Pat Shurmur was preparing for his first training camp as head coach of the New York Giants when he received the news. Minnesota Vikings offensive line coach Tony Sparano unexpectedly died at the age of 56.
Shurmur knew Sparano well. Both men were hired by Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer in 2016. Shurmur was the tight ends coach and promoted to interim offensive coordinator after the sudden resignation of Norv Turner halfway through the 2016 season. The interim tag was removed in 2017
“I worked with Tony for the past two seasons in Minnesota,” Shurmur said in a statement. “We both showed up at the same time. We were the new guys, we became friends and it didn’t take long to realize and respect what a good person and a good coach he was.”
The Vikings were Sparano’s eighth NFL stop, including head coaching stints with the Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders. It was with the Vikings, however, that Sparano came closest to reaching the Super Bowl.
Shurmur and Sparano rebuilt the Vikings’ offensive line via free agency and the NFL Draft. Their plan was to use more zone blocking with an emphasis on mobile players. The Vikings averaged 122.3 yards per game on the ground, seventh in the NFL in 2017. They were tied for seventh in the league with 15 rushing touchdowns.
Minnesota’s offensive line not only paved the way for a top-10 running game but also provided the protection backup quarterback Case Keenum needed to have a breakout 2017 season. The Vikings went 11-3 in the regular season with Keenum behind center going all the way to the NFC Championship Game. Shurmur was named head coach of the Giants the day after the Vikings’ loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
Sparano’s NFL legacy will be discussed at length in the days and weeks to come. For now, it is appropriate to remember the totality of the man.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with (his wife) Jeannette and the kids,” Shurmur said. “What a tremendous coach and an even better person. I’m proud to have been his friend.”
– Curtis Rawls is a Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage and covers the NFL, the New York Giants, and the NBA. Please like and follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Twitter. Curtis can be followed on Twitter @CuRawls203.