Can the Wildcat Return to the New York Jets? Spotlight Tony Sparano


The man set to bring the Wildcat back to New York, for Tim Tebow. OC Tony Sparano. Mandatory Credit: Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIRE

Last night, we took a look back at 2011, and to some of the problems that the offense of the New York Jets suffered from. We talked about the Brian Schottenheimer situation, and whether or not he was the source of the problems, or just scapegoated for the bad play. Fair or unfair, Schottenheimer is out. Now, Tebowmania is here to stay, at least for now. Tim Tebow is expected to take several snaps per game, in the “wildcat” package. Tonight, we take an in depth look at the guy who is going to bring the wildcat back to New York, new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano.

Tony Sparano was a decent college football player, starting at center for the University of New Haven, performing well enough to earn letterman status for his four years playing for the division II school.

His coaching career began 1984, serving as the offensive line coach for his alma mater, the University of New Haven. He then joined Divison I-AA Boston University, where he served one season at the lateral position of offensive line coach, before being prmoted to offensive coordinator for the next five seasons. He returned to his alma mater in 1994 as the head coach, taking his school to two playoff appearances over five seasons. In 1997, his school had developed into a powerhouse offense, leading all of Division II scoring 42.8 points per game en route to a 12-2 record, before losing in the championship game against Northern Colorado.

Sparano’s career in the NFL began in 1999, where tenures as assistants came and went with the Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins, and Jacksonville Jaguars. His rise to visability began in 2003, when Bill Parcells hired Sparano to his staff with the Dallas Cowboys. He rose from his role as tight ends coach to assistant head coach in his five seasons in Dallas. Tony became the offensive playcaller in 2006, the year Tony Romo ascended to starting quarterback during the middle of the season. His playcalling was quite successful, as the Cowboys scored 425 points, averaging 26.6 points per game, good for 4th in the league. The team finished 9-7, and lost a Wild Card matchup against the Seattle Seahawks. Jason Garrett took over the playcalling duties in 2007.

Tony Sparano got his big break in early 2008, when he was hired to revive a Miami Dolphins team that had gone 1-15 the previous season. And revive them he did. He became the first coach ever to lead a team to the playoffs the year following a 1-win season, and the second to lead a 10 game turnaround, when he led the Dolphins to an AFC East championship and an 11-5 record.

This was also the season that made Sparano appealing to the situation the Jets are in, as Tony Sparano and coordinator Dan Henning introduced the “wildcat” to the NFL landscape. They used it, as Chad Pennington put it, “because they had difficulty running the football, and needed to generate plays on the ground”. It began week 3, when the Dolphins came up with an idea to keep Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown on the field at the same time. Brown would take direct snaps and either run, or hand it off to another back. Thus, the “wildcat” was born, and the Dolphins were quite successful, this week and beyond. They beat the Patriots 38-13 that day, and went on to their division win.

After 2 7-9 seasons, and a disappointing 2011, Sparano was fired before the end of the season, and the Jets hired him this offseason to replace Schottenheimer as the offensive coordinator.

But can he revive the offense of the New York Jets?

Tony is known as leading a physical style of play, which fits like a glove with Rex Ryan’s approach/vision. He will get the Jets back to the “ground and pound” philosophy, and that is important, as the Jets lost their identity in 2011. Tim Tebow is the prototypical guy to run the Wildcat. The question is, has the league caught up to this style?

Since 2008, it’s success rate has gone down significantly. Some say the style has just about been rendered obsolete.

The quality of players on the Jets is different from the 2008 Dolphins. At running back, the Dolphins had 2 legitimate running threats, Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. The Jets have Shonn Greene. The Dolphins offensive line had Jake Long, one side of the Jets line features the great Wayne Hunter. When Tebow comes into the game, the “wildcat” is obviously coming, and it may be predictable as to the direction it will be run as well.

Can Tony Sparano revive the offense? Yes. Can Tony Sparano make the “wildcat” live again? Not so sure. Teams don’t win with two different offenses, and I have strong reservations as to whether the Jets can be the first.

What do you think?  Will the wildcat be successful with the Jets next year?  Is this the right mix?  Please feel free to debate as you wish.