Tony Sparano, Minnesota Vikings Offensive Line Coach, Dies At 56

Just days before the NFL team is scheduled to begin training camp, it has lost one of its coaches.

Tony Sparano, May 5, 2016
AP Images

Just days before the NFL team is scheduled to begin training camp, it has lost one of its coaches.

The Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line coach, Tony Sparano, suddenly passed away early Sunday morning, July 22.

“With deep regret,” the NFL team announced the news around noon on its official website.

Although an official cause of death has yet to be revealed, a source told ESPN‘s Chris Mortensen that Sparano spent this past Thursday night in the hospital after complaining about chest pains. He underwent tests but was released on Friday.

The source also said that Sparano’s wife found him unconscious this morning as they prepared to go to church. He could not be revived.

“Our hearts go out to Jeanette and the entire Sparano family as we all mourn the loss of Tony,” said Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf in a published statement.

“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.”

Born on Oct. 7, 1961, in West Haven, Connecticut, Sparano played football in college at the University of New Haven. He was a four-year letterman.

Tony Sparano & T.J. Carrie, November 2, 2014
As the interim head coach of the Oakland Raiders, Tony Sparano gave cornerback T.J. Carrie a pep talk during a game on Nov. 2, 2014. Steve Dykes / Getty Images

After graduating, he worked in the NCAA as an offensive line coach at both his alma mater and Boston University. He was then BU’s offensive coordinator from 1989-1993.

The next five seasons were spent as New Haven’s head coach.

Sparano then made the leap to the NFL in 1999, working various coaching positions for the Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, and Dallas Cowboys.

In 2008, he was named the head coach of the Miami Dolphins and spent three seasons with the team where he was 32-41.

During his first season in Florida, Sparano made history by becoming the first NFL coach to take a team to the playoffs the year after a one-win season.

He then became the assistant head coach and offensive line coach with the Oakland Raiders in 2013 and was the team’s interim head coach in 2014.

After one season as the tight ends coach with the San Francisco 49ers, he joined the Minnesota Vikings in 2016 as its offensive line coach.

As soon as news of his death broke, former colleagues started paying tribute to Sparano.

“Thoughts and prayers to Mrs. Sparano, his family, and everyone in the Vikings organization,” said Minnesota tight end Kyle Rudolph on Twitter. “Life’s precious and we just never know when it’s our time… RIP Coach.”

“I am at a loss for words with Tony’s sudden passing,” said Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman in a statement. “Tony loved the game of football and his players. More importantly, he was a strong man of faith who treasured his family. My heart is with the Sparanos today. As an organization we will support them in whatever ways we can.”

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer also released a statement. “I love Tony Sparano,” he said. “He was a great teacher, a grinder of a worker, and had a toughness and fighting spirit that showed in our linemen. He was a great husband, father, and grandfather, and a great friend to me. This is just sinking in for us but Tony will be sorely missed by all.”

“Man, when it rains it pours,” tweeted the Vikings’ Tashawn Bower. “Rest In Peace coach Sparano. Prayers going to your family, and friends, and our Viking organization. Lost 4 coaches in the past 2 months. Wishing I was able to reverse time and tell not just these people but everyone that’s [important] to me I appreciate you. You never know when someone’s last day is. I’m trying to mend any broken or damaged relationship I have with people because you never know when it’s too late. Been learning to love more and make time for the people I love the hard way.”

Sparano is survived by his wife, Jeanette, sons Andrew and Tony (an assistant offensive line coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars), daughter Ryan Leigh, and four grandchildren.