According to ESPN, Sparano, the Minnesota Vikings offensive line coach, complained about chest pains and went to the hospital on Thursday. Doctors did tests but released him on Friday. He was found unconscious in the kitchen of his Eden Prairie, Minn., home Sunday morning by his wife.
Sparano, who served as the Dolphins’ head coach from 2008 to 2011, was the architect of the biggest one-season turnaround in NFL history, transforming the 1-15 Dolphins team he inherited into an 11-5 playoff team in 2008.
Sparano was the only Dolphins coach to lead his team to an AFC East title since 2000, getting to the top of the division in his first season as a head coach.
Sparano had a 29–32 record before he was fired with three games left in the 2011 season. He was also the interim head coach of the Oakland Raiders in 2014, and had a 3-9 record during his tenure in that role.
Sparano, who was a protégé of legendary coach Bill Parcells, began his NFL coaching career in 1999 and spent nearly two decades on the staffs of the Dallas Cowboys, Dolphins, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, and Minnesota Vikings, where he had been the offensive line coach since 2016.
“One of the most energetic and motivational coaches that I’ve ever played for,” former Dolphins tailback Ronnie Brown wrote on Twitter. “He will truly be missed!”
Sparano is survived by his wife, Jeanette, three children; sons, Tony and Andrew, his daughter, Ryan Leigh, and four grandchildren.
“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.”
Before moving to the NFL, Sparano was a college coach, working at his alma mater, New Haven, a Division II school, and Boston University.
“Heart broken and lost for words!” former Dolphins receiver Brian Hartline posted on Twitter upon hearing about Sparano’s death. “So glad I got to see you and tell you how much you meant to me a month ago.”
Sparano was beloved by his players because of his fiery personality. He rallied the 2008 Dolphins to an 11-5 finish and a playoff berth with a “why not us” rally cry, and his 2011 team rebounded from a 0-7 start mainly because he encouraged an “us against the world” mentality that produced a 3-1 record before Miami fired him following a 26-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles and replaced him with interim coach Todd Bowles.
“We were saddened to learn of Tony Sparano's tragic and unexpected passing,” Dolphins owner Steve Ross said in a statement. “Tony made an indelible impact on our team's history. His toughness, grit and leadership were evident to everyone who had the chance to coach with or play for him.”
“He was a great man,” said former Dolphins defensive tackle Kendall Langford, who spent four seasons as a starter in Miami playing for Sparano.
“You could tell he truly cared about his players. He showed it with his passion. He truly cared about his players and we stayed in touch throughout my career because he’d check on me from time to time. This is definitely a big loss for the football community.”
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