Zimmer: Tony Sparano's death led to 'downward spiral'

The list of reasons the Minnesota Vikings season ended in disappointment would be long.

From offensive line issues, to quarterback struggles, to turnovers, to a limp running game, to defensive breakdowns at inopportune times, on and on and on and on.

Coach Mike Zimmer, however, pointed out one very specific loss that began the downward spiral before the season started: The death of assistant coach Tony Sparano.

"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, via 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 (with him gone)."

Sparano died unexpectedly on July 22, two days before the start of training camp.

The loss of the offensive line coach thrust Clancy Barone and Andrew Janocko into O-line coaching duties on short notice. The abrupt, unanticipated change could have played a role in the blocking struggles.

"That was a little bit of a factor," Zimmer said. "I do think Clancy and Andrew, for the situation that they were put in, did an unbelievable job. It's just tough (to replace Tony)."

Zimmer pointed out that Sparano, a longtime respected NFL assistant around the league with head coaching experience, was more than just an offensive line coach, but a leader in the game-planning room. The Vikings missed Sparano's toughness and edge this season.

"That's part of it," Zimmer said. "You need that kind of a leader in that room that can help with those things, and Tony was very innovative in the running game. Like I said before, he was extremely influential in that room. I know the offensive line was devastated when that happened because they really loved the guy, as did everybody that worked with him."

Zimmer will now spend the offseason attempting to get that toughness back in the building.

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