. Then Ryan, general manager Mike Tannebaum and owner Woody Johnson flew to Sparano's home in South Carolina for a six-hour interview. In Mehta's words, "The meticulous Sparano laid out his philosophies to the Jets' brass, detailing everything from his core philosophies to the way he calls formations. Ryan was in heaven. Sparano's offensive approach mirrored Ryan's defensive approach."
Ultimately, any success or failure Sparano has in New York will be measured by how well Sanchez plays. Back in January, weeks after the Jets' disappointing Week 17 implosion against the Dolphins ended their season, and days after hiring Sparano, ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini wrote that the new offensive coordinator would look to scale back the playbook.
"Schottenheimer ran a high-volume offense and it overwhelmed Sanchez at times. Sanchez also needs a quarterback coach who can help him better understand pass coverages. Too often he doesn't know how to react when his first read is covered.”
During Sparano's introductory press conference in January, he said that the Jets will "be explosive, we'll be able to get it down the field."
And here was our response at the time, which we think still holds some four months later: Sparano's optimism aside, here's the reality: Sanchez is entering his fourth NFL season. If he doesn't show marked improvement in 2012, he and Ryan both could be looking for new gigs 12 months from now.
For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our Pick-6 Podcast and NFL newsletter. You can follow Ryan Wilson on Twitter here: @ryanwilson_07.