Right Field

The Jets Fan Laments: Is Tony Sparano the Answer?

Since I know what National Review Online readers are clamoring for is more New York-centric sports analysis (kidding!), I thought I’d put my thoughts down on the decision to bring in former Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano to replace Brian Schottenheimer (who was not the real problem for the 8-8 Jets, but certainly not the solution, either) as offensive coordinator.

Sparano is thought of as a run-first guy (there is even some talk that the Jets will bring in his old colleague Todd Haley to focus on the passing attack), and the idea is that Sparano’s philosophy matches with Rex Ryan’s “ground and pound” approach in a way Schotty the Younger’s never did. So what’s Sparano’s record running the running game?

After a string of low-end staffing stints, Sparano’s career kicked into full gear when he was brought on to the Cowboys in 2003 by Bill Parcells. He started out as a tight ends coach, on his way to becoming o-line coach, assistant head coach, and offensive coordinator there. The one year he called plays in Dallas, 2006, RB Julius Jones had 1,226 yards from scrimmage. By far the best year in a mediocre career. This was the same year left tackle Flozell Adams had arguably the best year of his Pro Bowl career, and the same year an untested backup quarterback named Tony Romo led the league in net yards per attempt over 10 starts. Where the lines of causation are there is unclear admittedly. But consider that the next year, Sparano’s last in Dallas — as an assistant head coach with an emphasis on the run game (Jason Garrett called plays) — Marion Barber has arguably the best year of his career, with 1,257 yards from scrimmage.

Then Sparano goes to the Dolphins in 2008 and in his first year as head coach, Ronnie Brown leads the wildcat and has his first (and only) Prow Bowl appearance. In 2009, Ricky Williams’ career is resurrected and he rushes for over 1,000 yards for the first time in six years. This year, Reggie Bush gets his first real shot as a feature back and rushes for over 1,000, doubling his second best year.

That’s the kind of track record that makes me feel good about Sparano’s ability to get as much out of Shonn Greene, LT, Joe McKnight, and Bilal Powell as possible. But there are three question marks. 1) Will Sparano’s no-nonsense attitude mesh well with Rex Ryan’s? 2) What can Sparano get out of Mark Sanchez. I don’t think he’s the guy (if there is such a guy) who can turn the Sanchize into an elite passer. But if you look at what he did with Chad Pennington, Chad Henne, and Matt Moore in Miami, there is plenty of hope Sanchez can settle in as a more mature version of competent game manager and play-action passer he’s shown flashes of being in his first three years. 3) Can the Jets improve at tackle, where they have been murdered this year, to the detriment of both the run game and Mark Sanchez’s bones.

We shall see.

Daniel Foster — Daniel Foster is a former news editor of National Review Online.

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