Tragedy struck the Minnesota Vikings last offseason, when beloved and respected offensive line coach Tony Sparano passed away suddenly from heart disease at the age of 56.
Sparano was set to being his third season with the Vikings, looking to help the team build off a 13-13 season and NFC Championship Game appearance. His untimely passing on July 22 was absolutely devastating, and it left a massive hole in the hearts of the organization.
The Vikings finished just 8-7-1 in 2018 and missed the postseason in a year that was filled with Super Bowl aspirations. Head coach Mike Zimmer explained why Sparano's passing was the start of what would be a forgettable season in the Gopher State.
"Quite honestly, the death of Tony Sparano really kind of threw things into a little bit of a downward spiral, only because this guy was a type-A personality," Zimmer said, according to Dane Mizutani of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "He was very innovative in the running game. He had a strong voice in that room. He had a strong voice with me. Yes, I do feel like we lost a little bit of our identity."
Sparano's loss was felt both on and off the field, as $84 million quarterback Kirk Cousins failed to deliver the big wins. This was due in large part to a terrible offensive line - one that struggled in both pass protection and run blocking.
The Vikings had Clancy Barone and Andrew Janocko take over as coaches for the o-line unit, and they can hardly be blamed for the struggles. They were given very little time to prepare and try to replicate the schemes and genius Sparano left behind.
Minnesota had all the makings to be a championship contender in 2018, given their elite defense and offensive playmakers in Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook and Stefon Diggs. But Cousins simply wasn't able to perform up to the level we saw in Washington, the form that made him an $84 million man.
What This Means
Sparano's loss was extremely hard for the Vikings to go through, and they had very little time to try and prepare for the season without him. The Vikings will have to find the right coaching schemes and necessary player personnel to fix that unit this offseason, otherwise 2019 will be another disappointing season.