Jim Tomsula's San Francisco 49ers coaching staff features two coaches with head coaching experience in the National Football League.
The duo includes former Miami Dolphins head coach and Oakland Raiders interim head coach Tony Sparano, plus former New York Jets and Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini.
Sparano will coach tight ends in his 17th season in the NFL and first with the 49ers; Mangini will serve as Tomsula's defensive coordinator in his third year with San Francisco.
Spark the Tight Ends
Like Mangini's, Sparano's role will be critical in 2015.
He'll be tasked with instructing a 49ers tight end group led by veteran Vernon Davis, who is coming off an uncharacteristic season. Davis caught 26 passes for 245 yards with two touchdown receptions last year. Davis' two scores both came in a Week 1 road win over the Dallas Cowboys.
They would also stand as the only touchdown catches by San Francisco's tight end group. Garrett Celek (two receptions for 30 yards), second-round draft pick in '13, was held out of the end zone for a second straight season.
Many of San Francisco's tight ends battled injuries in '14. McDonald and third-string tight end Derek Carrier finished the year on Injured Reserve. Davis missed three games and battled back and knee injuries midway through the season.
Sparano figures to play a big role in helping the development of the group. Davis, for one, has valuable experience with new offensive coordinator Geep Chryst. San Francisco's new play-caller famously dialed up Davis' number for the "Vernon Post" play that helped the 49ers defeat the New Orleans Saints in the 2011 NFC Divisional Playoffs.
Sparano Has Scouted the 49ers
The former Raiders leader had his team ready to play in the most recent "Battle of the Bay" matchup. Sparano's team beat the 49ers 24-13 in a game that featured several clutch receptions from Oakland tight end Mychal Rivera, who posted a game-high seven catches for 109 yards and a 5-yard touchdown catch to put the game away.
The rivalry win improved the Raiders record to 2-11 at the time.
"We said last night in the meeting that somebody had to step up and make a couple of plays," Sparano said after the game. "Today I felt a bunch of guys stepped up."
Oakland finished 3-9 in the final 12 games of the year with Sparano as interim head coach. The team won three of his final six games.
Coupled with his three-year run with the Dolphins from 2008 to '11, Sparano has a 32-41 (.438) record as a head coach in the regular season. Sparano led Miami to an 11-5 record and an AFC East title in '08. For his efforts, he was named NFL Coach of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America.
The 49ers handed Sparano and the Dolphins one of those five losses by a 14-9 score on the road.
That means Sparano got even against his new employer with last year's rivalry victory in Oakland.
Before he was promoted to interim Raiders coach, Sparano was hired in '13 to be the franchise's assistant head coach/offensive line coach. Sparano helped Oakland raise its rushing average from 88.8 yards per game to 125 in '13.
Sprano's history in the trenches is quite extensive to say the least. He began his coaching career at New Haven University as an offensive line coach from 1984 to '87. His first NFL offensive line gig was with the Browns in '00. Sparano moved on to coach offensive linemen with the Dallas Cowboys (2005 to '07).
Sparano's football career has snapped four decades. The biggest consistencies in his background are coaching on the offensive side of the ball, specifically as an offensive line coach.
It's safe to say that San Francisco's tight ends group, which many have lauded as blockers in the past, will be even more refined with their blocking techniques.
That bodes well for the running game, which figures to be a major component of the 49ers revamped offense.