New Bills tight ends coach Tony Sparano Jr. will be the first to tell you how grateful he is to be the son of a successful NFL coach, but the last to ask for a free pass because of it. Sparano Jr., 28, spent the past three seasons in New York under Rex Ryan primarily as an offensive quality control coach. Once Ryan was hired in Buffalo, Sparano Jr. was brought along and received a promotion in the process.
Sparano Jr. is no stranger to the lifestyle challenges of a football coach. His father, Tony Sparano, coached in five different cities before Sparano Jr. left to play college football at the University of Albany. Sparano Jr.'s first-hand account of his father's journey only inspired him to further to become a football coach. It was in high school when Sparano Jr. realized coaching was his true passion.
"My father actually tried to do everything he could to convince me not to do it," Sparano Jr. said. "He told me I was too smart for it and to do something else with my life so I didn't have to move around and get involved with the hectic lifestyle that the profession can bring. As I got older it was the only thing I saw myself doing. It was my love, my passion, and I couldn't see myself without the game."
At the conclusion of his collegiate career, Sparano Jr. received an opportunity to begin his coaching career with the Hartford Colonials of the United Football League (UFL). Chris Palmer, who is currently a senior offensive assistant with the Bills, was the head coach of the Colonials at the time. In one year with the Colonials, Sparano Jr. worked with a multitude of offensive positions while formally serving as an assistant offensive line and quality control coach. After the season, Sparano Jr. got the call to work under his father, who was then serving as the head coach for the Miami Dolphins. A quick jump after only one season in the UFL, Sparano knew questions would surface on whether or not he deserved to coach in the NFL with such little experience.
"I didn't worry about that too much," Sparano Jr. said. "When I went to Miami I just did the best I could to stay true to myself. I have strong belief in myself as a coach and as a person. I knew that if I went there and rolled up my sleeves and worked as hard as I could, then eventually all those questions would answer themselves."
Sparano's father, who was relieved of his head coaching duties in Miami before the conclusion of the 2011 season, was hired by Rex Ryan to be the New York Jets offensive coordinator in 2012. Following his father, Sparano Jr. was offered a similar position to the one he held in Miami. There, he developed a trusting relationship with Rex Ryan and stayed on staff after his father's departure. Before the 2014 season, Sparano Jr. was promoted from seasonal intern to offensive assistant.
"Rex was always tremendous with me and he always saw me as my own man," Sparano Jr. said. "Rex had experience working for his father (Buddy Ryan). He knew my path and a lot of the things I was going through as a son of a coach and kind of the way I had come up."
While Sparano Jr. is on a mission to forge his own path in the NFL, he will forever remain grateful to his father for the vital lessons that extend beyond the playing field.
"It's tough for me to measure the true benefit of it because I've learned so much from him," Sparano Jr. said. "It's not just X's and O's. It's about how the whole profession works. The ins and outs, the day-to-day relations with the players and coaches, and the understanding of my role. My father truly taught me how to be a professional. I rely on the things I learned from him each day. They are my bedrock. Without them I wouldn't be the coach I am today. They've been invaluable, and I'll continue to lean on them moving forward."