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Jags’ Sparano returns to Minnesota weeks after dad’s death

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Tony Sparano Jr. directed drill after drill Tuesday, clapping his hands and offering positive feedback to players.

He smiled. He laughed. He joked with Jacksonville’s offensive linemen during breaks.

His emotions might be totally different the rest of the week.

The son of longtime NFL coach Tony Sparano will return to Minnesota a little more than three weeks after his father’s death and step onto the same practice fields his dad roamed the last three years. It won’t be easy for the younger Sparano, an assistant offensive line coach with Jacksonville.

“He’s going through a tough time,” said Jaguars coach Doug Marrone, whose team will hold two joint practices with the Vikings before a preseason game Saturday. “It is a tough, tough time. It is not just him, individually. It’s his family, his mom, and there is a lot going on. … We will do whatever we have to do to make sure we are doing the right thing for his family.”

Marrone offered to let Sparano stay behind in Jacksonville, realizing how difficult the trip might be for him. But Sparano declined and opted to head north with his football family.

“You don’t want to look back after things occur and have any type of regrets,” Marrone said. “I think living life like that in anything that you do is very difficult. I just want to make sure everything is covered, and whatever support he needs from me, I am there for him.”

The elder Sparano was set to begin another season as Vikings offensive line coach when he died unexpectedly July 22, just a few days before the start of training camp. He died of natural causes from arteriosclerotic heart disease, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office said the following day.

Sparano, 56, collapsed in the kitchen of his home in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, while he was getting ready to leave for church with his wife, Jeanette.

A former head coach with Miami and Oakland, Sparano is survived by his wife; his two sons, Tony and Andrew; his daughter, Ryan Leigh; and four grandchildren.

Sparano Jr., 31, missed the first week of Jaguars camp to be with his family. Sparano has declined interview requests since his return and wasn’t expected to talk publicly in Minnesota.

The joint practices surely would have been special for the Sparano family. Father and son coached together in 2011 at Miami (Senior was the head coach; Junior was an offensive quality control coach) and in 2012 with the New York Jets (Senior was the offensive coordinator; Junior was an intern).

“It’s just a very, very difficult situation,” Marrone said. “I have been talking to him about everything. I am just trying to be the best person that I can be for him like the rest of the guys on the staff. I think it will be a very emotional time.

“I think his words, if you talk to him, would probably be better than me trying to say what he feels. But for me, myself, the staff, everybody, the organization, the players, we are obviously all there to support him.”

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