The Oakland Raiders have not made any announcements about the future of head coach Dennis Allen or any of his assistant coaches. The only thing Raiders fans seem to know for sure is that general manager Reggie McKenzie will be returning for a third year. But as usual, the lack of concrete information from the Raiders has not stopped rumors about what is going on at the Raiders headquarters in Alameda California.
Last week, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported that the Raiders were looking at giving their assistant coaching staff one year extensions. In the NFL, extensions are typically two years or longer in length and a one year contract is very out of the norm. Given that fact, according to Mike Silver of NFL.com, one of the Raiders key assistants, offensive line coach Tony Sparano may be looking to jump the Raiders ship in order to board another ship.
According to Silver, Sparano is considering joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their new head coach, Lovie Smith. Tampa Bay would be attractive not only because of a longer contract, but also because Smith has hit the ground running, showing he is more than ready to get back into the NFL and show he can still win a Super Bowl. Working with Smith, a veteran head coach who has been to the Super Bowl, could be an attractive alternative to working for a third year head coach in a franchise that needs a lot of work.
But while it is understandable why Sparano might want to bolt from Oakland, it is not very understandable why Oakland would allow him to. Sparano is easily one of the best coaches on the Raiders staff. He has been around the league for years and is known as one of the better offensive line coaches in the game. He has experience as a head coach with the Miami Dolphins and is credited with bringing the wildcat play to the NFL.
If he were to bolt for Tampa Bay, I am sure Lovie Smith and staff would welcome him with open arms.
The Raiders rae trying to build something in Oakland and despite back to back 4-12 seasons, it appears Mark Davis will be bringing Dennis Allen back in 2014. Doing so in the interest of continuity then allowing one of his best assistant coaches leave just does not make a whole lot of sense.
The natural solution is to simply offer Sparano a two year contract. But it appears that is something Davis is not interested in and giving only one assistant a two year contract could cause problems in terms of moral on the coaching staff. The better idea is to go ahead and make a somewhat drastic move.
In order to hang onto what is a valuable piece to the coaching staff, the Raiders should fire offensive coordinator Greg Olson and give the job to Sparano. During his time in Miami, Sparano navigated one of the biggest single season turnarounds in NFL history, taking a 1-15 team and winning 11 games the next season en route to the first playoff berth in seven years for the Dolphins.
While he eventually failed to show he can be an NFL head coach, much of his success with the Dolphins came behind creative play calling on offense along with a strong running game.
After losing the Miami job, Sparano spent a year as the offensive coordinator of the New York Jets but was fired after one bad year with the team. The offense was pretty bad under Sparano, but it was also led by the butt fumbler himself, Mark Sanchez. Sparano was trying to come in and fix an offense that had become dysfunctional the previous season but was not given much of an opportunity.
The Jets offense was bad before Sparano and has continued to be bad after he left. So while it may not be an impressive entry on his resume, it would be foolish to think that his one season as the coordinator of a bad Jets offense means he cannot succeed as an OC. He was running an offense led by Sanchez and with an offensive locker room that had guys anonymously questioning their quarterback in the media. This is not exactly a great opportunity to succeed as an OC.
Sparano showed a lot of creativity in play calling during his time in Miami and has impressed as an offensive line coach wherever he has gone. Anyone who has paid attention to the play calling in Oakland knows that Sparano has already played a role in how the Raiders offense is run.
Greg Olson is a fairly bland play caller, focusing primarily on running the ball up the gut. The passing game improved later in the season, but even with that, the offense was simply not exciting. The thing is, every now and then the Raiders pulled out some creative play calls that put their guys in a good place to succeed. Many times, the creativity came from the wildcat formation that Sparano made famous. Those plays were so outside the wheel house of Olson’s normal play calling it has to make you wonder, was Sparano responsible for all of the creative plays the Raiders actually ran in 2013?
Either way, Olson has not impressed as a play caller and Davis appears to be intent on making some sort of statement about this coaching staff. His idea seems to be that he will only offer one year extensions to the staff. Instead, he should consider something more drastic. Fire Olson and promote Sparano to offensive coordinator. While Olson was an upgrade over Greg Knapp, he was not a very big one. Meanwhile, Sparano has done wonders with one of the worst offensive lines in the entire NFL.
If the Raiders are going to build a winning team, they need to build around the right guys. The Raiders lost one of the best offensive line coaches in the league when Tom Cable went to Seattle (where head coach Pete Carroll has said he is one of his most valued assistants), they cannot afford to lose Sparano right as they are on the cusp of turning things around. There may be questions from many in and around the Raiders about head coach Dennis Allen, but there shouldn’t be any about Sparano.