Jets Hire Tony Sparano As Offensive Coordinator; Schottenheimer Thanks Rex
NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) – Brian Schottenheimer is off the hot seat and out the door.
The embattled Jets offensive coordinator told the team Tuesday that he will not return next season after six years running an offense that often failed to live up to expectations.
The team announced Wednesday that former Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano will replace Schottenheimer. Sparano, fired in December and replaced by Todd Bowles, has also worked as an assistant with Cleveland, Washington, Jacksonville and Dallas.
It’s one of a handful of coaching moves that will shake up Ryan’s staff. Offensive line coach Bill Callahan and wide receivers coach Henry Ellard are both not expected back.
In a statement released by the team Tuesday night, Schottenheimer said he made the decision “after much thought and consideration.” Schottenheimer, the son of former NFL coach Marty Schottenheimer, was highly criticized for the Jets’ inconsistencies on an offensive unit that ranked 25th overall and for quarterback Mark Sanchez not progressing in his third year.
The 38-year-old Schottenheimer said in the statement that he was “very proud of what we have accomplished” during his time with the Jets, and thanked coach Rex Ryan and the organization.
“I am grateful for the relationships that I have with our players and coaches and appreciate the hard work and dedication that went into our success,” he said in a statement. “My family and I would like to thank Rex Ryan and the entire Jets organization and wish them continued success. I look forward to the exciting opportunities that lie ahead.”
Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum said last week after the team finished 8-8 and failed to make the playoffs that they expected Schottenheimer back unless he got a head coaching job. Schottenheimer interviewed for Jacksonville’s job, which went to Mike Mularkey.
Schottenheimer had two years and about $3.2 million remaining on his contract after quietly receiving an extension in the offseason. Apparently, the sides agreed to a mutual parting after a tough season.
“Brian and I talked and I understand his decision to look for a fresh start,” Ryan said in a statement. “I’d like to thank him for all of his contributions these past three seasons. He’s been right there with me, shoulder to shoulder, and played a key role in our success, helping us to reach two AFC championship games.”
Ryan added he feels “fortunate to have worked with him” and he knows Schottenheimer “will be a successful head coach one day – probably sooner than later.”
Schottenheimer’s future had been uncertain for several weeks, despite the votes of confidence from both Ryan and Tannenbaum.
Sanchez struggled mightily down the stretch as the Jets lost three straight to end the season, and was wildly inconsistent throughout as Schottenheimer’s offense failed to establish an identity. After going with a run-first approach, which is Ryan’s preference, the Jets decided to start this season by passing more with wide receivers Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress and the since-departed Derrick Mason in the mix.
But the offensive line started poorly, unable to consistently protect Sanchez or open up holes for the running game – creating a domino effect that led to the quarterback getting bruised and battered routinely. After a few games, Ryan then insisted the Jets go back to a “ground-and-pound” approach, which was slow to develop with Shonn Greene.
There were signs of trouble early when Mason made some critical comments, saying the team had “cracks” that needed to be fixed. Mason, along with Burress and Holmes, was also mentioned in a Daily News report in October that said the wide receivers had met with Ryan individually to complain about Schottenheimer’s system. All three denied the report, as did Ryan, but Mason was soon traded to Houston.
The Jets even brought in Tom Moore, the former Indianapolis Colts offensive guru, as a consultant to assist Schottenheimer – and some viewed that as a clear indicator that the team was not thrilled with the offensive coordinator. Schottenheimer publicly said he was happy to have someone with Moore’s experience to lean on, and Ryan repeatedly said Moore’s presence was in no way a result of a lack of confidence in Schottenheimer.
But things seemed to come to a head in Week 16 as the offense couldn’t get much of anything done down the stretch in a 29-14 loss to the Giants that seriously jeopardized their playoff hopes. Sanchez threw 59 times in the game, something that had even the players scratching their heads.
In the season finale at Miami, Holmes sulked about his role and argued in the huddle, leading to Schottenheimer’s last major decision with the Jets. He benched the playmaker while New York was trying to get back into a 19-17 loss.
Schottenheimer was often the target of irate fans, who flocked to sports radio shows, Twitter and message boards, demanding that he be fired. Predictably, many fans also celebrated the news on Twitter late Tuesday night after the move was announced.
Schottenheimer came to New York in 2006 as part of former coach Eric Mangini’s staff, and was praised in that first season for a refreshingly creative approach. That seemed to diminish over the next few seasons, though, but Schottenheimer also dealt with a revolving door at quarterback with Chad Pennington, Kellen Clemens and then Brett Favre. After Ryan replaced Mangini as coach in 2009, he kept Schottenheimer as his offensive coordinator.
Ryan and Schottenheimer often talked about how they shared a common bond as sons of former NFL coaches, and were able to deal with criticism from fans and media maybe a bit better than those who hadn’t grown up as they had.
“I grew up in a household around a coach that took a lot of heat and got fired at 14-2,” Schottenheimer said a few weeks ago, referring to his father Marty’s firing by San Diego following the 2006 season. “You have no control over it, so you just roll with the punches.”
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From the Jets:
JETS NAME TONY SPARANO OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR
January 11, 2012 – The New York Jets have named Tony Sparano offensive coordinator. The announcement was made by Head Coach Rex Ryan.
“When we sat down with Tony, I knew that he was the right person at the right time for our offense,” said Head Coach Rex Ryan. “I’ve admired his work as a competitor in the division for the past three seasons. His teams were always physical, tough and hard-nosed.”
Sparano joins the Jets after spending the previous four seasons as head coach of the Miami Dolphins. With the Dolphins coming off a 1-15 season in 2007, Sparano took over the following season and posted an 11-5 record, winning the AFC East. His +10 improvement matched the NFL record previously set by the 1999 Indianapolis Colts. In his three-plus seasons with the Dolphins, he compiled a 29-32 record.
“I’m very proud to be part of such an outstanding organization and to have an opportunity to work with these players,” said Sparano. “I know this division very well and I’m looking forward to that challenge. I’d like to thank Mr. Johnson, Mike Tannenbaum and Coach Ryan for giving me the opportunity.”
Under Sparano, Miami’s offense saw QB Chad Pennington throw for a career-high 3,653 yards in 2008 and post a 97.4 passer rating en route to winning the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award. Additionally, Sparano’s offense saw both RBs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams each register at least 600 yards rushing from 2008-10, while RB Reggie Bush registered the first 1,000-yard rushing performance of his career in 2011.
Prior to being named head coach in Miami, Sparano coached the Dallas Cowboys, serving as the team’s tight ends coach from 2003-04, offensive line/running game coordinator in 2005, assistant head coach/offensive line/running game coordinator in 2006 and assistant head coach/offensive line in 2007. In 2006 as the primary play-caller, the Cowboys offense ranked fourth in scoring and fifth in total offense, producing two 1,000-yard wide receivers (Terrell Owens, Terry Glenn) and a 1,000-yard rusher (Julius Jones). As the Cowboys tight ends coach, Sparano tutored Jason Witten for his first two NFL seasons.
Entering the NFL as a coach in 1999, Sparano served as the offensive quality control coach in Cleveland before being promoted to the Browns offensive line coach the following season. He coached tight ends for Washington in 2001 and Jacksonville in 2002.