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  Phins.com Q&A with Miami Dolphins Head Coach Tony Sparano
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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Phins.com participated in a Q&A session with Dolphins Head Coach Tony Sparano on November 8 at the Dolphins Training Facility in Davie, FL. Coach Sparano took questions on a number of subjects.


On how he has taught his team not to beat themselves

That's an interesting question. It's hard to coach. One of the things we have done, and I have made a tremendous emphasis with both my coaches and the players from the time that we started here, was that minus plays will help you lose games. We talk an awful lot about the ways that you can lose and the ways that you can win and minus plays are a way that you can lose games in our league, so penalties are a part of that process. When we got here in the spring and we started our practices, we hired a group of officials that come to our practices every day. I spoke to them and I said "Look, there's no free rides here. When you see a foul you need to throw the (flag) and we need to discuss it". So we have that discussion right there on the field. We talk about it. We make sure our players understand why (it) happened and then we move on. I'll get a report every day from the officials that lets me know who had what fouls. I'll go over it with the team in the morning. When the players think it's important, and they think you think it's important, it's important.


On his biggest challenge in changing the mentality of the team

I think that the biggest challenge in changing the mentality that existed here is that there was a (belief) that "something will go wrong". What we needed to do was to have success early on. I think part of the philosophy, and part of my approach with the team, was that I was going to put them in as many competitive situations as I possibly could in practice and make practice as hard as I possibly could for them so that maybe the games would be a little easier. You can never quite simulate what you'll get in a game out there on the practice field, but you can get close; put them in those competitive environments to help try to change that culture. All of a sudden the offense is playing the defense and maybe the defense comes up with a big play in the red area and all of a sudden you start to figure out "I can! I can! I can!". Chad Pennington helps, too.


On being emotional when correcting mistakes

Hey, there's a lot of those moments with a lot of different people. One of the things with the players, and I think they understand, is that I'm going to address anything that is wrong, one way or the other. They know that. When something goes wrong they're trying to take another route sometimes to the sidelines, and they know I'm going to find them. Usually it has something to do with a coaching point. I'll get in their face a little bit and make the correction that way. I told them that the day that I met them that I'm going to reach out to (them) different ways every single day. Some days it's going to be a pat on the butt. Some days it's going to be an arm around (them). Some days I'm going to be in (their) face to make a point. Whatever that is, (they're) going to know that Coach Sparano touched me in this day one way or the other. I think it's important that they understand that.


On how satisfying the Gatorade bath was at New England

It was tremendous! For me, honestly, it lended some validation to what we've done and what we are trying to do. You can push these guys and bring them to the wall - but eventually you need to win a game so they can say "Ah! That's what he's talking about. That's why it works. That's what Paul Pasqualoni is talking about".. It let me feel like these guys are "getting it", (that) they're starting to understand.


On his impressions of Jake Long's progress

I've been very impressed with what Jake has done. Jake, every single week, has gotten better at what he's done. He knows he has a long way to go, but this guy is all about work. He's everything that we talk about (tough, smart, disciplined) and that's why he'll be a good player here. Donald Thomas will be a good player here as well. He's rehabbing and he's coming along pretty nicely.


On Channing Crowder's intangibles and what makes him so valuable

Channing is a high energy, very intelligent leader out there on the field. His actions always speak volumes out there. This guy goes a million miles an hour; it's the only way he knows how to play the game. He loves playing football. The guy shows up to work in the morning with a smile on his face, he leaves here at night with a smile on his face. That's important for us. Those are the type of people we want around us. When we talk about "tough, smart, disciplined" players, the "make up" that we talk an awful lot about, Channing Crowder has that. We were excited when he was here (when we came in). Channing is a guy I enjoy watching play.


On Jason Allen's progress at CB

Jason's doing really, really well. It's a hard transition. We weren't sure when we came here if he was a safety. We had a crowded bus back there. We were struggling with big receivers and he's a pretty big corner; that's the position the guy played in college (Tennessee). We've doing a good job monitoring Jason's body weight and keeping him where we needed him to be. I've started to see his foot skills improve and he has outstanding ball skills; he gets his hands on a lot of footballs. So, we thought "Let's give him a chance". It was really Bill Parcells who saw him in college and saw him play the corner position there. It took a little while; he needed to get a few more tools in his toolbox to play that position. Now that he has done that, he has prepared himself to play. We knew when he went into the ballgames that he was prepared to play.


On how he gets a player like Ernest Wilford motivated again

You don't have to worry about motivating Ernest. Ernest is a tremendously motivated guy. He really is. He's a tremendous pro. The guy comes to work every single day (and) wants get better at what he does, (and) does an outstanding job out there on the practice field. He has gotten an awful lot better since training camp. You can't take all 53 (players) to the game. You've got to start thinking about jobs at the game. We can't take players to the game that can only play X amount of plays and pigeon hole ourselves that way. We have to take guys to the game like Brandon London who can give us 20+ plays.


On what the players' initial reaction to the Wildcat

I'm not sure quite honestly one way or the other. We were 0-2 and looking for answers and that's why we brought the Wildcat out. This is not something that was drawn on a napkin one day.  It's something we thought of a while ago and was part of our (offensive system) install on OTAs (Offseason Training Activity) earlier on the spring. We starting using some of the Wildcat stuff and then we put it to bed - we call it "cooking it", let it simmer until we figured out what personnel we really had on the team. We had Ronnie Brown coming back from a knee (injury), Ricky Williams (chest), so weren't really sure what we had. We came back from that Arizona trip (a 31-10 loss) and I thought we really needed to do something at that point to give the offense something to put their hands around. And again, when you make it important to them, they think it's important. They've done a nice job executing it. There's a lot of people who get their hands on the football there. It's (Patrick) Cobbs, it's Ronnie, it's Ricky, it's Chad, it could be anyone. They take a lot of pride in it. It forces them to concentrate a little bit more. As far as where it's going, it just depends on the game. When we get into these games and we see how people are playing us, that really dictates how much we'll use it.


On any "project players" that fans should keep an eye on

I really can't think of anybody who comes to mind that way, but the guy I have that doesn't start that I really think has done a tremendous job in whatever it is that we've asked him to do is Patrick Cobbs. Patrick Cobbs is a guy that, from the first day we got here, he and Greg Camarillo have been the two most consistent players on our offense. Everyday they go out to work and they make a play out there on the practice field and they make an impression. You notice each and every day.


On Joey Porter's play and his talking

He's playing like he's 18 years old. My (focus) is for the next opponent. When I think there's something getting blown out of proportion, that's when I step in. Joey's a big guy; this guy's been a tremendous pro. He's allowed his coaches to coach him. This guy's a 10 year veteran and to have to learn new pass rush moves, (and) learn nuances within our defense has helped us tremendously.


On the play of CBs Will Allen and Andre Goodman

(Since the Arizona game), those guys made a commitment to just be a little stingier. One of the things we did (after the Arizona game) is added a period within our practice called "technique period". That period is largely spent with the DBs and the receivers really getting after it in a one-on-one environment. There's some competition out there; it can get a little bit fiery. This has made both sides of the ball better. It's made our receivers better versus man-to-man, and our secondary better playing man-to-man. But more importantly, whether it's man-to-man or zone, just playing up and challenging receivers. And you see it in both of those players. Goody in the last couple of weeks has been very aggressive back there.


On a leader he has tried to mold himself after

I've learned a lot from a lot of great coaches, but the greatest leader in my life has been my dad. He taught me what's right, what's wrong. He was my little league coach, he was my midget football coach, and you can imagine how that is some days. You come home, and you think you did it right, and your dad is saying "No, this is how you gotta do it". When I got in this business I learned from a lot of great coaches. I had the absolute privilege to coach with Chris Palmer, Marty Schottenheimer, Tom Coughlin, and Bill Parcells. Of course Coach Parcells is the one who taught me the most. He groomed me to get ready for this opportunity. It was some tough love. That's the way we learn. There (were) a lot of times on Sunday afternoons where I had (Parcells) in my ear. There was a method, all the time, a reason why.


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