Former Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano passed away on Sunday, according to a press release from the Minnesota Vikings. Sparano was 56-years-old and is survived by his wife Jeanette, two sons, Tony and Andrew, a daughter, Ryan Leigh, and four grandchildren.
Sparano coached the Dolphins from 2008 to 2011, tallying a 29-32 record during that time, with one AFC East championship. He was fired 13 games into the 2011 season after starting the year 4-9. He then spent a year with the New York Jets as their offensive coordinator before moving to the Oakland Raiders from 2013 through 2014, where he was the offensive line coach and assistant head coach, as well as a brief stint as the team’s interim head coach. After working the 2015 season as the San Francisco 49ers tight end coach, Sparano moved to the Minnesota Vikings in 2016, where he had been their offensive line coach prior to his passing.
Miami’s turnaround from 1-15 in 2007 to 11-5 in Sparano’s first season with Miami is tied for the largest single season turn around in NFL history.
Prior to joining the Dolphins, Sparano also worked with the Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Dallas Cowboys. He coached at New Haven University and Boston University as well.
The Vikings released a statement about the death of Sparano:
With deep regret the Minnesota Vikings announce that Offensive Line Coach Tony Sparano unexpectedly passed away early this morning.
“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.” - Vikings Owners Mark and Zygi Wilf
Sparano began his NFL coaching career in 1999 with stints as a head coach with the Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders. Tony served as the Vikings offensive line coach since 2016. Tony played collegiately at the University of New Haven where he was a four-year letterman. Sparano was named New Haven’s head coach in 1994 and held the position for five seasons.
Tony is survived by his wife, Jeanette, his two sons; Tony and Andrew, his daughter, Ryan Leigh, and four grandchildren. Sparano was born October 7, 1961. He was 56 years old.
The Sparano family requests privacy at this time. The Vikings will provide further updates when appropriate.
Former Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline tweeted upon hearing the news:
Former Dolphins defensive lineman Kendall Langford tweeted:
RIP to a great man who gave me an opportunity in National Football League and BELIEVED in me from day 1! Many great memories playing for Tony Sparano for 4 years! You’ll be missed! Rest easy Coach! #riptonysparano— Kendall Langford (@KendallLangford) July 22, 2018
Dolphins beat writer Omar Kelly tweeted about Sparano as well:
I have great memories about Tony Sparano. We shared a passion for trench play, and he often joked I was a “chubby chaser” like himself because I was so obsessed with O-linemen and D-linemen. In my 10-years of covering the Dolphins no coach had a greater hold on the team than him.— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) July 22, 2018
Tony Sparano wasn’t a great X’s and O’s guy, but his players would run through a brick wall for him. His teams were PHYSICAL, and imposed their will on most opponents. He won games with Chad Henne as his starter. Plenty to be said about that.— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) July 22, 2018
As did Armando Salguero:
Gone too soon, Tony Sparano. It was my privilege to know you.— Armando Salguero (@ArmandoSalguero) July 22, 2018
Remember him for 2008. Remember him for his class and dignity even in adversity. https://t.co/A3CeerzkQX— Armando Salguero (@ArmandoSalguero) July 22, 2018
Former Dolphins beat writer and current ESPN insider Jeff Darlington also tweeted thoughts on Sparano:
At the risk of minimizing any of the other great coaches and people in the NFL, I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who cared more about his players — truly cared about their well being — than Tony Sparano.— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) July 22, 2018
He was loyal. And passionate. And genuine. I’m so sad for his family.
Thoughts and prayers to the entire Sparano family.
UPDATE (1:51pm ET):
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Sparano had complained about chest pains last weekend, then had a doctor’s visit on Thursday, with tests completed and the coach released on Friday. He and his wife were preparing to leave for church Sunday morning when Jeanette found Sparano unconscious on the kitchen floor; she attempted CPR but he could not be revived.
UPDATE (2:01pm ET):
The Dolphins tweeted about Sparano’s passing:
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Coach Tony Sparano. pic.twitter.com/UVxieE1Q6U— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) July 22, 2018
UPDATE (3:00pm ET):
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross released a statement following Sparano’s passing:
We are saddened to learn of Tony Sparano’s tragic and unexpected passing today. Tony made an indelible impact on our team’s history and his toughness, grit and leadership were evident to everyone who had the chance to coach with or play for him. On behalf of the entire Dolphins organization, we extend our most heartfelt condolences to his wife Jeanette and the entire Sparano family.”
UPDATE (3:35pm ET):
Former Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown tweeted about Sparano:
My thoughts and prayers go out to the Sparano family. One of the most energetic and motivational coaches that I’ve ever played for. He will truly be missed! #prayers— Ronnie Brown (@ronnie23brown) July 22, 2018
Ronnie Brown, who ran Tony Sparano's Wildcat to perfection in 2008: "You knew he was rooting for you as person and as a football player. He genuinely wanted you to do well and you could sense that."— Hal Habib (@gunnerhal) July 22, 2018
Former Dolphins left tackle and Sparano’s first draft choice, the first-overall pick in 2008, Jake Long tweeted:
UPDATE (5:56PM ET):
Former Miami Dolphins wide receiver Greg Camarillo tweeted:
So sad to hear about the passing of my former @MiamiDolphins head coach, Tony Sparano. My thoughts and memories (thread):— Greg Camarillo (@catchcamarillo) July 22, 2018
• My heart breaks for his family. He often had his wife and family around the team. Demonstrated his values. Great, genuine, caring people.