Oakland Raiders: Tony Sparano is clearing the slate


Sep 30, 2014; Alameda, CA, USA; Tony Sparano is introduced as Oakland Raiders interim coach during a press conference at the Raiders practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Amid all the questions and speculation regarding the Oakland Raiders firing of Head Coach Dennis Allen, Tony Sparano has remained solid in his quest to turn this ship around and get the team headed in the right direction.  Many laughed at Head Coach Sparano as he buried a game ball in the ground on the practice field in Alameda, CA.  I thought it was a great idea.

Football can be a crazy thing sometimes, and players can become really heady.  By burying the ball (what he called the last 4 games), he is sending a message to the team that they all need to put it in the past.  Plus, he made several statements regarding the ability of this team to dig itself out of the hole and win.

Sparano is no stranger to turn around seasons.  In 2002, the Dallas Cowboys team was struggling with a record of 5-11 under Head Coach Dave Campo.  Bill Parcels was hired as the Head Coach for the 2003 season, and he brought in Sparano as the Tight Ends Coach.  By the way, the Cowboys drafted, and subsequently started, their TE of the future in Jason Witten that year as well.  The Cowboys finished with a record of 10-6.  In 2006, the Cowboys finished with a 9-7 record and Bill Parcels eventually retired from coaching.  Wade Phillips stepped in as the Head Coach, and in 2007 the Cowboys elevated themselves to a 13-3 record (Sparano was Asst. Head Coach/Offensive Line Coach).

Following the 2007 season, Sparano was hired by the Miami Dolphins to take on an abysmal team that had a 2007 record of 1-15 under Head Coach Cam Cameron.  What does Sparano do?  He installs an offense that featured the Wildcat and runs his way to a record of 11-5 in his first year as Head Coach.  Not too shabby.  Unfortunately, as the Dolphins went 7-9 in 2008, 7-9 in 2009, and 6-10 in 2010, Sparano was let go by the Dolphins.  Luckily, he was available to the Oakland Raiders, and he is now the leader to get this team out of its funk.

Don’t get me wrong, Sparano has a tough road ahead of him, but he is already making the moves needed to shake this team up.  First, he is shedding the injured weight that seems to be holding this team back (Nick Roach and Kaluka Maiava).  The Raiders will definitely miss LB Nick Roach, but with a depleted LB corps, it was time to find some help.  Enter in LB’s Ray-Ray Armstrong and LB Jamar Chaney.

Armstrong and Chaney are both big bodied LB’s who can fill gaps and voids left by the losses of both Roach and Maiava.  Chaney has started at Middle LB before (Philadelphia Eagles in 2010), and he could be used in that capacity eventually (once he learns the defense).  Plus, Sparano also brought in another fast and shifty WR in Kenbrell Thompkins from the New England Patriots.  Obviously, the stops are going to be pulled out to try to effect some wins.

Then, in a move that surprised a bunch of media pundits, Oakland Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie brought in Mike Holmgren to help evaluate the teams direction, players, and coaching staff.  Sparano had a private meeting with Holmgren, and he was able to pick the brain of a Coach/GM who has been there done that over a very good career.  All in all, this team is going to look different moving forward.

Sunday, against a very tough and good San Diego Chargers team (it pains me to say that), the Raiders will be tested in all facets of the game.  Raider Nation will be able to see first hand whether or not this team is ready to progress or fall backward again.  I believe that Sparano will have this team ready to answer the challenge that the Chargers will present.  The offensive and defensive schemes will be a bit different under Sparano, as he is able to build around the players he has.  Plus, the return of LB Sio Moore will aid the defense in being more diverse.  It’s a Division game, and anything is possible (even a Raiders win).  Go Raiders!