Tony Sparano won’t get much time. His title, after all, includes the word “interim.”
Even before the Raiders held a news conference Tuesday afternoon to introduce Sparano as the successor to fired head coach Dennis Allen, names such as Jon Gruden and Jim Harbaugh were being mentioned in the media and on social media as possible successors to the successor in 2015.
But now that Sparano begins his time at the top – he’ll coach his first game Oct. 12 vs. the Chargers at O.co Coliseum – he’ll get 12 weeks to show if he can work miracles.
This team has lost its last 10 games and has started out 0-4, with two of those losses blowouts.
Sparano has been around the block a few times. At 52, he’s been an NFL coach since 1999.
But what kind of a head coach will he be with the Raiders?
Based on his four seasons as head coach of the Miami Dolphins, from 2008 until late in the 2011 season when he was fired, the players will like him and play hard for him. But his teams won't be dynamic.
He took over a Dolphins team that went 1-15 in 2007 and took them to 11-5 and the AFC East title in 2008. But then he had back-to-back seasons of 7-9 and was fired with a 4-9 mark at the tail end of the 2011 season. Overall, his teams were 29-32 in Miami.
His offenses in Miami were run-oriented. In 2009 and 2011 the Dolphins ranked among the top six rushing teams in the league in attempts. In 2009, Miami also led the NFL in rushing TDs and was fourth in rushing yards. But the passing game during his tenure consistently was disappointing. The same pattern occurred as offensive coordinator of the New York Jets in 2012, when his rushing offense ranked 12th in the NFL in yards and 30th in passing.
When Sparano was fired in Miami, news reports pointed to a number of failures, including a dismal home record – the Dolphins lost 12 of 13 home games in one stretch – and declining attendance.
“Sparano’s teams tended to be dull, too,” one report noted. “Last year Miami ranked third-worst in the NFL in scoring, and this year their offense often sputtered.”
Yet Sparano is known as an excellent teacher and offensive line coach, his specialty. After his first season in Miami, he was runner-up in the AP Coach of the Year balloting.
After Sparano’s first season in Miami, when the Dolphins became the first team ever to go from a one-win season to the playoffs, longtime defensive end Vonnie Holliday was effusive in his praise of Sparano.
“Sparano and his coaching staff are a great group of coaches that know football,” he said. “Even me, being an 11-year veteran, learned a lot about football this year. No one expected us to be here. I don’t even think the guys in this locker room expected to be here until things got going and everybody bought in.”
Now the question is, can the Raiders – with a mix of older veterans and rookies – buy in to what Sparano will be selling? Can he get them pumped up to play with more life than they showed under Allen?
When asked Tuesday what the Raiders’ biggest problem is, Sparano said players had forgotten “how to win.”
“They have to get that taste back,” he said.
If he can work miracles, he may last longer than 12 weeks. But that doesn't seem likely.