Former Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano dead at 56

Fins won AFC East title in his first year as coach

(Associated Press)

MIAMI – Tony Sparano, who led the Miami Dolphins as head coach from 2008 to 2011, has died. He was 56.

The Minnesota Vikings, where he most recently served as the team's offensive line coach, announced Sunday that he had unexpectedly passed away.

Sparano coached the Dolphins between 2008 and 2011, compiling a 29-32 record during his tenure. The Fins won the 2008 AFC East title in Sparano’s first year, finishing 11 and 5. That Dolphins team remains the only team other than the Patriots to win the division since 2003. 

"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," Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said. "On behalf of the entire Dolphins organization, we extend our most heartfelt condolences to his wife Jeanette and the entire Sparano family.”

That 2008 team is also known for using the “Wildcat” formation in which running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams took direct snaps in the backfield. Other teams have since used similar formations with various names. 

Making that 2008 run even more impressive was that the Dolphins finished 1-15 in 2007. The 10-win improvement marked the biggest single-season turnaround in NFL history. 

Since leaving the Dolphins, Sparano coached the Jets, Raiders, 49ers and Vikings, serving in different roles ranging from Raiders interim head coach to Vikings offensive line coach. 

He played at the University of New Haven where he was a four-year letterman. Sparano was hired as New Haven’s head coach in 1994 and held that position for five seasons.

Sparano is survived by his wife, two sons, a daughter and four grandchildren.