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Jim Fassel, who was a longtime architect of offensive plans in professional and college football and who peaked in his career coaching the Giants team that reached the 2001 Super Bowl, died in Las Vegas on Monday. He was 71.
The Giants reported the death on their website. His son John, the coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys’ special teams, told the Los Angeles Times the cause was a heart attack.
Fassel, who lived in the Las Vegas area for many years, told sports journalists in late November 2000 that he “put my chips in the middle of the table” to guarantee that his Giants team would 7- 4, would reach the playoffs.
“When I called the staff up the night before to tell them what I was going to say, they thought someone was going to fire,” he told the New York Times. “I just wanted to tell you what I was going to do and the next day I did it.”
The Giants won their last five regular season games in 2000, defeating the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round of the playoffs and defeating the favored Minnesota Vikings 41-0 in the championship game of the National Football Conference at Giants Stadium. Kerry Collins, one of the many quarterbacks Fassel has worked with over the years, threw five touchdowns, including two for Ike Hilliard and another for Amani Toomer, his best wide receivers.
Fassel was carried off the field by linemen Michael Strahan and Keith Hamilton, the pillars of the Giants defense, along with linebacker Jessie Armstead.
Giants co-owner Wellington Mara responded to those who may have been distraught by the team’s prospects at the end of the regular season: “Today we proved we are the worst team to ever win the National Football Conference championship. I am happy to say that in two weeks we will try to become the worst team that has ever won the Super Bowl. “
But the Giants ‘luck – chips or no chips on the table – ran out in January when they were defeated by the Baltimore Ravens, 34-7, in Super Bowl XXXV, the Giants’ first championship game since defeating the Buffalo Bills in the 1991 Super Bowl.
Fassel was assistant coach for the Giants in 1991 and 1992 and later an offensive assistant for the Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals in the 1990s, before being named in 1997 to succeed Dan Reeves, the Giants head coach for the previous four years.
He was named NFL Coach of the Year that season when the Giants finished 10-5-1. In December 1998, they upset the Denver Broncos, who came into the game 13-0 behind future Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway.
Fassel announced in mid-December 2003 that he would be stepping down at the end of the season after losing two campaigns, including a devastating loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the 2002 playoffs after the Giants led 3-23 in the third quarter had gone.
The Giants reached seven seasons as head coach 58-53-1 in Fassels and made three playoffs.
In 2007 and 2008, he was the color commentator for Westwood One’s radio coverage of NFL games and later was the head coach of the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League.
Fassel was interviewed for a head coaching post by at least three NFL teams after leaving the Giants, but was passed over each time. In 2005 and 2006 he became the Ravens’ offensive coordinator.
James Edward Fassel was born on August 31, 1949 in Anaheim, California. He was a quarterback at Anaheim High School, played for Fullerton College, and then was backup quarterback for the undefeated Rose Bowl Championship team of Southern California from 1969. He later played for Long Beach state.
He played for the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League in 1973, then trained in the World Football League before returning to college football as an offensive coach for Utah, Weber State, also in Utah, and Stanford. From 1985 to 1989 he was the head coach in Utah.
In addition to his son John, Fassel’s survivors include his wife Kitty, four other children and 16 grandchildren.
“Most people will remember his ‘guarantee’ from 2000, which was awesome because if he was wrong he would have been fired and forgotten,” former Giants running back Tiki Barber, who played for Fassel, wrote on Twitter after Fassel’s death. “If he was right, it became legendary.”