Jets fans got to know a little about Tony Sparano while the Green & White were getting ready to play Sparano’s Aqua & Coral twice a year from 2008 through this season’s first meeting at MetLife Stadium in October. He has a touch of the Northeast and “Tony Soprano” about him, a skilled yet blue-collar approach to the game that obviously appealed to Bill Parcells, another quintessential Nor’easter who brought him over from Dallas to be the ‘Fins’ head coach.
So dealing with any alleged Jets “hornet’s nest” is not going to faze the Jets’ new offensive coordinator.
“Contrary to popular belief, I really don’t read a whole lot about what’s said or hear about what’s said,” Sparano said on a conference call with reporters this afternoon. “I’m kind of a show-me guy. Anybody who’s played for me a lot knows I use that phrase — it’s a show-me business, it’s a show-me game.
“Once the players get here, it’s a blank piece of paper. That’s a positive. Sometimes change is good. This situation here is a blank piece of paper, we’ll go from here, we’ll get a chance to learn each other, they’ll get a chance to know me. I’m looking forward to working with these players.”
One player in particular concerns all of Jets nation and that’s the relationship moving forward between Sparano and QB Mark Sanchez.
“Obviously I have some experience because I was on the other sideline against the Jets here,” he said. “Having to prepare for Mark Sanchez was always difficult First of all, he’s athletic. He has a good release. He can make all the throws. He can get out of trouble. … That was a handful, having to prepare for him. I’m happy to be with him now.”
That of course doesn’t mean there aren’t things that Sparano, the Cowboys’ offensive playcaller in 2006 and one of the first proponents of the emergence of the Wildcat in NFL offenses, doesn’t want to work on with the Jets’ now fourth-year field general. But he declined to go into too many specifics “early on in this process.”
“One of the things every offseason you need to do with the quarterbacks is to get them back to square one, break them back from a fundamental standpoint. Games get on you really fast and you don’t have the amount of time you think you have. Now you get a chance to break them back fundamentally and do some of those things you think would be good, stress some of those scenarios that go into the game — clock management, you can turn the ball over a lot of ways in our league.
“We’ll look at turnovers, spend a lot of time with Mark and get going, when we can spend time with him.”
Naturally, the rules are different this year following the new labor agreement last summer. Players can show up anytime at their complexes, but teams can’t require players to begin offseason programs until mid-April. Whenever the new OC and the now veteran QB can sit down, though, they’ll be discussing philosophy.
“I want to have an identity here on offense,” Sparano said. “I want our players to be able to walk into the meeting room and not be surprised with things that are going to be in the game plan every week. I do believe in moving the ball downfield, advancing in chunks. If you can’t get 20 yards in our league, that makes it hard to move the football.”
The Jets had those issues in their 16 games that ended so disappointingly in an 8-8 record. For only the second time in franchise history, they had no completions of 40 yards or longer to a wide receiver. (TE Dustin Keller had a 41-yard catch and LaDainian Tomlinson went 74 yards with a screen.) Shonn Greene’s 31-yard run vs. Kansas City was the shortest “long run” in a season since 1995.
So hearing about an emphasis on “chunk yardage” should be heartening to Jets Nation. But something else will sound familiar, and that’s the emphasis on physical play and the running game.
“Being physical doesn’t mean you’re going to run the ball 55 times a game,” Sparano said. “It means you’re going to protect the quarterback, the attitude of the receivers and their approach. It also comes from the quarterback. I like a physical mentality. We’ll be explosive, we’ll be able to get it downfield, do all those things. But I learned a lesson a long time ago about how you win and lose in this league. You’ve got to have some element of running the football.”
Especially, as head coach Rex Ryan reminded during his and GM Mike Tannenbaum’s portion of the conference call, with the Jets residing in, well, the Northeast. And that’s something else that has enabled Sparano, who grew up in West Haven, Conn., and went to college at New Haven, to feel right at home.
He was relieved of his Dolphins command with three games to go this season, so he spent that with his family and being an uncomfortable watcher of games that he was no longer directly involved in.
“Once the season ended, then all of a sudden the phone started to ring and I was able to start to entertain some of these things,” he said of the short, whirlwind process that led to him accepting the Jets OC job on Wednesday after Brian Schottenheimer through mutual agreement had vacated the day before.
“This opportunity came about to meet with Mike Tannenbaum and with Rex, the opportunity to meet with Mr. Johnson, to speak with them and see just how passionate they are about this organization and what’s happening here right now. Once I got through all that, there was no question for me. I share a lot of the same philosophies that Rex shares. This is home for me. I’m just happy to be a part of this team here. I’m looking forward to it.”
Tags: Brian Schottenheimer, Mark Sanchez, Miami Dolphins, Mike Tannenbaum, offensive coordinator, Rex Ryan, Tony Sparano
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