WESTFIELD, Ind. — Dave DeGuglielmo had high hopes for his very first conversation with Tony Sparano.
The year was 1988, and Sparano had just been hired as the new offensive line coach at Boston University, where DeGuglielmo — who originally earned a spot on the roster as a walk-on — had been gaining some momentum into the starting lineup towards the end of the previous season.
"Some of my teammates had met him prior to me, and I said, 'What's the new line coach like?'" DeGuglielmo said. "And one of the guys said, 'He's you with a mustache.' "And I said, 'What are you talkin' about?' He goes, 'Wait 'til you see him.'"
Sure enough, Sparano and DeGuglielmo had their similarities: "We're both Italian guys, we're both shorter guys, we both played interior line, so I felt right away like I could relate to him and he could relate to me," DeGuglielmo said.
Unfortunately, Sparano, talking in his trademark whisper, had to hit DeGuglielmo with some hard facts almost before they could even exchange pleasantries.
"The first thing he said to me was, 'I just left Division II to come to I-AA,'" DeGuglielmo recalled. "And he said, 'I wouldn't play a 5-foot-8 and a half offensive linemen at Division II, so I'm sure as hell not gonna play one at I-AA.'
"So I looked at the depth chart behind him and I had gone from the first team to the fourth team. So although my assumption was this was going to be a really good thing — it didn't start off that way."
But it only took a matter of months for DeGuglielmo and Sparano to start seeing things eye-to-eye — and for DeGuglielmo to earn his starting job back.
It was just the beginning of what would blossom into a 30-year relationship that saw the two men not only remain close in a football capacity — teaming together as coaches at the college, and, later, the professional level — but one in which DeGuglielmo became an extended member of Sparano's family.
Sparano, 56, died Sunday from heart disease, leaving hundreds across the National Football League in shock about the loss of coach and person widely regarded as a tremendous man of faith and family.
"It's a terrible loss," DeGuglielmo, in his first season as the Indianapolis Colts' offensive line coach, told Colts.com Saturday from his office at the team's training camp headquarters in Westfield, Ind. "And I can't say how others, how deeply they were distraught over it. I know I wasn't in a good spot over it, for sure.
"Thirty years is 30 years, and when you're in this profession, and he's not only one of my associates, if you will, one of the guys that live my life and feel my pain, because there's only 32 of us in the world … well he's also like a brother, and when he's hurt, I'm hurt."
Once DeGuglielmo's playing days were over, it was Sparano that instantly wanted to bring him on his coaching staff at Boston University. But "Guge" said he followed other advice to branch out and extend his circle, which ended up paying tremendous dividends when he was introduced to the likes of Tom Coughlin as a grad assistant at Boston College.
But eventually, DeGuglielmo went back to his alma mater, Boston University, to serve under Sparano — now the offensive coordinator — as his offensive line coach.
After both men eventually moved on to other jobs at the college level, DeGuglielmo and Sparano each made the jump into the NFL. In 2005, Sparano, now the offensive line coach for the Dallas Cowboys, tried to lure DeGuglielmo, an assistant offensive line coach with the New York Giants, over to his staff as tight ends coach, but Coughlin, then the Giants' head coach, and Bill Parcells, the Cowboys' head coach, didn't want to seem like they were poaching off each others' staffs.
A couple years later, Sparano — now the head coach of the Miami Dolphins — tried again, but with the Giants making a Super Bowl run at the time, Coughlin, again, turned down the interview request.
And, finally, the next year, the third time ended up being the charm — even though Coughlin wasn't completely on board at first.
"Tony called me and said, 'Listen, Guge: I'm tryin' my best to getcha, but Tom won't do it,'" DeGuglielmo recalled. "So Tom and I had a little sitdown and after a little bit of conversation, he allowed me the opportunity to go down and talk to Tony."
DeGuglielmo would serve as Sparano's offensive line coach from 2009-11, and then stayed with Sparano, who took the New York Jets' offensive coordinator job, as his line coach once again in 2012.
The two have taken separate paths since that time, but DeGuglielmo said he was elated to hear that Sparano had been hired as the Minnesota Vikings' offensive line coach in 2016.
"I knew the joy he had in coaching line because the people that you work with," DeGuglielmo said. "And it's a completely different mentality. So when he settled back into being a line coach again, I knew right away, you could tell in his personality, the joy of the game was back to him. And players can read your emotion and your attitude, and I don't doubt for a second: I knew when he was a line coach prior to being a head coach he's a tough man, but guys want to play for him."
DeGuglielmo said he's taken little nuances from Sparano's coaching style and have applied them to his own, such as using variations of a players' name "or something completely off-beat" to call them out during a practice or in the meeting room.
But the biggest takeaway from Sparano, DeGuglielmo said, is simply the way he treats his players.
"He has a way about him to be firm, yet be gentle at the same time; to be demanding, yet not be overbearing and never belittling guys," DeGuglielmo said. "You know, he taught me that it's OK to set expectations that might be slightly higher than possible, and force a guy to achieve things that he may not ever think he could achieve, you know? And that takes a little prodding sometimes; it takes some little jabs. And he had a way about him."
Sparano is survived by his wife, Jeanette, his two sons, Tony and Andrew, his daughter, Ryan Leigh, and four grandchildren.