Sparano’s embrace of the Wildcat became his signature coaching move

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The 2007 Patriots went 16-0. The 2007 Dolphins went 1-15. The 2008 Dolphins, led by first-year head coach Tony Sparano, seemed to be destined to finish far closer to 1-15 than 16-0, even after quarterback Chad Pennington landed in their laps after Brett Favre forced a trade out of Green Bay, he became persuaded to accept a deal with the Jets, and the Jets unceremoniously dumped Pennington.

Of course, that’s not how it played out. The Dolphins finished 11-5, winning the AFC East. Since 2003, it’s the only time the Patriots haven’t won the division.

Yes, the Patriots lost quarterback Tom Brady in Week One to a torn ACL But the Patriots were still 11-5. And they could have been 12-4, but for a fateful early-season Sunday in Foxboro. That’s the day Sparano, in a fit of desperation, unleashed the Wildcat on Bill Belichick and company.

That was such a great example of what a human game football is,” Pennington told Peter King of NBC’s Football Morning in America. “You had a bunch of guys on that team everyone gave up on, feeling rejected. Maybe the head coach had a litte of that in him too. Then we went out and played, and it was a perfect storm of synergy, imagination and work ethic.”

The Dolphins had started 0-2, and they were staring Loss No. 3 in the face, with a trip to New England on the docket.

“We couldn’t make six inches in the running game,” Pennington told King. “Tony got up in front of the staff and said, ‘Hey, bring me your ideas — whatever you got.'”

Quarterbacks coach David Lee suggested the Wildcat, a not-new football wrinkle that he’d used at Arkansas. Sparano liked it, running back Ronnie Brown (pictured) volunteered to run it, and four rushing touchdowns and one passing touchdown later, the Dolphins won, 38-13.

“I played football for a while and that’s the first and only time I saw a New England Patriots team have no answers on defense,” Pennington told King.

For Sparano’s impressive work that year, he didn’t win the coach of the year award. First-year Falcons coach Mike Smith, who led the team from the dregs of the Mike Vick dogfighting scandal and the Bobby Petrino abrupt in-season exit the year before, secured the award for securing a wild-card berth with the same 11-5 record. But maybe in hindsight it should have been Sparano, given that he’s the only coach in the last 15 years to disrupt Bill Belichick’s dominance of the AFC East.

19 responses to “Sparano’s embrace of the Wildcat became his signature coaching move

  1. Just goes to show you that unqualified coaches are just that; unqualified. A gimmick is a gimmick. Even this RPO crap will fade off soon. It’s not sustainable at the NFL level.

    If NE had done that to a team, they’d be called cheaters, a new rule would be implemented immediately, and all hell would have broken loose. But, since Miami debuted the Wildcat at the NFL level to NE, everyone rejoiced.

    Absolutely comical hypocrisy by loser Pats Haters.

  2. Tony seemed like good people and his passing was unfortunate. The wildcat season was great it was a nice distraction from the financial troubles of the time.

  3. tylawspick6
    Jul 23, 2018, 9:12 AM EDT

    Just goes to show you that unqualified coaches are just that; unqualified. A gimmick is a gimmick. Even this RPO crap will fade off soon. It’s not sustainable at the NFL level.

    If NE had done that to a team, they’d be called cheaters, a new rule would be implemented immediately, and all hell would have broken loose. But, since Miami debuted the Wildcat at the NFL level to NE, everyone rejoiced.

    Absolutely comical hypocrisy by loser Pats Haters.

    Jesus buddy can you take the tin foil hat off just once. It’s comments like this that make all of us Patriots fans look like idiots. Like the article stated, the Wildcat was not something new but the fact that Miami executed it so well is what was impressive to me. During this Patriots run there have only been a couple of games where the Patriots were blown out and this is probably the most memorable. This and the Monday night game in KC a few years ago. For once can’t you just give the other team credit and stop with all the conspiracy theories. Just man up and give the Dolphins credit for out coaching Belichick. The Patriots have done this to other teams time and time again so here’s no problem with acknowledging and the rare times it happens to us

  4. boyso3 says:
    July 23, 2018 at 9:28 am
    tylawspick6
    Jul 23, 2018, 9:12 AM EDT

    Just goes to show you that unqualified coaches are just that; unqualified. A gimmick is a gimmick. Even this RPO crap will fade off soon. It’s not sustainable at the NFL level.

    If NE had done that to a team, they’d be called cheaters, a new rule would be implemented immediately, and all hell would have broken loose. But, since Miami debuted the Wildcat at the NFL level to NE, everyone rejoiced.

    Absolutely comical hypocrisy by loser Pats Haters.

    Jesus buddy can you take the tin foil hat off just once. It’s comments like this that make all of us Patriots fans look like idiots. Like the article stated, the Wildcat was not something new but the fact that Miami executed it so well is what was impressive to me. During this Patriots run there have only been a couple of games where the Patriots were blown out and this is probably the most memorable. This and the Monday night game in KC a few years ago. For once can’t you just give the other team credit and stop with all the conspiracy theories. Just man up and give the Dolphins credit for out coaching Belichick. The Patriots have done this to other teams time and time again so here’s no problem with acknowledging and the rare times it happens to us

    ———————-

    Where did I say it was a conspiracy that a coach debuted the Wildcat in the NFL with no one ever seeing it before? I tipped my cap then as I do now, but it’s still a gimmick. The NCAA level saw some Wildcat, amongst other things that work, but as you can see the Tebow Wildcat expired very, very quickly because it’s a gimmick. Gimmicks don’t last.

    Get some reading comprehension. There is nothing I said above that is me point to a “conspiracy”.

    If you’re referring to me saying rules would be changed if NE did that, how on god’s green earth would you dispute that aftet the last 10 years of Goodell’s antics.

    We now have new rules with regards to formations and substitutions because Johhny WHinebaugh sits on the Competition Committee like Polian used to, in order to use that position to try to help his dumb team. This is a fact. Ti’s not a mirage nor is it a “conspiracy”.

    You kids of today are so under-read in our society. It’s Pats fan kiddies like you that give us more knowledgeable fans, who grew up with Rozelle and Tagliabue, a very bad name.

    Giving in to Goodell’s antics is not a solution to help the league.

  5. The Wildcat was really effective just the first time they used it against the Pats. From that point forward every team was prepared for the Fins to use it and it never had the same results.

    Kudos to Sparano for coming up with an innovative way to beat the Pats though. New England was totally unprepared for it and it was a great tactic for that game.

  6. tylawspick6 says:
    July 23, 2018 at 9:50 am
    boyso3 says:
    July 23, 2018 at 9:28 am
    tylawspick6
    Jul 23, 2018, 9:12 AM EDT

    Just goes to show you that unqualified coaches are just that; unqualified. A gimmick is a gimmick. Even this RPO crap will fade off soon. It’s not sustainable at the NFL level.

    If NE had done that to a team, they’d be called cheaters, a new rule would be implemented immediately, and all hell would have broken loose. But, since Miami debuted the Wildcat at the NFL level to NE, everyone rejoiced.

    Absolutely comical hypocrisy by loser Pats Haters.

    Jesus buddy can you take the tin foil hat off just once. It’s comments like this that make all of us Patriots fans look like idiots. Like the article stated, the Wildcat was not something new but the fact that Miami executed it so well is what was impressive to me. During this Patriots run there have only been a couple of games where the Patriots were blown out and this is probably the most memorable. This and the Monday night game in KC a few years ago. For once can’t you just give the other team credit and stop with all the conspiracy theories. Just man up and give the Dolphins credit for out coaching Belichick. The Patriots have done this to other teams time and time again so here’s no problem with acknowledging and the rare times it happens to us

    ———————-

    Where did I say it was a conspiracy that a coach debuted the Wildcat in the NFL with no one ever seeing it before? I tipped my cap then as I do now, but it’s still a gimmick. The NCAA level saw some Wildcat, amongst other things that work, but as you can see the Tebow Wildcat expired very, very quickly because it’s a gimmick. Gimmicks don’t last.

    Get some reading comprehension. There is nothing I said above that is me point to a “conspiracy”.

    If you’re referring to me saying rules would be changed if NE did that, how on god’s green earth would you dispute that aftet the last 10 years of Goodell’s antics.

    We now have new rules with regards to formations and substitutions because Johhny WHinebaugh sits on the Competition Committee like Polian used to, in order to use that position to try to help his dumb team. This is a fact. Ti’s not a mirage nor is it a “conspiracy”.

    You kids of today are so under-read in our society. It’s Pats fan kiddies like you that give us more knowledgeable fans, who grew up with Rozelle and Tagliabue, a very bad name.

    Giving in to Goodell’s antics is not a solution to help the league.

    ————–

    A guy is dead and you are continuing to whine about Goodell…. Get a grip man

  7. 2007 was easily the worst year for us Dolphin fans. Having the Pats destroy the field while we played some of the worst games I’ve seen was difficult. The London mud bowl followed by the Pittsburgh mud bowl, where a punt literally stuck in the ground instead of bouncing, sum up that season pretty well. But Tony and Chad gave us a season to remember the following year. Tony was always fired up and you could feel his energy. Thank you for the payoff run in 2008, we haven’t had a lot of them.

  8. boyso3 says:
    July 23, 2018 at 9:28 am
    tylawspick6
    Jul 23, 2018, 9:12 AM EDT

    Just goes to show you that unqualified coaches are just that; unqualified. A gimmick is a gimmick. Even this RPO crap will fade off soon. It’s not sustainable at the NFL level.

    If NE had done that to a team, they’d be called cheaters, a new rule would be implemented immediately, and all hell would have broken loose. But, since Miami debuted the Wildcat at the NFL level to NE, everyone rejoiced.

    Absolutely comical hypocrisy by loser Pats Haters.

    Jesus buddy can you take the tin foil hat off just once. It’s comments like this that make all of us Patriots fans look like idiots. Like the article stated, the Wildcat was not something new but the fact that Miami executed it so well is what was impressive to me. During this Patriots run there have only been a couple of games where the Patriots were blown out and this is probably the most memorable. This and the Monday night game in KC a few years ago. For once can’t you just give the other team credit and stop with all the conspiracy theories. Just man up and give the Dolphins credit for out coaching Belichick. The Patriots have done this to other teams time and time again so here’s no problem with acknowledging and the rare times it happens to us

    I must add that I thought Sparano should have gotten COY, as well. He brings back a team from 1-15 to the playoffs as well as a Division Title. I get why Mike Smith got it, but I think Sparano was a better choice.

  9. A wonderful kudos to Sparano in this post. Thanks! That 38-13 game totally revived my Dolphins fan-ship after basically giving up on them in 2006 when they wouldn’t sign Drew Brees and signed Culpepper instead, on top of Nick Saban’s betrayal. But in hindsight that 1-15 season just so happened to cause the changes badly needed for 2008: one, being first on the list assured they’d get Pennington (when the Jets signed Favre I KNEW Miami would do this!); two, firing a HC that never should have been one and getting Parcells and then Sparano (Parcells of course would later screw the team in more ways than one); three, had they drafted Matt Ryan they would not have gotten Pennington (Ryan’s a better QB, but the Fins needed a proven leader like Pennington at the time), so it’s a good thing they drafted Jake Long–for four years, he was a top left tackle before his injuries; four, Sparano knew that for the team to pull together they had to beat the Pats. Yes, the wildcat did kind of implode after that, but who cares? It beat the unbeatable Pats, right?

  10. TruthfulDolphinsFanNotWearingBlinders says:
    July 23, 2018 at 10:02 am
    I’ll never forget that wildcat day, being in the stadium and watching the Patriots fans running for the exits in the 3rd quarter, i couldn’t believe it!
    That David Tyree catch was probably still on their minds as well…lol

    ———————-

    That’s just sad. Brady was injured, the Pats were transitioning away from the older team they had, and this was your highlight.

    Again, simply sad.

    lmao

    Hey! Do you think they’ll be blackouts in Miami again, where you can’t even see the games in-market like back in the day?

  11. So basically what your saying is an unqualified coach beat your Pats and Belichick that day
    – rather handily at that – with a gimmick

    Simply put – the franchise NE has put together over the last 2 decades has been stellar.
    Year in and year out.
    One upstart team put their heads together and came up with a plan to get the ball in their
    best players hands more often
    And on one Sunday in 2008, it worked.
    Against their nemesis.
    Against one of the best teams in the league.

    But you’re more worried about making sure the man who in charge is still remembered
    as ‘Unqualified” while the body is still warm – keep it classy……smh

    Sparano was a likable guy, by players and coaches.
    He wasn’t the perfect coach for Miami, but he was the right coach for the franchise at the time.
    He provided stability & hope for fans and the players fought hard for him.
    You can look around and see how he still kept in touch with a lot of his former players – even years later.
    God speed Coach Sunglasses. #Co-COY2008

  12. Tony Sparano coached an 11-5 team. That can’t be argued. Was he a great head coach? No. But he was a great man. Even though the FG celebration was difficult to endure, you could never hate the guy.

    A sad ending for a truly quality individual…

  13. I remember watching that game, and I remember thinking there might be a new sheriff in the AFCE and that this was the start of the end for the Patriot’s dynasty. Man, was I wrong.

  14. That was a fun game. Love going on the tube and reliving it. Might go watch it now for pick me up. That’s all us Dolphins have left. RIP Tony Sparano. Class act

  15. “I played football for a while and that’s the first and only time I saw a New England Patriots team have no answers on defense,”

    I guess he didn’t watch the Super Bowl. The West Coast offense and the Eagles are ancient enemies of Belichick and his defense and that was the worst his defense has ever done in any game EVER. The West Coast offense has won the long war in dramatic fashion and Peak Belichick is in the past. Good night.

  16. mcnabbster says:
    July 23, 2018 at 2:47 pm
    “I played football for a while and that’s the first and only time I saw a New England Patriots team have no answers on defense,”

    I guess he didn’t watch the Super Bowl. The West Coast offense and the Eagles are ancient enemies of Belichick and his defense and that was the worst his defense has ever done in any game EVER. The West Coast offense has won the long war in dramatic fashion and Peak Belichick is in the past. Good night.
    =================
    The game was 10 years before last years Super Bowl, so you guess right, in 2008 he had not seen the 2018 Super Bowl. Neither did anyone else without a delorean and 1.21 gigawatts

  17. tylawspick6 says:
    July 23, 2018 at 11:28 am
    TruthfulDolphinsFanNotWearingBlinders says:
    July 23, 2018 at 10:02 am
    I’ll never forget that wildcat day, being in the stadium and watching the Patriots fans running for the exits in the 3rd quarter, i couldn’t believe it!
    That David Tyree catch was probably still on their minds as well…lol

    ———————-

    That’s just sad. Brady was injured, the Pats were transitioning away from the older team they had, and this was your highlight.

    Again, simply sad.

    lmao

    Hey! Do you think they’ll be blackouts in Miami again, where you can’t even see the games in-market like back in the day?

    —————-

    What’s sad is that a good man unfortunately passed away, and all your pea-sized brain can do is belittle people who are trying to honor him by remembering one of the highlights of his career.

    Stay classy.

  18. Why_Allow_Comments_If_Most_Get_Censored???

    The quote from Pennington is not from 10 years ago. It’s a recent quote about events 10 years ago. You need to learn reading comprehension.

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