The colors and real estate may change, but the Sparano remains the same.
Same single-minded focus. Same monotone answers.
Same irritation over questions that are, to be honest, irritating.
Tony Sparano, looking a bit strange in Jets green, returns to Miami Sunday after four years as the Dolphins’ fist-pumping coach.
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But if there’s any resentment over the way Sparano’s tenure in Miami ended – first with the failed Jim Harbaugh courtship, and then his firing after last year’s 0-7 start – he didn’t show it while meeting with New York media Thursday.
“I have no bitter feelings towards anybody there,” said Sparano, now the Jets’ offensive coordinator. “It’s part of the job. I understand how the league works. I have great respect for the players there.”
The feeling, it appears, is mutual. Of the 53 men that make up the Dolphins’ active roster, 35 are holdovers from the Sparano era, including 19 starters.
So there are still plenty of fond feelings, if not loyalties, in the locker room for their former leader, who went 30-32 during his nearly four years as Dolphins coach.
“I loved playing for Tony,” said guard Richie Incognito, the one-time loose cannon who was given a second chance by Sparano, and has thrived. “I got a lot of respect for Coach Sparano. He was integral in bringing me down here.”
Added defensive lineman Jared Odrick: “It’ll be strange hearing him across the field, screaming and screaming and screaming. You can already see how animated he is on the sidelines, just watching a few plays [on tape]. It’ll be fun.”
Even more fun: Watching the evolving relationship between Sparano and Rex Ryan, his onetime foil-turned-boss.
Sparano didn’t have much patience for Ryan’s histrionics when their respective teams did battle twice each year. And the feeling, as learned this week, was mutual.
“It’s funny, because I never liked him [either],” Ryan told Miami reporters. “He thought his team was tougher than mine, and I thought mine was tougher than his. But one thing I always did was I respected him.
“I recognized him being an outstanding football coach and his teams played hard,” Ryan added. “You could tell he was passionate about the game. That was why it was easy for me when we had a job open. That’s the first guy I went to.”
Now the one-time rivals will together try to beat Sparano’s old team in a critical early-season showdown. All four AFC East teams are tied in the standings at 1-1, and the Jets have a particularly bumpy road the next few weeks.
They play San Francisco and Houston – arguably the two best teams in football – in consecutive weeks after visiting Miami, compelling corner Darrelle Revis to tell ESPN.com that Sunday’s game is “a must-win.”
Some believe Sparano’s familiarity with the Dolphins’ personnel will be the deciding factor. Trouble is, there’s little evidence to prove that one way or the other.
The only recent example of a deposed head coach facing his old team the following year is Josh McDaniels, formerly of the Broncos. (Raheem Morris, the ex-Buccaneers top man and now the Redskins’ defensive backs coach, will face his former employer next Sunday.)
McDaniels was an offensive assistant for the Patriots for the 2012 playoffs, and helped New England score 45 points on Denver in the divisional round. How much of that was on McDaniels, and how much of that was on Tom Brady, is debatable.
Sparano, for one, said Thursday he possesses no great insight his old team.
“I don’t make any tackles or block anybody or do any of those things,” he added. “I don’t think it hurts, I don’t think it helps.
“Sometimes that stuff can be overrated to a degree.”
What cannot be overstated, however, is just how strange it’ll feel for Sparano when he reports to Sun Life Stadium on Sunday.
“I couldn’t tell you where the visitors’ locker room is,” he added. “But once the ball drops, we’re there to do a job. That’s the most important thing right now.”
Sounds familiar, no?