American Football Database
Tony Sparano
File:Tony Sparano (cropped) 2.jpg
Sparano as head coach of the Dolphins in 2011
Personal information
Date of birth: (1961-10-07)October 7, 1961
Place of birth: West Haven, Connecticut, U.S.
Date of death: July 22, 2018(2018-07-22) (aged 56)
Place of death: Eden Prairie, Minnesota, U.S.
Career information
College: New Haven
No regular season or postseason appearances
Career history
 As coach:
*New Haven (1984–1987)
Offensive line coach
Career highlights and awards
  • N/A

Anthony Joseph Sparano III[1] (October 7, 1961 – July 22, 2018) was an American football coach. He served as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders of the National Football League (NFL) and is the only NFL head coach to have led a team to the playoffs the year following a one-win season, and only the second to conduct a ten-game turnaround, both of which he accomplished in his first season with the Dolphins.[2] He was fired by the Dolphins in December 2011 after a disappointing season.[3]

Sparano was the offensive line coach for the Minnesota Vikings from 2016 until his death in July 2018.[4]

Playing career

Sparano was a four-year letterman for Division II University of New Haven, starting at center for the New Haven Chargers and graduating in 1982.[5] He earned a B.S. in criminal justice from New Haven in 1984.[6]

Coaching career


Sparano began his coaching career at his alma mater, serving as New Haven's offensive line coach for four seasons before joining the staff at Division I-AA Boston University. After one year as the team's offensive line coach, Sparano served five seasons as the Terriers' offensive coordinator.

Sparano was named New Haven's head coach in 1994, and led the Chargers to two playoff appearances in five seasons. In 1997, New Haven led Division II in offense (42.8 points per game) and finished second in defense (11.6 points allowed per game) en route to a 12–2 record, losing to Northern Colorado in the championship game.[7]

National Football League

Assistant coach

Beginning his NFL career in 1999, Sparano was fired in three staffing purges after brief stints with the Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins and Jacksonville Jaguars.[8] Sparano was hired by new Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells in 2003,[9] rising from tight ends coach to assistant head coach in his five seasons in Dallas. Sparano was the offensive play-caller for Dallas in 2006, but ceded the responsibilities to new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett the following season.[10]

Head coach

After firing Cam Cameron following a franchise-worst 1–15 season, the Miami Dolphins and new executive vice president of football operations, Bill Parcells hired Sparano to a four-year contract worth $2,500,000 per year on January 16, 2008.[11]

In his first season, Sparano led the Dolphins to an 11–5 record and the AFC East division title, securing the franchise's first playoff berth in seven seasons before losing to the Baltimore Ravens in a wild-card game. The 10-win turnaround tied an NFL record[12] and Sparano finished one vote behind Atlanta Falcons first-year head coach Mike Smith in balloting for the AP Coach of the Year award.[13]

In the 2009 and 2010 seasons, Sparano led the Dolphins to a 7-9 record and third place in the AFC East. Sparano's Dolphins went 1-7 at home in 2010. The Dolphins were the subject of much gossip at the end of the 2010 season when team owner Stephen Ross flew across the country with General Manager Jeff Ireland to interview then Stanford University coach Jim Harbaugh. At the time of the interview with Harbaugh, Sparano was still the team's head coach. It was also reported by numerous media sources that Ross also spoke with former NFL coaches Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher about the not yet open position. According to reports Bill Cowher told Ross he would not talk to him while he had a head coach in place.

On January 8, 2011, the Dolphins gave Sparano a two-year extension worth $4,500,000 dollars, with Ross saying he was the perfect man for the job. However, on December 12, 2011, hours after a week 14 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Sparano was fired; secondary coach Todd Bowles finished out the season. The Dolphins bought out his contract for $9 million.

Return to assistant coaching

On January 11, 2012, Sparano was hired as the new offensive coordinator for the New York Jets, signing a three-year deal.[14] Sparano was fired on January 7, 2013 after the Jets' offense performed extremely poorly, with an offense ranked 30th out of the 32 teams in the NFL.[15]

On January 23, 2013, Sparano was hired to the dual roles of assistant head coach and offensive line coach by the Oakland Raiders.[16] He was expected to work closely with new offensive coordinator Greg Olson and head coach Dennis Allen to restore the angle-blocking scheme favored by star running back Darren McFadden, following the Raiders' disappointing 2012 offensive showing. After an 0-4 start to the 2014 season, the Raiders promoted Sparano to interim head coach on September 30, 2014 after firing head coach Dennis Allen. Sparano was not retained as head coach following the 2014 season.

On January 22, 2015, the San Francisco 49ers announced Sparano would be their new tight ends coach under new head coach Jim Tomsula.[17]

On January 13, 2016, the Minnesota Vikings announced Sparano would be their new offensive line coach.[18]

Head coaching record


Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs AFCA#
New Haven Chargers (NCAA Division II Independent) (1994–1998)
1994 New Haven 7–3
1995 New Haven 10–1–1 L NCAA Division II Quarterfinal
1996 New Haven 7–3
1997 New Haven 12–2 L NCAA Division II Championship
1998 New Haven 5–5
New Haven: 41–14–1
Total: 41–14–1
Indicates BCS bowl, Bowl Alliance or Bowl Coalition game. #Rankings from final AFCA Poll.


Team Year Regular season Postseason
Won Lost Ties Win % Finish Won Lost Win % Result
MIA 2008 11 5 0 .688 1st in AFC East 0 1 .000 Lost to Baltimore Ravens in AFC Wild-Card Game
MIA 2009 7 9 0 .438 3rd in AFC East - - - -
MIA 2010 7 9 0 .438 3rd in AFC East - - - -
MIA 2011 4 9 0 .308 (Fired) - - -
MIA total 29 32 0 .475 0 1 .000
OAK* 2014 3 9 0 .250 4th in AFC West - - -
Total[19] 32 41 0 .438 0 1 .000

* – Interim head coach

Coaching tree

NFL head coaches under whom Tony Sparano had served:

Assistants under Sparano who have become NCAA or NFL head coaches:

Personal life

Sparano was born in West Haven, Connecticut. He became known for wearing sunglasses, even during instances of relatively low lighting, due to an accident he suffered while working in a fast food restaurant at age 17 that damaged his eyesight and made sunglasses medically necessary. He was a tireless volunteer for the West Haven Ray Tellier Midget Football league which is now the RTMFL West Haven Pop Warner Football league. He spent countless hours not only coaching West Haven youths, but shaping their futures in the best possible way.

Sparano and his wife, Jeanette, had three children: sons Anthony Michael (currently an assistant offensive line coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars) and Andrew (an offensive line coach at Chabot College) both played college football at Albany,[20] while daughter Ryan Leigh is a classically trained French pastry chef.[21]


On July 19, 2018, Sparano was hospitalized in Eden Prairie, Minnesota after suffering from chest pains.[22] He was released the following day, but died two days later at the age of 56.[4][22] Following an autopsy, it was confirmed that Sparano died of arteriosclerotic heart disease.[23]


  1. Kelly, Omar (August 28, 2008). "Handpicked to right ship". South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
  2. "Dolphins still have room to improve after remarkable turnaround". Retrieved February 16, 2009.
  3. "Dolphins fire coach Tony Sparano". Retrieved January 11, 2012.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Malloy, Theresa (July 22, 2018). "Sources: Minnesota Vikings Offensive Line Coach Tony Sparano Dies" (in en). KSTP.
  5. "Sparano Enters: The Dolphins on Track?". January 20, 2008. Retrieved January 11, 2012.
  6. "Distinguished Alumni: Anthony J. Sparano III". University of New Haven. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
  7. Cavanaugh, Jack (December 13, 1997). "New Haven Just a Step from Division II Peak". New York Times. Retrieved February 16, 2009.
  8. Bishop, Greg (September 5, 2008). "Tony Sparano Follows Unconventional Path to Become Dolphins' Coach". New York Times. Retrieved February 16, 2009.
  9. "Parcells hires three more coaches". New York Times. January 16, 2003. Retrieved February 16, 2009.
  10. Watkins, Calvin (June 9, 2007). "Garrett will call Cowboys' plays". Dallas Morning News. Retrieved February 16, 2009.
  11. "Dolphins hire Sparano as head coach, replacing Cameron". January 16, 2008. Retrieved February 16, 2009.
  12. "Miami on pace to tie best turnaround in NFL history". Retrieved February 16, 2009.
  13. "Smith edges Sparano for AP Coach of Year". January 7, 2009. Retrieved January 11, 2011.
  14. Cimini, Rich (January 11, 2012). "Jets hire Tony Sparano to staff". ESPN. Archived from the original on January 11, 2012. Retrieved January 11, 2012.
  15. Orr, Conor (January 8, 2013). "Tony Sparano fired as Jets offensive coordinator, report says". The Star-Ledger. Archived from the original on January 8, 2013. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  16. Florio, Mike (January 23, 2013). "Tony Sparano lands in Oakland".
  17. "Tony Sparano new 49ers TE coach". ESPN. January 22, 2015.
  18. Hartman, Sid (January 13, 2016). "Ex Dolphins Boss Tony Sparano To Coach Vikings Offensive Line". Minneapolis Star Tribune. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
  19. Tony Sparano Record, Statistics, and Category Ranks -
  20. University at Albany football roster
  21. Tony Sparano Bio
  22. 22.0 22.1 "Vikings OL coach, former popular Cowboys assistant Tony Sparano dies at age of 56". Star-Telegram. July 22, 2018.
  23. "Vikings Offensive Line Coach Tony Sparano Died of Heart Disease". Retrieved July 23, 2018.

External links

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