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Sparano Given More Responsibility

(Editor's Note: Since Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells has hired three new assistant coaches and upgraded the responsibilities of four others, will take a look at their duties in a seven-part series. Today's focus will be on assistant head coach Tony Sparano.)

IRVING, Texas - About a week before the final Cowboys mini-camp began, a moving van pulled up next door to Tony Sparano's house.

Understand, Sparano has been a football coach the past 22 years. Of those, 15 were spent in college and the past seven in the NFL, including the past three with the Dallas Cowboys. He is used to moving around. His family, wife Jeanette and three kids, is used to moving around.

In fact, for a three year stretch there, from 2000-2002, the staffs Sparano was on, Cleveland, Washington and Jacksonville, were all fired, counting head coaches Chris Palmer, Marty Schottenheimer and Tom Coughlin.

"My kids just start wondering when's the next time," Sparano says.

So excuse the missus if she got a tad paranoid that day in late May when looking outside she saw a moving van perilously close to her latest house, and factor in she hadn't talked to her husband all day. Bad karma.

Moving vans to coaches' families must be akin to kryptonite to Superman.

"She instantly thought, 'Oh no, we're moving again,'" Sparano said.

Even Tony cracked a smile, and he isn't much into smiling. He's pretty serious about what he does, and guessing he always has been, whether he's been an assistant at New Haven or Boston University, or whether he's been the head coach at New Haven or an assistant for the Dallas Cowboys.

That nomadic life is why Sparano, who spent his first two years in Dallas coaching tight ends and the last in charge of the offensive line, must have felt mighty good this off-season. He was a wanted man.


! Name: Tony Sparano
Age: 44
Assistant head coach/running game coordinator/offensive line coach

Coaching Experience: 22 years
NFL Experience: 7 years
Coaching Highlights:
Jacksonville tight ends coach (2002); Washington tight ends coach (2001); Cleveland offensive line coach (2000); New Haven head coach (1994-98); Boston University offensive coordinator (1989-93).

Still under contract with the Cowboys, former assistant head coach Sean Payton asked for permission to talk with Sparano once he became the New Orleans Saints head coach. Payton wanted to hire Sparano as his offensive coordinator after the former Cowboys passing game coordinator worked closely this past year with the one-time New Haven center who was the Cowboys' running game coordinator.

Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells said, nothing doing. Keep your mitts off my guy.

But you got to figure Sparano was devastated. Here was his chance to be an NFL offensive coordinator, yet he was being denied permission to even talk, relegating him to his offensive line and running game-coordinator duties with the Cowboys. Plus, who knows how long Parcells will hang around.

Hence the genesis of the next Cowboys assistant head coach, which he was promoted to once Parcells repaired his staff following the losses of Payton and linebackers coach Gary Gibbs.

Even Parcells admitted, "We had a little domestic misunderstanding here during the off-season. You know, these young coaches think the way to get ahead is get a title and get someone to recognize it - I'm being serious, because it's a frame of the way they have grown up. So titles have become a lot more important in the NFL from an assistant coaches' point of view than in actuality they really are in my opinion.

"And in Tony's case, Payton is trying to get him down there to be the offensive coordinator, but who do you think is going to be calling the plays in New Orleans? He was doing that to try (to) get him, so I was trying to accommodate people."

Evidently, he did.

"It meant a lot to me that Coach Parcells wanted me here; Jerry Jones wanted me here," Sparano said. "I still do want to be an offensive coordinator. It was a great feeling that Sean wanted to give me that opportunity.

"But I just know that one time in my career, I lost three jobs in three years."

So Sparano returns with the daunting task of repairing and improving the Cowboys' offensive line play. He realizes how much the injury to Flozell Adams crippled his group's effort last year. The Cowboys just didn't have a legitimate replacement for their Pro Bowl left tackle.

Adams returns, so that helps, plus the Cowboys have added veteran tackle Jason Fabini, so that should help.

But he's also minus Pro Bowler and future Hall of Famer Larry Allen, released this off-season. No one really is sure if that helps.

And since Sparano also is the running game coordinator, his line will be intimately involved in the success of that part of his responsibility, one which needs to end the drought of having no 1,000-yard rusher the past four seasons - the longest streak since Calvin Hill became the franchise's first 1,000-yard rusher in 1972.

As for the assistant head coach duties, "It only changes in the staff room and meeting room, where I'll be getting more responsibility," Sparano said.

But as for being next in charge, "I hope it never comes into play," he says, you know, making reference to the vice president having to take over for the president for whatever reason.

For Sparano, this will be his fourth season with the Cowboys, matching his third-longest coaching tenure during his 22-year career. Five is second. He might make it.

So yes, for a man with an aversion to moving vans, it's certainly nice to be wanted.

Next: A look at safeties coach Mike MacIntyre.)

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