Vikings offensive line coach Tony Sparano, who previously served as the head coach of the Dolphins and the interim head coach of the Raiders, in addition to a number of other coaching positions in the NFL and collegiate ranks, has passed away, per KSTP.com (the Vikings have since confirmed the news). He was just 56.
Sparano complained of chest pains on Thursday and was admitted to a hospital, but was released on Friday following tests, according to Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com (Twitter links). Sparano’s wife then found him unconscious Sunday morning as his family was attempting to leave for church.
Sparano’s coaching career began as the offensive line coach at the University of New Haven in 1984, and after working on the offensive coaching staff at Boston University from 1988-93, he rejoined New Haven as head coach in 1994. He moved to the NFL as an offensive quality control coach for the expansion Browns in 1999, which marked the beginning of a 19-year career in the pros.
He is, of course, best known for his time as Miami’s head coach and his innovative Wildcat offense that became an NFL sensation in 2008, his first year at the helm for the Dolphins. Miami would go 11-5 that season en route to an AFC East title, the only time since 2003 that a team other than the Patriots has won that division (although Tom Brady was lost for the season during Week 1 of that campaign). The Dolphins, though, lost to the Ravens during the wildcard round of the 2008 playoffs, and they would not return to the postseason under Sparano’s watch.
Miami fired Sparano towards the end of the 2011 season, and he became the offensive coordinator of the division-rival Jets the following year. He moved on to the Raiders in 2013 and he took over as Oakland’s interim head coach upon Dennis Allen‘s dismissal following Week 4 of the 2014 campaign. The Raiders went just 3-9 under his command, however, and he would not get another shot as head coach, so he finished his NFL head coaching career with a 32-42 overall record.
Nonetheless, the 49ers hired him to be their tight ends coach in 2015, and he signed on with the Vikings in 2016. He may have moved around a lot, but he was clearly a respected coach with an offensive mind that NFL teams appreciated.
He leaves behind his wife, Jeannette, three children (one of whom, Tony Sparano Jr., is currently an assistant offensive line coach for the Jaguars), and four grandchildren.
Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf issued the following statement:
“Our hearts go out to Jeanette and the entire Sparano family as we all mourn the loss of Tony. Tony was a passionate and driven individual who cared deeply about his family, and especially enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren. Tony’s presence within the Vikings organization will be deeply missed. We are only thinking of Tony’s family during this incredibly difficult time. We ask that the entire NFL and Vikings family keep the Sparanos in their thoughts.”
We here at PFR offer our condolences and best wishes to Sparano’s family and friends.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.