The last time the Miami Dolphins made me fanatically jump out of my seat moreover believing they can win a Super Bowl, former Dolphins coach Tony Sparano was the head coach, and wildcat mania took over the NFL. They were the glory days.
According to ESPN, the Minnesota Vikings offensive line coach complained about chest pains and went to the hospital on Thursday. Doctors released him on Friday. He was found unconscious in the kitchen of his Eden Prairie Minn., home Sunday morning by his wife Jeannette while they prepared to attend church.
Sparano 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.
“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 our play for him,” Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said in a statement. “On behalf of the entire Dolphins’ organization, we extend our most heartfelt condolences to his wife Jeanette and the entire Sparano family.”
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, and Sparano finished one vote behind Atlanta Falcons first-year head coach Mike Smith in balloting for the AP Coach of the Year award.
Miami finished first in the AFC East division and third overall in the conference. The New Patriots did lose Tom Brady for the season in the first game. Dolphins signed Chad Pennington after he was cut by the New York Jets who signed Brett Farve.
Pennington was the head to the snake of the Dolphins “Wildcat formation, with running back Ronnie Brown taking the snap. The wildcat caught the attention of the NFL when the Dolphins destroyed the Patriots on their home field 38-13. The win was after a 0-2 start.
The Dolphins beat the Jets on the season’s final Sunday to win the AFC East. It is still the only season, 2003 to present, that New England didn’t win the division.
Pennington even won the National Football League Comeback player of the year award.
You are only as good as your latest win. 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. Dolphins went 4-9.
The former Dolphin coach passed away at the age of 56. He is survived by his wife, three children; sons Tony and Andrew, his daughter Ryan Leigh, and four grandchildren.
Sparano may have been an anomaly. However, it comes with glory and respect.