Tony Sparano never suited up and never made a block for the Raiders this past season, but he certainly made his presence known.
The longtime NFL coach was hired as the Raiders’ offensive line coach last offseason, and it was his job to coach up a group of linemen who had struggled the previous season in a zone blocking scheme.
Though the Raiders disappointed again, posting another 4-12 season, Sparano was credited with doing a good job, even against some incredible odds. Injuries took away standout left tackle Jared Veldheer and second-round rookie lineman Menelik Watson for most of the season. Guard Tony Bergstrom was lost early. Injuries plagued the group all season. And the line often consisted of a parade of castoff free agents that actually played better than expected.
Under Sparano, the Raiders’ offensive line became a much better run-blocking unit. In 2012, the Raiders ranked 28th in the NFL, with just 88.8 rushing yards per game. In 2013, Oakland ran for 125 yards per game, which was 12th in the league.
Not everything was pretty – the Raiders allowed 44 sacks – but some of that was other factors, including a revolving door at quarterback and the fact Oakland often trailed and was forced to pass most of the second half of many games.
Now, reports around the NFL are that Sparano, the Raiders’ assistant head coach and offensive line coach, will soon be leaving Oakland. Jason Cole of the National Football Post and Michael Silver of NFL.com have reported that Sparano, seeking more security, could be headed for Tampa Bay and a two-year contract to work under new Bucs head coach Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, the former head coach at Cal.
Apparently, the Raiders are offering just one-year contracts to assistant coaches, rather than two-year deals, which could leave the Oakland staff vulnerable to losing some of its key coaching lieutenants over the next few weeks. It’s believed this could be an important topic of discussion between head coach Dennis Allen and Raiders owner Mark Davis at their scheduled meeting Tuesday.
Losing Sparano, a longtime respected offensive line coach, would put a crimp in Allen’s hopes for continuity going forward. Though the Raiders line was no juggernaut, it played as well or better than could be expected in 2013, with players such as Tony Pashos, Khalif Barnes, Andre Gurode, Lamar Mady and Matt McCants moving to new positions or being plugged into vacancies.
“This has been the most moving pieces … that I’ve ever been around,” Sparano told Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com during the season. “With the amount of injuries and, at times, the way that they’ve happened, it’s been a challenge, but it’s not an excuse. There’s no excuse. From our end, we talk about two things – we make progress, not excuses, and that’s what we’re doing.”
It will be interesting to see if Sparano indeed does get hired away, or if Allen gets his way and is able to keep some of his coaches with two-year deals.