Tony Sparano's cause of death released by medical examiner in Minnesota

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Tony Sparano passed away unexpectedly on Sunday.  USATSI

Vikings offensive line coach Tony Sparano died of natural causes brought on by arteriosclerotic heart disease, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner announced on Monday.  

The 56-year-old passed away unexpectedly on Sunday morning, just two days before Vikings rookies were set to report to training camp. According to ESPN.com, an unconscious Sparano was discovered by his wife at their home in Eden Prairie on Sunday as the family was getting prepared to leave for church. Sparano's official time of death was 8:54 a.m.

The tragic loss came just days after Sparano had complained of chest pains. The long-time NFL coach was taken to the hospital on Thursday, but then was released on Friday after undergoing a battery of tests. 

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman were both at a loss for words after getting the news of Sparano's death. 

"I love Tony Sparano," Zimmer said in a statement on Sunday. "He was a great teacher, a grinder of a worker and had a toughness and fighting spirit that showed in our linemen. He was a great husband, father and grandfather and a great friend to me. This is just sinking in for us but Tony will be sorely missed by all."

Spielman said the Vikings will support Sparano's family in any way they can. 

"I am at a loss for words with Tony's sudden passing," Spielman said. "Tony loved the game of football and his players. More importantly, he was a strong man of faith who treasured his family. My heart is with the Sparanos today. As an organization we will support them in whatever ways we can." 

The Vikings will be taking some time off this week so that everyone in the organization can attend Sparano's memorial service. The service is set for Friday and that team has already announced that practice will be canceled that day.

The 2018 season would have marked Sparano's 20th year as an NFL coach or assistant coach. Sparano's career started in 1999 when he was hired as an offensive quality control coach for the Browns. From there, Sparano held multiple jobs, including a memorable stint as the Dolphins' head coach from 2008-11. 

Since 2003, Sparano is the only coach other than Bill Belichick to have won an AFC East title. In his first year with the Dolphins, Sparano implemented the Wildcat on offense and went on to shock the NFL by leading the Dolphins to an 11-5 record and a division title. It was a huge turn around for a team that had gone 1-15 just one year earlier. 

Sparano is survived by his wife, Jeanette, three children -- sons, Tony and Andrew, his daughter, Ryan Leigh -- and four grandchildren.

CBS Sports Writer

John Breech has been at CBS Sports since July 2011 and currently spends most of his time writing about the NFL. He's believed to be one of only three people in the world who thinks that Andy Dalton will... Full Bio

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