As we told you just a short time ago, the Minnesota Vikings received the devastating news that Offensive Line Coach Tony Sparano has passed away at the age of 56. We wanted to take a look back at Sparano’s coaching career, which spanned almost two decades in the National Football League and 34 years overall between college and the pros.
Sparano started his coaching career at his alma mater, the University of New Haven. He was a four-year letterman for the Chargers as a player, graduating in 1982. In 1984, he was named as the team’s Offensive Line Coach, a position that he held for four seasons. He then moved on to Boston University, serving as the Terriers’ Offensive Line Coach in 1988 before being promoted to the Offensive Coordinator’s job in 1989. In 1994, he returned to New Haven, this time as the head coach.
He was the head coach at the University of New Haven until 1998, and his time in the NFL then began as he accepted the job as the Cleveland Browns’ Offensive Quality Control Coach. He was the QC Coach in 1999, and then served as the Browns’ Offensive Line Coach for the 2000 season. Following a bad 2000 season, the entire Browns’ coaching staff was dismissed, and Sparano moved on to be the tight ends coach for two different teams, serving in that capacity for the Washington Redskins in 2001 and the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2002.
In 2003, he found his first real, permanent NFL home, as he joined the staff of the legendary Bill Parcells with the Dallas Cowboys, serving on the same staff as current Minnesota Vikings’ head coach Mike Zimmer. Sparano was the tight ends coach for the Cowboys in 2003 and 2004, and was then promoted to the position of Offensive Line Coach, a job that he held for three seasons.
During the 2008 offseason, the Miami Dolphins tabbed Sparano to become their new head coach, taking over for Cam Cameron following the Dolphins’ disastrous 1-15 campaign in 2007. In his first season as the head man on the Dolphins’ sideline, he engineered one of the great turnarounds in NFL history, as the Dolphins went 11-5 in 2008 and made the postseason. To date, he is the only head coach in NFL history to lead a team to the playoffs following a year in which the team had only won one game.
Unfortunately for Sparano, he could not replicate that success in future seasons, as the Dolphins went 7-9 in each of the next two seasons, and he was fired by the Dolphins near the end of the 2011 season, with the Dolphins sitting on a 4-9 record. He finished his tenure in Miami with a record of 29-32.
From there, he moved on to become the Offensive Coordinator of the New York Jets in 2012, and then moved on to be the Offensive Line Coach for the Oakland Raiders in 2013. When the Raiders fired head coach Dennis Allen following an 0-4 start to the 2014 season, Sparano took over as the team’s interim head coach, guiding the team to a 3-9 mark over their final twelve games.
Sparano’s final stop on his coaching resume before coming to Minnesota came when he served as the tight ends coach from the San Francisco 49ers in 2015, and following that season the Vikings brought him in to be the team’s Offensive Line Coach during the 2016 offseason.
While the Vikings’ offensive line went through a pretty rough season in 2016, they appeared to be trending the right direction under Sparano’s tutelage in 2017.
Tony Sparano had a long and largely successful career as a coach at both the college and professional levels. From some of the reactions on social media thus far today, he was also very beloved by his players and fellow coaches, as well as the organization as a whole.
We once again want to send our condolences to the Sparano family in light of Tony Sparano’s passing.