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Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints personnel miss camp practice to attend Tony Sparano service

'He was a tremendous coach, a great person'

New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton, along with several members of the organization, missed Friday's training camp practice in order to attend the funeral service of Tony Sparano, one of Payton's closest friends in the coaching fraternity.

Joining Payton at the service were Assistant General Manager/College Scouting Director Jeff Ireland; offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael; defensive coordinator Dennis Allen; assistant head coach/tight ends Dan Campbell and linebackers coach Mike Nolan.

On Thursday, following the Saints' opening training camp practice, Payton expounded on his relationship with Sparano, who was the offensive line coach for the Vikings at the time of his death, on July 22. He was 56.

"He meant a lot," Payton said. "He was a close friend. We worked together for three years in Dallas. We were hired on the same day and his office was right next to mine and (he was) probably one of the two or three closest friends I had in the game.

"He was a tremendous coach, a great person. He was great with his players. It's sad and it's something that still seems a little bit surreal. A group of us will go up there tonight and be at his funeral tomorrow. But a great guy, (he) spoke to our team the day before the Super Bowl. We practiced in Miami on that Saturday on the field (at Dolphin Stadium). It was more of a light practice but afterwards he shared a few words with our players and he and his wife have always been close friends of my family, he'll be missed."

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