|'84 B.S., Criminal Justice|
|Tony Sparano was born in New Haven to working parents. His mother was a school crossing guard, his father drove a truck. Although they never had an abundance of money, he and his two sisters never wanted for anything. They particularly got plenty of doses of an important childhood nutrient: Character.
Character became a connecting thread throughout Tony’s life. He majored in Criminal Justice at the University of New Haven, played on the football team, and worked the late shift at a local convenience store. But what his friends remember most are the cookies he consistently brought home after his convenience store shift to set out on the table with glasses of milk. “Imagine a table full of big football players at 3 a.m. having a plate of milk and cookies,” says college roommate Lindy Jones. “He was always more of a father than a schoolmate.”
Tony planned to become a police officer, but given an opportunity to become UNH’s offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator, he took it. He established a reputation for listening to his players and for encouraging good behavior, an attribute that has remained with him. “I talk to my players a lot about being a good person outside the building,” he said.
He married his high school sweetheart, Jeanette, coached at UNH and Boston University, and subsequently became head coach at UNH, taking two teams to the NCAA Division II playoffs, including one to the finals. But when Tony was given an opportunity to gain a foothold in the National Football League with the Cleveland Browns, he left college football.
Tony started as an offensive quality control coach – the lowest position in the league - and was quickly promoted to offensive line coach. “It got me really excited about the business and the profession I had chosen,” he said.
But Tony and the other Browns’ coaches were fired after two years. He went to the Washington Redskins. One year later, the head coach, Marty Shottenheimer, and the rest of the coaching staff were fired. He went to the Jacksonville Jaguars to work with head coach Tom Coughlin. One year later, Coughlin and the coaching staff were fired.
“I learned it really was a business,” Tony said.
A lesser man would have given up. But the football network stepped in. “Tom Coughlin called Bill Parcells on my behalf,” Tony remembered. “Bill at the time had gotten the Dallas Cowboys job, and asked me to interview with him for the tight end job, and offered me the job that day.”
Getting to work for Parcells was a highlight for Tony, who moved up quickly in the Cowboys organization. Parcells eventually went to work for the Dolphins, Tony became the Cowboys’ assistant head coach, and the phone calls began. The Baltimore Ravens, the Atlanta Falcons, and the Miami Dolphins all were interested in him. He accepted the head coaching job in Miami this past January.
Yet the events he considers life-changing have nothing to do with football, and everything to do with life. “Having my children was pivotal for me,” he said. “Prior to doing that, I let football consume my life. Now, with my family – my wife Jeanette, and my sons Tony, 21, Andrew, 19, and daughter Ryan, 16 - I’ve been able to enjoy my relationship with football and love what I do passionately, but to understand that it’s a small part of my life right now, although on a very big stage. Football doesn’t go on for people forever. Family does.”