By Sam McPherson
His record with the Oakland Raiders this season is only 2-7, but Interim Head Coach Tony Sparano has earned himself a chance to lead the Silver & Black into 2015 based on the recent results on the field of play.
The latest proof? Sparano out-prepared and out-coached Jim Harbaugh last Sunday as the Raiders beat the San Francisco 49ers, 24-13 , at the Coliseum. Explain again why the Oakland organization would want to hire a coach that can't even beat the current coach already in place—especially considering the roster talent levels available to each coaching staff.
Yes, Sparano lost his first six games with the Raiders after taking over from the fired Dennis Allen, but the team has clearly turned a corner. With wins in two of the last three weeks, Oakland is no longer looking like an automatic win for most teams. Maybe the Silver & Black won't win out, but the team is fighting hard and playing better as the season winds down.
With the wins over Kansas City and San Francisco—teams that were still in serious playoff contention at the time—the Raiders are showing that on any given Sunday, even their talent-bereft roster can compete in the NFL. And that is entirely on the coaching staff, as Oakland's lineup has been ravaged by injuries this year, especially on defense.
And what about Sparano? This is his second stint as an NFL coach: He led the Miami Dolphins for almost four seasons, from 2008-11. That first season, his team took the AFC East by storm, winning 11 games and the division title. The Dolphins had gone 1-15 the year before, and that 10-win improvement is one of the best in NFL history.
Admittedly, Miami slid a little bit the next two seasons, finishing 7-9 both years. Keep in mind, though, that Sparano's QB in those two seasons was the forgettable Chad Henne. The former Michigan quarterback started 27 games in 2009 and 2010, posting a 13-14 record in those contests. Seeing as how Henne started the first three games for the Jacksonville Jaguars this year before being benched in favor of Blake Bortles, obviously he wasn't the answer at the position for the Dolphins.
(Incidentally, Matt Moore started 12 games in 2011 for Miami, and Sparano was fired after the team's 4-9 start.)
That may be all you need to know about why Sparano didn't succeed in Miami. And sometimes, coaches learn enough from their first experience to succeed the second time around in a different situation. This is not to suggest Sparano will take the Raiders to the postseason in 2015, but he's going to be better this time around—that experience does matter.
Oh, and Derek Carr already is proving he is better than Henne or Moore ever could have been as an NFL quarterback. That alone gives Sparano a chance to succeed in Oakland long-term.
Maybe the Raiders will go ahead and try for a splashy hire in 2015, but they'd be wise to at least give Sparano the chance to interview and demonstrate he is the man for the job. He's done a good job in the last few weeks with a depleted roster; it would be fun to see what he could do next season with a retooled—and significantly more talented—team.
For more Raiders news and updates, visit Raiders Central.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A's. His work can be found on a Examiner.com.
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