NEW YORK (AP) — Tony Sparano sat in front of Rex Ryan and rattled off his offensive philosophies and thoughts on how to be a winning football team. He said exactly everything the New York Jets coach needed to hear.
“It was like, ‘Wow!’ I was blown away,” Ryan said Friday. “This is the guy I wanted.”
So did general manager Mike Tannenbaum and owner Woody Johnson. After the team and Brian Schottenheimer decided to mutually part ways early in the week, they knew Sparano was the perfect fit to be the Jets’ new offensive coordinator.
“This is a physical football team,” Sparano said during a conference call. “I like playing a physical style of offense. I think anybody that knows me knows I want to be physical.”
Yep, just the way Ryan likes his offense to be. Sparano wants the Jets to focus primarily again on the running game, but wants to also get the ball down the field — an element New York sorely lacked this season. The Jets had just three plays of 40 yards or more all season, tied with St. Louis for fewest in the NFL.
“We’ll be explosive,” Sparano insisted.
Sparano was hired Wednesday, just more than 12 hours after New York announced that Schottenheimer told the Jets he wouldn’t return next season despite having two years left on his contract. Schottenheimer was highly criticized for the Jets’ inconsistencies as they ranked 25th overall in offense. He also took a lot of the blame for quarterback Mark Sanchez not progressing as expected in his third year.
New York was a “Ground-and-Pound” offense during Ryan’s first two seasons, riding that style to two straight AFC title games. But when the Jets re-signed Santonio Holmes and brought in Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason, they became enthralled with the passing game and wanted Sanchez to air out the football a little more.
When that didn’t work, Ryan insisted the Jets go back to running it — but that came along slower than expected. Suddenly, New York didn’t know what type of team it was on offense anymore.
“I’m a guy who believes you have to form an identity,” Sparano said. “I want to have an identity here offensively. I want our players to be able to walk into the meeting room and not be surprised about things that are going in the game plan each week, because they believe that we’re going to do them really well.”
The Jets considered offensive line coach Bill Callahan to replace Schottenheimer, but Sparano changed all that during his meeting with Ryan, Tannenbaum and Johnson.
“I think we’re definitely like-minded people and like-minded coaches,” Ryan said. “We believe in running the football and protecting the quarterback, and I think those are the two biggest things in my opinion.”
Sparano, fired as Miami’s coach last month, is high on Sanchez, despite lots of talk by fans and media insisting the Jets need a change at quarterback. A few players were also anonymously quoted saying similar things. From afar, Sparano has liked a lot of what he has seen from Sanchez.
“Having to prepare for Mark Sanchez was always difficult,” Sparano said. “He has a lot of good qualities.”
Sparano highlighted Sanchez’s ability to get out of trouble with his legs and athleticism, along with a good release and being able to make all the necessary throws. Sparano has been involved with the process of developing quarterbacks before — Tony Romo in Dallas and Chad Henne in Miami — and believes he can do the same with Sanchez.
“We’ll be able to help Mark in a lot of ways,” Sparano said. “Once he gets in here, we’ll through some of the basics and fundamentals at the position and go from there.”
As far as the negative talk in the locker room about Sanchez, and rifts that involved wide receiver Santonio Holmes and the offensive line, Sparano isn’t concerned.
“I’m kind of a show-me guy,” he said. “This is a show-me business, a show-me game. Once the players get here, it’ll be a blank piece of paper as far as I’m concerned. And I think that’s a positive. Sometimes, change is good.”
Sparano’s Dolphins teams were perhaps the league’s biggest proponents of using the wildcat offense with running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. Schottenheimer liked to use it some, too, with Brad Smith the last few seasons and Jeremy Kerley this past season, but there’s a good chance the wildcat will be seen more frequently under Sparano.
The 50-year-old Sparano is a first-time offensive coordinator, but did make play calls while he was in Dallas in 2006 and said he was always involved in the offensive meetings during his nearly four seasons in Miami.
“We hired Tony because of what he brings to the table,” Ryan said. “Tony is a guy I have extreme confidence in. I have complete confidence in Tony.”
Even though Ryan said that he wanted to be more involved in the offense, he will allow Sparano to have full control — just as Schottenheimer did.
“We don’t want me coaching the offense,” Ryan said. “I’m not going to all of the sudden think I’m Don Coryell. I’m not going to hold him back.”
Notes: Former Chiefs coach Todd Haley visited the Jets on Thursday for a possible spot on the offensive staff under Sparano, but Tannenbaum said it was “hard to say” what would come of their meeting. … Callahan was hired by Dallas on Thursday to be the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. Besides Schottenheimer and Callahan, Tannenbaum said wide receivers coach Henry Ellard and outside linebackers coach Jeff Weeks would not be back. … Former Raiders wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal was hired for the same position with the Jets on Friday.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)