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Jets coach reflects on 'scary' loss of his friend Tony Sparano


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Jets coach reflects on 'scary' loss of his friend Tony Sparano

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Tony Sparano, the Jets' offensive coordinator in 2012, died of heart disease at age 56 in July, just as training camps were opening across the league. Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP Photo

 

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets field house was empty and quiet, except for Todd Bowles talking about his late friend Tony Sparano. He started telling a funny story about their time together in Miami, and suddenly there was laughter in the cavernous building. Bowles, when he removes his game face, has the kind of laugh that makes you laugh. It comes on fast and gets loud quickly.

So, there was that time with the Dolphins ...

Bowles was the assistant head coach and Sparano the head coach from 2008 to 2011. One day, Sparano poked his head into a defensive meeting to break bad news to Bowles. There was an accident in the team parking lot; Bowles' car had been struck by another vehicle. Bowles raced outside to check it out and, sure enough, there was damage to his Mercedes-Benz.

"I was freaking out," Bowles told ESPN Wednesday. "I was like, 'How could I get hit inside the facility?'"

He was staring at the car that day, trying to figure out what happened. Soon, he was joined by Sparano in the parking lot. As they surveyed the situation, the Dolphins' coach fessed up: It was him. He backed his Mercedes-Benz into Bowles' car.

"It was funny because he laughed and I laughed," said Bowles, doing it again. "He has this dry humor. It was very funny."

Suddenly, the Jets coach fell silent. The laughter was gone. He paused a moment to clear his throat.

"He was great," he said quietly. "You don't replace somebody like that."

Sparano died unexpectedly on July 22, a few days before NFL training camps opened across the country. He was only 56, the victim of heart disease. He spent his last two seasons as the offensive line coach of the Minnesota Vikings, who visit MetLife Stadium on Sunday to take on the Jets. To honor Sparano, the Jets' offensive coordinator in 2012, the Vikings wear "TS" decals on the back of their helmets.

Bowles was looking forward to facing his old friend. They worked together for seven years, three with the Dallas Cowboys (2005-07) and four with the Dolphins. Then, on July 22, he received a call from Dolphins special-teams coordinator Darren Rizzi, who broke the news. Bowles was crushed.

"It hit me hard, right then and there," Bowles said.

"He's what you call a man's man and a coach's coach," he continued. "He always did things the right way. He was never flashy or anything like that. He was hard on you, but he was fair. He had a great sense of humor. He has an outstanding family who we're close to, to this day."

Bowles and Sparano were hired in Dallas by Bill Parcells, where he assembled a staff of six future head coaches -- Bowles, Sparano, Sean Payton, Anthony Lynn, Todd Haley and Mike Zimmer, the Vikings' coach. Bowles and Sparano had long talks every day before sunrise.

"We were both early, early birds," he said. "I'd go running at 5 a.m. and he'd go walking and jogging at 5 a.m. We always crossed paths."

When Sparano landed the head coach job in Miami, he made Bowles' his right-hand man. It was an instrumental period in Bowles' career because he was in a position of leadership as the assistant head coach. When the Dolphins fired Sparano with three games remaining in the 2011 season, Bowles was elevated to interim head coach -- and there's no doubt that experience, albeit brief, enhanced his own résumé.

"He was teaching me things on a daily basis," Bowles said of Sparano. "It was invaluable. I mean, I can't say enough about him."

"He taught me how to run and manage a team, dealing with certain guys and having certain core values, as Bill taught us," he continued. "[Sparano] had his own core values and own beliefs and how the team should be run -- as far as the toughness guys and the smart guys and the try-hard guys -- and blending it all together and seeing the big picture. He taught me a lot about that."

Months before Sparano's death, Bowles, 54, made a significant change in his own lifestyle, dropping approximately 50 pounds. He did it with diet and exercise, saying, "I want to be around for a long time." Just recently his close friend and defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers left the team for 10 days with an undisclosed health issue that was described by Bowles as "serious."

Bowles was visibly shaken when he made the announcement about Rodgers.

Since then, Rodgers, 49, now medically cleared, has returned to the team. On Wednesday, he was on the practice field.

Two reality checks for Bowles:

"We're pretty close in age," he said of Sparano, "and it kind of scares you as a coach. You try to appreciate every day you can. It hits home. I tried to work out. Tony worked out a lot. It's scary, it's really scary.

"I don't know how healthy or unhealthy you have to be, I guess, when your time comes. You can't take anything for granted right now."

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Jets defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers, back to work after a health scare, says he was touched by the outpouring of support he received from the team and colleagues and players around the league. He declined to get into specifics, except to say he underwent a procedure. The results were negative.

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Kacy Rodgers: 'Touching' to see Jets players' support during time away

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers walked into the interview room Thursday for his weekly news conference, stepped behind the podium and flashed a big smile.

"Did y'all miss me?" he asked.

Rodgers was away from the team for more than a week as he addressed an undisclosed health issue. He declined to discuss the specifics, except to say he underwent a procedure and waited a week for the results, which were negative.

Rodgers, 49, who made a surprise visit to the locker room before last Sunday's home game, is back in a full-time coaching role. He was blown away by the outpouring of support he received during the ordeal.

"I got a lot of texts from all the guys," said. "What's kind of ironic is, I coach the defense, but I had just as many offensive guys reaching out. Walking in the locker room (on Sunday) and seeing the guys, it's just good to be back, it really is. Sometimes you take for granted what it is to be around the guys and be with them every day, and the family unit it becomes."

Rodgers said the "whole experience has been kind of "weird," but "the worst part" was watching the team's Week 5 win from his couch at home. He called it "a hard, hard feeling," but he was comforted by messages from colleagues from across the NFL.

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"It's kind of strange when I'm looking at my phone and getting texts from guys I know are in the locker room getting ready for another game," he said. "(They were) reaching out: 'We just heard about you ... We're praying for you.'

"It was really touching ... touching. I've been coaching for 26 years. (I got) numerous texts, everybody reaching out. They've got to concentrate on the game and they were thinking about me. It was truly touching."

Rodgers spent some time in the office last week, doing busy work. He wasn't around the players. On Sunday, before their win over the Indianapolis Colts, he mingled with players in the locker room. Afterward, many said they were inspired by Rodgers and played for him.

"That's priceless," he said.

Rodgers downplayed his medical scare, saying his biggest concern was being a distraction to the team. Those close to him, however, were deeply worried. Coach Todd Bowles, a close friend, was visibly shaken when he first announced to the media that Rodgers was battling a "serious" health issue.

Rodgers said he's "feeling a lot better," though it's unclear if he will return to his role as the defensive play-caller Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. He and Bowles will make that determination Friday or Saturday. Bowles called the defense in wins over the Colts and Denver Broncos.

"I was like, 'Dang, I need to stay away more often,'" Rodgers said with a big laugh.

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I wonder if Kacey had a stent placed in one of his coronary arteries.  My neighbor (55 yrs old) went to the doctor last week because of feeling tired all the time.  Yesterday he had 2 stents inserted in a pair of his coronary arteries, one was 90% blocked and the other 85% blocked.  He can go back to work on Monday.   Scary stuff. He was a heart attack waiting to happen.  

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I will say it again, nothing against Rogers, but if Bowels allows him to call the plays and the Jets defense does not perform, BOWLES SHOULD BE FIRED!!!

Why?

Because Bowles did not do what was best for the New York Jets and he isn't that good to let other guys who are not GREAT run significant parts of the team....PERIOD!!!!

Bill Parcells ---- "You can't coach the coaches"

And he is right!

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6 minutes ago, Charlie Brown said:

I will say it again, nothing against Rogers, but if Bowels allows him to call the plays and the Jets defense does not perform, BOWLES SHOULD BE FIRED!!!

Why?

Because Bowles did not do what was best for the New York Jets and he isn't that good to let other guys who are not GREAT run significant parts of the team....PERIOD!!!!

Parcells ---- "You can't coach the coaches"

And he is right!

Also as much as I dislike Rogers, as a D.C. It's not fair on him to coach if he's not fit. His buddy Todd will be getting fired over his loyalty.

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I am afraid to say anything in this thread for fear of being criticized for "insensitivity" so I will only say that what's best for the team and best for the individuals employed by it may well be two different things. And saying as much does not mean one is rooting ill will on anyone.

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13 hours ago, jgb said:

I am afraid to say anything in this thread for fear of being criticized for "insensitivity" so I will only say that what's best for the team and best for the individuals employed by it may well be two different things. And saying as much does not mean one is rooting ill will on anyone.

But... FEELINGS!! 

That's all that matters in this world... Feelings. Like the home invader coming to murder your family, who's feelings are more important than the lives of any innocents. 

I need to start cashing in on some of these feelings things 

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1 minute ago, Hitman Harris said:

But... FEELINGS!! 

That's all that matters in this world... Feelings. Like the home invader coming to murder your family, who's feelings are more important than the lives of any innocents. 

I need to start cashing in on some of these feelings things 

Feelings matter more than anything nowadays—much to humanity’s detriment.

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