Plenty of athletes from Connecticut have made it to the professional ranks as either a player or coach, but there are plenty who go under the radar. Some of Connecticut’s most well-known sports figures include Jeff Bagwell, Dwight Freeney, Chris Drury, Joey Logano, and Kevin Gilbride. Gilbride’s claim to fame is being the New York Giants’ offensive coordinator for 2 Super Bowl-winning teams. He started at the college ranks as a coach and moved on to the NFL coaching 6 different teams.
But Gilbride isn’t the only football coach from Connecticut to make it to the NFL. The Oakland Raiders fired their head coach Dennis Allen last month, and West Haven’s Tony Sparano took his place as interim coach.
Tony Sparano started his football career as a 4-year letterman at center for the University of New Haven. Two years after graduating he returned to coach at his alma mater, serving as the offensive line coach for 4 years. From there he went on to Boston University as the offensive line coach for a year before being promoted to offensive coordinator, a position he’d have for 5 years. In 1994 UNH came calling again, this time asking for Sparano to be their head coach. In 1997 the UNH Chargers went 12-2 and led NCAA’s Division II in offense scoring 42.8 points per game and was second in defense only only 11.6 points per game. The Chargers made it to the Division II Championship but lost to Northern Colorado 51-0.
Sparano has worked with 7 different NFL teams since 1999 in different positions. His first NFL head coaching job came in 2008 for the Miami Dolphins. As the Dolphins’ coach, Sparano became the only coach in NFL history to lead a team that only won 1 game the previous season to the playoffs the next season and the second to complete a 10 game turnaround, all in the first season he coached the team! Unfortunately the luck didn’t last Miami fired him in 2011.
Last season Sparano was hired by the Oakland Raiders as the offensive line/assistant coach to help offensive coordinator Greg Olson and then head coach Dennis Allen top work on a block-scheme to favor Oakland’s star running back Darren McFadden. After a 0-4 start to the 2014 season, the Raiders decided to part ways with Allen and made Sparano the franchise’s 19th head coach (5th interim).
Things haven’t gotten better in the win column for Oakland since Sparano took over, losing to the San Diego Chargers and Arizona Cardinals, but the overall vibe in the locker room and sidelines is a positive one. Players like the excitement and positivity Sparano has brought. Let’s just hope he can do something for the Raiders that Dennis Allen hadn’t been able to do since November of last season; get a win for Oakland.
Sources; Wikipedia, Raiders.com, NFL.com, Rantsports.com | Photo; Facebook.com/Raiders