Cowboys assistant Sparano named new coach of Dolphins

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DAVIE, Fla. - Discussing his new job as Miami Dolphins coach, Tony Sparano sounded like Tony Soprano.

"I'm just happy to be part of the family," Sparano said.

The family includes his mentor, Bill Parcells, and general manager Jeff Ireland, who are transforming their new team into the Miami Cowboys.

Sparano is the latest transplant from Dallas. He was the Cowboys' assistant head coach before accepting an offer Wednesday to rejoin Parcells and Ireland.

The trio worked together in Dallas when Parcells was head coach in 2003-06.

"I know what the people here are capable of, and I'm excited about that," Sparano said at a news conference.

Parcells sat in a corner of the room, smiling occasionally like a proud papa. He declined to meet with reporters, leaving the talk to his proteges.

"When Bill and I discussed what we were looking for in a head coach, we talked about one of high character," Ireland said. "We wanted someone who understood how to develop young players, one who could instill a culture that's all about winning.

"We think we found that guy. We know we found that guy."

The hiring had been anticipated since Parcells fired Cam Cameron, who went 1-15 in his first year as an NFL head coach. Of the four candidates Miami interviewed, Sparano was the only one with ties to the new regime.

"I've coached for a lot of people and worked for a lot of great coaches," said Sparano, 46. "Coach Parcells has taught me the most and prepared me the most for this job."

Sparano said he's unconcerned that he might be working in the shadow of his boss.

"If at the end of the day that's the worst thing that happens to me, I'm OK," Sparano said. "I know Coach Parcells is here as a resource for me, and I'm going to use him as much as I can."

Their relationship dates to 2003, when Sparano became the Cowboys' tight ends coach. But he has long respected the work of Parcells, who won NFL titles with the New York Giants in the 1986 and 1990 seasons.

"I grew up a Giant fan," Sparano said. "My father to this day is a Giant fan, OK? I hope he's a Dolphin fan today, but we grew up that way."

The Dolphins can thank the Giants for expediting their hiring of a coach. Sparano became available when the Cowboys lost their playoff game to New York on Sunday.

"It does leave a bitter taste in my mouth," Sparano said. "Anybody who knows me knows I'm about finishing. We didn't finish. That left a bad taste in my mouth. ...

"Obviously it has been a real crazy week for me. But I'm glad it ends this way."

He flew in from Dallas on Tuesday evening and had dinner with a group that included Parcells, Ireland and owner Wayne Huizenga. Sparano arrived at the team complex Wednesday morning accompanied by Ireland. Huizenga soon joined them, and an hour later an agreement was reached.

"I'm prepared," Sparano said. "I'm confident in myself."

Ireland first interviewed Sparano in Dallas on Jan. 5. Others interviewed by the Dolphins were Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan and Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.

Sparano also was a candidate for head jobs with the Ravens and Atlanta Falcons, but he had been widely expected to join the Dolphins. The New Haven (Conn.) Register reported Jan. 5 that he was offered the job and would accept it after the Cowboys' season.

Sparano is a West Haven native, and his only head coaching experience was at the University of New Haven in 1994-98. His team was NCAA Division II runner-up in 1997.

The Dolphins have repeatedly tapped the Dallas pipeline since the arrival of Parcells, who last month became executive vice president of football operations. Former Cowboys assistant David Lee was hired as quarterbacks coach, and Brian Gaine was hired as assistant director of player personnel after three years as the Cowboys' assistant director of pro scouting.

Dallas went 13-4 this season, while the Dolphins are coming off the worst year in team history. They lost their first 13 games and missed the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year, extending a franchise record.

Miami needs an upgrade at almost every position, and few roster spots are secure. During his 25-minute news conference, Sparano didn't mention a single player by name.

"It's going to be a tough road," he said. "There are no promises. That's not what I do. I coach."

The office of the Dolphins' coach became a revolving door in 2004, when Dave Wannstedt quit after nine games and was replaced by Jim Bates. Nick Saban took over in 2005, but lasted only two years before leaving for Alabama.

Parcells' endorsement suggests Sparano might last awhile. The list of Parcells proteges who have become NFL coaches includes Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin, Sean Payton, Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini

"I'm here because I believe I can handle this job," Sparano said.

In truth, he's here because Parcells believes he can handle the job.