Sports Outside the Beltway

Tony Sparano Plays Waiting Game

Dave Solomon of the New Haven Register discusses the strange plight of Tony Sparano, the Dallas Cowboys offensive assistant who is simultaneously too valuable to the team to let interview for coordinator positions elsewhere and yet apparently going to suffer a de facto demotion.

The process is unfolding by slow drip, with frustrating ambiguity for Dallas Cowboys assistant head coach Tony Sparano. At least that was his title three weeks ago before the resignation of Bill Parcells left an aftermath of disparate components and new choices for owner Jerry Jones.

Sparano, in his first public comments since Parcells’ decision to retire, says he is flattered by the strong vote of confidence from Jones, who Sparano feels he owes much in his four seasons in Dallas. Yet the process is also maddening in the sense that his role is undefined and, with the addition of Jason Garrett, reports have reasonably concluded that Sparano’s role will be diminished as well.


New Orleans coach Sean Payton wanted Sparano to fill the same role — in full title — with the Saints in 2006. Moreover, reports are that two other NFL clubs requested permission to talk with Sparano following the season. All Sparano would say is that because Jones denied permission, it’s only hearsay.

But now, three weeks after becoming one of 10 men to interview for the Cowboys head coaching job — that has since gone to defensive specialist Wade Phillips — Sparano has been given a public vote of support by Jones … and little definition as to his exact role. “It’s obviously been a long process, from obviously the delay with Bill making a decision, and then of course, the hiring process,” said Sparano. “Jerry, obviously, was very thorough, and me, being one of the first to go in there (for an interview) … it seems like dog years after that. Now, it’s still going on, kind of. We’re just waiting for some closure.”

Asked if his role specifically, Sparano could only say he’ll be with the Cowboys (he has one more year left on his contract) and other than coaching the offensive line, he doesn’t know the full extent of his responsibilities.

Garrett, of course, is the wildcard, a bright Princeton grad who played for the Cowboys behind Troy Aikman. Aikman is said to have strongly encouraged Jones to hire Garrett two weeks ago. It is widely assumed that Garrett, who was a quarterback coach in Miami for two years and has never called plays, will fill that role in Dallas. And that means Sparano won’t.

Regardless of the flattering words Jones said of Sparano, the perception will be that Sparano was demoted, whether or not that is fact. “From my standpoint, it’s flattering that the Cowboys want me to stay here and be a part of this thing,” said Sparano. “I’m the only coach left on that side of the ball (from the Parcells regime), which tells me everything I need to know about how they feel about me. Mr. Jones has treated me great. Coach Parcells was tremendous to me. But like anybody else out there, you always want the ability to advance professionally if you can. It’s been a little bit hard that way, with the situation last year and (the situation the last three weeks).”

While interviewing for the head coaching job may have boosted Sparano’s profile league-wide and media-wide, “at the end of the day, I’m not the head coach and I may not be the coordinator. So the perception is that it’s a demotion,” he said. “That’s a concern of mine. because that’s now where I see this. Nonetheless, it is what it is.”

Absent the coordinator title and/or keeping the assistant head coach title, I can’t imagine Sparano stays around after his contract expires. It’s truly a bizarre situation to be in. There’s no complaint about his performance last year and the offense should only get better, since Tony Romo now has several games as a starter under his belt. Yet he’s losing play calling responsibilities to someone who’s never done it.

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