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Ryan and Sparano less 'Odd Couple' than 'Starsky and Hutch'

Five days before the Jets made their debut on HBO's "Hard Knocks" in August 2010, a reporter asked then-Dolphins coach Tony Sparano if he'd ever consider letting the show invade his South Florida training camp for a few weeks.

"Here?" Sparano laughed. "No."

And how fast would it take him to respond to such a request from HBO?

"Me personally?" Sparano said, his thick Connecticut accent quietly thumping the microphone in front of him. "As fast as I just said it there."

Everyone laughed, because everyone knew the answer before he said it. The coach has always disliked attention, whether directed at himself or his team. A no-nonsense son of blue-collar parents from New Haven, he often made it clear he saw no place for bulletin-board material in football. He is generally quiet -- but damn tough.

Having the understated Sparano replace Brian Schottenheimer as the brash Ryan's offensive coordinator in New York might not initially seem to make much sense. But dig deeper -- begin to realize what each of these men can offer the other -- and you might be looking at a perfect match. Forget oil and water. Think Starsky and Hutch.

In the last two months, both could have used some neutralizing. While the culture created by Ryan's bravado seemed to spin out of control late in the Jets' season, Sparano's often-slumped shoulders helped Dolphins ownership decide to fire him.

If anyone needed an injection of swagger, it was Sparano. And if anyone needed a dose of humility, it was Ryan. Both are good men with great potential. And together, as odd as it might seem, they have a chance to reach it.

This isn't as much of a stretch as you might think.

From a football standpoint, Sparano's play calling is an ideal fit for a Jets team that might benefit from more of a ground-and-pound approach. Was it boring in Miami? Often, yes. But if you go back to Sparano's days in Dallas, when he called plays under Bill Parcells, his approach was often much more aggressive, if still run-oriented. Saints coach Sean Payton, whose team has come to be known for its explosive aerial attack, actually attempted to hire Sparano to run his offense in 2006 (they are close friends), but Parcells blocked the move. Sparano's style could make for an ideal union with Ryan's defense.

It is instructive that retired linebacker Jason Taylor is the most prominent player the coaches have in common. Sparano and Taylor had very similar mindsets during their time together in Miami, which allowed them to form a deep-rooted bond even when things became frigid between Taylor and Miami's front office. During his stint with the Jets, Taylor also meshed perfectly with Ryan, in part because he began to appreciate the coach's bravado rather than rejecting it.

It might not be long before Sparano does the same, understanding the benefit of Ryan's vocal leadership while getting Ryan to understand the virtue of holding his tongue now and then. Say what you want about Sparano's tenure with the Dolphins, but he never lost the team. The locker room never quit on him, right up to the day he was fired. He always managed to walk a fine line between being a players' coach and a disciplinarian.

For the past three years, Ryan and Sparano have seemed like perfect rivals. One is full of life, unafraid to spark a fight. The other is gruff and quiet, satisfied to beat up the bully and walk home without a word.

Could you have imagined them teaming up? Not before.

Yet suddenly, with each coming off of tumultuous seasons, it all makes perfect sense. Ryan and Sparano never belonged fighting each other in the AFC East. They belong fighting together.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington

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