Tony Sparano, the Vikings’ offensive line coach and former head coach of the Dolphins and Raiders, has died at the age of 56.
The Vikings announced Sparano’s death on Sunday afternoon.
“Our hearts go out to Jeanette and the entire Sparano family as we all mourn the loss of Tony,” Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf said in a 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.”
Sparano grew up in Connecticut, played college football at the University of New Haven and then began his coaching career as an assistant at his alma mater in 1984. He later became the head coach at New Haven in 1994 and stayed there five seasons, including taking the team to the NCAA Division II championship game in 1997.
From there Sparano became an assistant coach in Cleveland, then Washington, Jacksonville and Dallas. He was hired by his longtime friend and boss Bill Parcells to be the Dolphins’ head coach in 2008. In his first season as a head coach, Sparano engineered an incredible turnaround, taking over a Dolphins team that had gone 1-15 the year before and going to the playoffs with an 11-5 record. However, Sparano never again had a winning record in three more seasons with the Dolphins and one partial season as interim head coach of the Raiders.
He is survived by his wife, three children and four grandchildren.