Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano addresses the New England during his conference call on Wednesday, November 19, 2008.
Q: Can you talk about how different it is preparing for this game against the Patriots compared to when you first faced them in week three? You were pretty emotional after getting that first win. How different is it now that you guys have established yourselves as contenders?
TS: I don't know if we have done anything like that. I just think we are playing a little bit better right now. One thing is when you come in as a new coach, and any coach that has done this for the first time will say the same thing 'in order to validate what it is that you have done, you need to win some games.' That just happened to be the first time we won a game so that gave us a little bit of validation to the things that we were trying to get done here within our change of culture.
Q: The New York Jets are on top of the AFC East but in a way do you still measure yourself against the Patriots when it comes to this division?
TS: I sure do, I told our team the other day that in my mind our [division], in order to get where you need to be the [division] runs through the Patriots. I understand where the [New York] Jets are but till the end of season comes one way or the other the [division] runs through the Patriots.
Q: How much confidence has your team built over the four-game winning streaks you guys are on?
TS: There is confidence. You have to win games a bunch of different ways in this league. Certainly you need to be able to beat some people that maybe you are expected to beat, win some close games at some point and then you need to beat somebody that maybe you are not suppose to beat. We have been able to do some of those things right now so I think there is a little bit of confidence there. Certainly not cockiness - just confidence. I think it comes with any team when they are having some success.
Q: What has been the key to your team's success with limiting turnovers?
TS: It is something that we certainly talk an awful lot about. We try to work hard on it in practice with not turning the football over. Some people will say 'well, how do you do those things?' We just really work hard on ball security on all positions. Those type of things. We are fortunate that the people who handle the ball for us – Chad Pennington and of course our [running] backs and receivers – we are fortunate that these guys have been pretty trustworthy as far as that goes right now.
Q: Running back Ronnie Brown said earlier that one of the things you did when you first started was say that you were not coming in to rebuild and that you wanted to win football games now. Is that what you were referring to earlier when you said 'culture change'?
TS: Yes, no question about it. I think that coming in here with the situation that we came into, I think the natural reaction was that you were going to maybe rebuild and this thing was going to take some time and you were going to try and do all those things. Well, I know I don't have the patience for that. I know Bill Parcells doesn't and Jeff Ireland doesn't. We wanted to come in here and be able to compete and just give ourselves a chance to win games to see where this thing goes. That is really what we have done. I made no bones about saying that the first time I met the team. This is something that we wanted to do and we were fortunate that we were able to win a couple of games. We have six wins right now. They don't give you any trophies and you don't get anything accomplished with six wins.
Q: Is it safe to say that your defensive scheme is 'unleashing' linebacker Joey Porter more than the previous regime did?
TS: I would say that. That is definitely fair to say. Joey [Porter] came into this league really as a 3-4 outside linebacker. We were able to get him to as close as he was to his natural position when he was back in Pittsburgh. This does help him do that and it helps us use some of his talents to the best of our abilities. That is important for us. In our scheme, it is not much different from the Patriots or these other 3-4 teams; if your outside linebackers can't get to the passer then you really don't have much of a chance.
Q: How much influence has Executive Vice President of Football Operations Bill Parcells had on the team and what are some things you have learned from him?
TS: His [Bill Parcells] influence as far as anything we do from a game plan or practice standpoint, there really isn't anything much there unless I have a question where I may go down there and pick his brain which is a nice to be able to have in this building. Other than that, as far as what I have learned from him the list is long. He prepared me to be in this position without a doubt. Some of the greatest strengths I have taken from him are the game management parts of this whole thing. As a young coach, what I am finding is that finally the game is starting to slow [down] for me right now. Kind of like quarterback. He has helped me do that a little bit just from what he has taught me along the way from a game-management standpoint.
Q: What do you think is the thing Parcells has had the most influence on?
TS: I think from a personnel standpoint, that is probably the biggest way. One of the things we do here, and our players understand this, is we continuously turn the bottom of our roster. That is important for us. At the end of the day, whenever we finish our season, we want to make sure we end up finishing with a better 53 [players] than we started with. The continuous turning of the bottom of our roster. Those type of things. Players coming in and players going out. From a personnel standpoint, both he and Jeff Ireland, I think that is the biggest imprint right now.
Q: How much has quarterback Chad Pennington's accuracy benefited the team this season?
TS: It is tremendous. We are a young football team, particularly a young offense. You find a quarterback that gives you a chance to run with the football a little bit like that…his accuracy [helps] the fact that we are up there in the league right now on first down and first-and-10 yardage - those types of things. Just giving yourself the opportunity to play throw and catch. In some situations to catch the ball and run with it – that is important. If the ball is not thrown with good location and good accuracy, then you have a little bit of a problem. It is awful hard to play behind the chains in this league.
Q: What do fourth-quarter drives like the ones quarterbacks Chad Pennington and Matt Cassel engineered last week do for a quarterback's confidence?
TS: I think an awful lot. I really do, especially amongst his teammates. I think that these guys going out there doing what they are doing like Chad [Pennington] and [Matt] Cassel, it is not by accident. You get into those kinds of situations and you see these guys taking the ball down the field in the fourth quarter, moving their team and giving their team a chance to win – it is not by accident. These guys put an awful lot of time into it. Those things are drilled over and over again. More importantly, it is their film study and understanding of what is going on during those situations that probably separates them.
Q: How much did that first win against the Patriots do for your confidence?
TS: It validates what you are trying to do. When you are 0-2 starting the regular season…the preseason that is a lot of fun. You get to go out there and you do what you are doing. When you get into the real season and you start 0-2 and you know that you took over for a 1-15 [team], all of a sudden you are looking at yourself and reevaluating yourself constantly and looking at yourself in the mirror and saying 'am I doing the right things?' At that point, I found myself talking to myself an awful lot. I needed some success as well so that playing with the vision that I have had here and putting that whole thing in place, [showed] that we were doing the right things.
Q: How tough is it to beat a team like the Patriots when they know year after year that everybody is out to beat them?
TS: Well, I hope someday we have that problem. I would imagine that that is a tough thing. I am just finding out right now that maybe earlier on in the season we snuck up on some people. Some people might have taken us [lightly]. That is not happening right now. When we go into football game now, I think people understand if you do that, this team can potentially beat you. With the Patriots, in all the success they have had over the years and justifiably so because they have earned it. They have done a tremendous job. They are a well-coached football team. They do a tremendous job that way. It is consistency. I talk to my team about those things - the things that the New England Patriots do. The fact that they do it over and over again from a consistency standpoint, that is impressive. You know that every week you are getting their best shot.
Q: What attracted you about the kid from the University of Massachusetts, Brandon London, how has he fit in since you brought him in?
TS: He [Brandon London] has fit in nicely. One of the things that attracted us to Brandon is that he had some special teams value. He was a pretty strong kid, athletic, big-long kid at the receiver position that could do some acrobatic things when the ball was in the air. He also had special teams value. He is a full-course special teams player for us that is an 'arrow-up' guy that is getting better and better.
Q: How much has offensive tackle Jake Long improved since week three?
TS: He [Jake Long] is an awful lot better. In week three and early on in the season, Jake was just learning maybe what people were going to do to him and how they were going to attack him. How they were going to attack him. As you get on in this league and you play against the people you have to play against as a left tackle, 10 or 11 games in now, you figure that you have seen almost everything. With him, he usually doesn't make the same mistake again. As he is going through this whole thing, he is learning each week. You would hope that 10 weeks into this thing that he is getting a little bit better. I see it on the practice field and in the games – the use of his hands, his run blocking and all those things are a lot better now.
Q: Do you have much contact with the people in your hometown of West Haven, Conn., and do you have a sense of the pride they have in what you are doing?
TS: Actually we had a nice thing up here last week for the Oakland [Raiders] game for the University [New Haven]. We had an alumni event down here. There was a bunch of guys who showed up in South Florida. It was an awful nice time on Friday night. I had a chance to go in and visit with some of them. That was awful nice. I stay in constant contact there with the new athletic director [Deborah Chin] and of course the new head football coach there in Pete Rossomando. He played for me and coached for me. I stay in contact with the program and I am excited that football is back there on the university's campus and I know that they are rooting for us.