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News » Dolphins' Tony Sparano Coach of the Year?: Dolphins first-year coach Tony Sparano, who took over a 1-15 team, is one of five hea

Dolphins' Tony Sparano Coach of the Year?: Dolphins first-year coach Tony Sparano, who took over a 1-15 team, is one of five hea

Dolphins' Tony Sparano Coach of the Year?: Dolphins first-year coach Tony Sparano, who took over a 1-15 team, is one of five hea
Dec. 14--When Tony Sparano was introduced as the Dolphins' eighth coach in January, he was virtually unknown to even the most ardent Football fans other than having a name similar to the TV mafia boss on the HBO series.

Nearly a year has passed and Sparano is two wins from supervising the greatest turnaround in NFL history in taking the 1-15 Dolphins to 8-5 and into a three-way tie atop the AFC East. And his name is now firmly in the conversation for NFL Coach of the Year.

The only Dolphins coach to capture this honor was Don Shula for his 1972 Perfect Season.

Unfortunately for Sparano, his competition is deeper than Saturday's Heisman Trophy group. He wouldn't even be a lock if the award was for Rookie Coach of the Year because of the excellent jobs being done by John Harbaugh in Baltimore, Mike Smith in Atlanta, Jim Zorn in Washington and even interim coach Mike Singletary with the 49ers.

The last rookie coach to win was the Saints' Sean Payton in 2006.

Tony Sparano

Dolphins' record: 8-5

Adversity: Took over a 1-15 team and a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs since 2001.

Notable: Has the Dolphins tied for the AFC East lead and on pace for the fewest turnovers in NFL history. He wasn't afraid to set a trend with the Wildcat offense. He has put unheralded players such as Patrick Cobbs, Dan Carpenter, Greg Camarillo and Lousaka Polite in the best positions to succeed.

Quotable: " Jeff Fisher has done a phenomenal job, but [Tennessee] was still an AFC wild-card team last year, and he deals primarily with defense. Sparano took over a 1-15 team and if they go to the playoffs, it would be the most remarkable turnaround in NFL history." -- Matt Sohn, associate editor of Pro Football Weekly.

Mike Smith

Falcons' record: 8-5

Adversity: The Falcons were 4-12 last year. Their star quarterback, Michael Vick, went to jail for promoting dogfighting, and rookie coach Bobby Petrino left to coach Arkansas.

Notable: In a tough NFC South, Smith took over the 23rd-ranked offense, installed rookie quarterback Matt Ryan and, now, with the help of offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, directs the fifth-ranked offense. The Falcons are 5-1 at home.

Quotable: "It's Mike Smith. He took over the biggest mess you could possibly take over. They had a coach who ran away and the quarterback issue. He started winning right away with a rookie quarterback. Sparano's in there, but he's got Parcell's fingerprints all over him, so that will keep him from getting it." -- ESPN NFL analyst Hank Goldberg.

Tom Coughlin

Giants' record: 11-2

Adversity: Coughlin won't win many popularity contests, but he keeps winning games despite losing Pro Bowl players such as Jeremy Shockey, Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora. Now he's trying to drown out the distractions surrounding suspended receiver Plaxico Burress.

Notable: Despite a tough schedule, especially in the NFC East, the Giants continue to pound opponents with blossoming quarterback Eli Manning, a league-leading rushing attack and sixth-ranked defense.

Quotable: "If I can't vote for Tony, I'd go with Coughlin. I saw the progress he made as head coach. He loses two Pro Bowl guys and keeps going. He forms a player's committee and he listens. You could go to him. He may not agree, but he listens." -- Dolphins linebacker Reggie Torbor, who played for Coughlin and the Giants the past three seasons.

John Harbaugh

Ravens' record: 9-4

Adversity: Took over a 5-11 strife-torn team, inserted a rookie quarterback in Joe Flacco and now the first-year coach guides a balanced team in the thick of the AFC playoff race. He has overcome several key injuries to offensive linemen and running backs but still has the league's fifth-ranked rushing attack.

Notable: Harbaugh slowly has guided Flacco by focusing on the running attack and second-ranked defense, but has since taken the handcuffs off. The result is a more confident Flacco as he has thrown 10 of his 13 TD passes in the past six games. The normally defensive-minded Ravens have won seven of eight games and have averaged 32.5 points in those victories.

Quotable: "Like [Mike] Smith, Harbaugh assembled an outstanding coaching staff and helped dissolve the derision that had built up between Baltimore's offensive and defensive players." -- Foxsports.com columnist and president of the Pro Football Writer's Association Alex Marvez.

Jeff Fisher

Titans' record: 12-1

Adversity: Had to overcome the sad saga of troubled and over-hyped quarterback Vince Young. Fisher replaced him with 35-year-old journeyman Kerry Collins, who hadn't started since 2005 with the Raiders when he threw 12 interceptions and fumbled four times.

Notable: The defensive-oriented Fisher has harnessed Collins, who threw 48 interceptions from 2003-05 into an efficient game manager. Collins has just six interceptions to go with 11 touchdown passes. Fisher's punishing third-ranked rushing attack features rookie running back Chris Johnson and LenDale White, who have combined for 1,768 yards and 22 TDs.

Quotable: "If it was between rookie coaches, my finalists would be between Mike Smith and Tony Sparano for changing the cultures of their franchise in one season. But it's got to be Jeff Fisher. It's been a long time in waiting. He's a quiet leader, and he's all about no game playing." -- Lesley Visser, Pro Football Hall of Fame broadcaster/writer.

To see more of the Sun Sentinel or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.sun-sentinel.com/. Copyright (c) 2008, Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email tmsreprints@permissionsgroup.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 14, 2008

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Derrick Martin Name: Derrick Martin
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