West Haven native and former Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano dies at 56

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 24: Head coach Tony Sparano of the Miami Dolphins leads his team against the Dallas Cowboys during the Thanksgiving Day game at Cowboys Stadium on November 24, 2011 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

West Haven native and former University of New Haven head football coach Tony Sparano died early Sunday morning. He was 56-years-old.

Sparano was named head coach of the University of New Haven in 1994 and held the position for five years.  He led the Chargers to the NCAA  Division II championship game in 1997, where they lost to Northern Colorado.

Sparano began his NFL coaching career in 1999 as part of the then-reformed Cleveland Browns. In 2008, Sparano was hired by the legendary Bill Parcells to be the head coach of the Miami Dolphins. In his first year, Sparano led a team who just won one game in 2007, to an 11-5 record and playoff berth.  The 10-win turnaround tied an NFL record and Sparano finished second in the voting for the AP Coach of the Year.

Sparano was fired from the Dolphins organization in 2011. He was serving as the offensive line coach for the Minnesota Vikings until his death.

The Vikings owner’s Mark and Zygi Wilf tweeted a statement Sunday that said,

“Our hearts go out to Jeanette and the entire Sparano family as we all mourn the loss of Tony. Tony was a passionate and drive 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 think of Tony’s family during this incredibly difficult time. We ask that the entire NFL and Vikings keep the Sparanos in their thoughts.”

Read the full statement by clicking here.

Minnesota players like Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph, along with other individuals as well as multiple NFL organizations, have tweeted out their condolences for Sparano’s family.

The Vikings will provide further updates when appropriate. Tony is survived by his wife, Jeannette, his two sons; Tony and Andrew, his daughter, Ryan Leigh, and his four grandchildren.

Sparano was born in West Haven in 1961 and was a four-year letterman at the University of New Haven.  He graduated from UNH in 1982 and began his coaching career at his alma mater serving as the offensive line coach. He then joined the coaching staff at Boston University where he served as the Terrier’s offensive line coach for five years.