Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn - USA TODAY Sports

NFL coach Sparano dies at age 56

The former Dolphins head coach was serving as the offensive line coach with the Vikings

July 23, 2018 - 9:00 am

Longtime NFL coach Tony Sparano passed away Sunday morning at the age of 56, just days before the start of Minnesota Vikings training camp, where he was set to begin his third season as the team’s offensive line coach.

Sparano’s cause of death is still unknown, but he had complained to his family about chest pains on Thursday, which led to a hospitalization and tests. Sparano was discharged on Friday, but was found unconscious by his wife as they were preparing to attend church on Sunday. He was unable to be revived.

"I love Tony Sparano. 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," Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer said in a statement. "This is just sinking in for us but Tony will be sorely missed by all."

Sparano had been a coach in the NFL since 1999, when he broke into the league as an assistant with the Cleveland Browns. Sparano would rise through the ranks until he became the head coach of the Miami Dolphins in 2008. During his tenure with Miami, Sparano coached the Dolphins to an AFC East divisional title, the only time in the past 15 years that the New England Patriots did not win the division. Sparano is also the only coach in NFL history to take a team to the playoffs after winning just one game in the previous season.

The highlight of Sparano’s coaching career came in 2008 in New England. Sparano handed the Patriots their largest home loss of the Bill Belichick era as the Dolphins cruised to a 38-13 win. Sparano used the Wildcat formation six times during that game, and the Patriots couldn’t stop it as the Dolphins scored a touchdown on four of the six plays.

Sparano's only other head coaching job was on an interim basis with the Oakland Raiders in 2014.

Sparano was known around the league for his no-nonsense attitude and dark sunglasses, which he always wore on the sidelines. Sparano sustained facial injuries in a hot oil accident when he was 17, which affected the sensitivity of his eyes. The high light sensitivity of his eyes forced him to wear sunglasses almost all the time, even in low lighting.

Sparano was born in West Haven, Connecticut and played college football at the University of New Haven. Sparano was the head coach of his alma mater from 1994 to 1998.

Sparano is survived by his wife, Jeanette; his two sons, Tony and Andrew; his daughter, Ryan Leigh; and four grandchildren. His son, Tony Sparano Jr., spent some time with the Buffalo Bills organization under head coach Rex Ryan, serving as the tight ends coach from 2015-16.

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