Jim Fassel: An Underrated New York Giants Head Coach

New York Giants fans who were born following the franchise’s first two Super Bowl titles received a jolt of bad news recently with news of the sudden death of former head coach Jim Fassel. After experiencing chest pains, Fassel died of a heart attack while under sedation at a local Las Vegas hospital. He was an underrated head coach during his time with the G-Men. He was also the perfect bridge between the Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin years.

Fassel was the “quarterback whisperer” to the stars of the NFL. He earned this reputation for his relationship with John Elway during their time together at Stanford University, then with the Denver Broncos. Also, he squeezed out a productive year from an aging Boomer Esiason as the Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator in 1996. In both cases, Fassel devised an offensive game plan that showcased each quarterback’s talents. Rarely did he ask them to go out of their comfort zone.

Jim Fassel Was The Right Choice For Giants Rebuild

Following a season in the desert, Fassel was hired as the next coach of the Giants. He inherited a mess from Dan Reeves, who pushed two franchise (Phil Simms and Lawrence Taylor) stalwarts out the door. Granted, both players were past their prime, but Reeves failed to replace them with viable candidates.

The Giants hired Fassel because of his time working on Ray Handley’s staff in 1991-92. The organization felt he was the right candidate to develop the franchise’s next quarterback. Quickly, Fassel turned things around by utilizing both Dave Brown and Danny Kanell at the quarterback position. He ran with the hot hand to eke out wins as the Giants went 10-5-1 to capture the NFC East title. For his effort, Fassel was named NFL Coach of the Year in 1997.

2000 Season Turned into a High Stakes Poker Game

Fassel’s signature moment as the Giants head coach came in that memorable 2000 season. At the start, the G-Men were cruising to a 7-2 record and battling for the top seed in the NFC. But they hit a speed bump in Weeks 11-12. In both games, the opponent jumped out (Los Angeles Rams 28-0 in Week 11 and Detroit Lions 21-0 in Week 12) to big first-half leads. The Giants offense was not sophisticated enough to mount a comeback in either game. For their poor effort, the G-Men were serenaded with boos as they headed off the field in both losses.

The New York media began speculating that Fassel’s job status might be tenuous at best. Especially since he was in the final year of his contract. Then came Fassel’s routine Wednesday press briefing for Week 13. This where he uttered those famous words, “This team is going to the playoffs.” Fassel declared he was placing all of his chips in the middle of the table by guaranteeing the Giants were going to the postseason.

The message was loud and clear to his players that he had their back. Fassel was going to give them every opportunity to turn their season around. And in return, the Giants players backed the coach’s words. New York finished the 2000 regular season undefeated with a 12-4 record and capturing the NFC East title.

This earned them the conference’s top seed. Fassel’s Giants had one of the franchise’s most lopsided playoff victories with their 41-0 shutout of the Minnesota Vikings to capture the NFC crown. However, the G-Men could not complete the mission as they lost to the Baltimore Ravens 34-7 in Super Bowl XXXV.

Former Giants Head Coach Jim Fassel’s Biggest Contribution Came Off The Field

Fassel’s greatest accomplishment as Giants head coach might not have occurred on the football field. He attempted to heal the local community from the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center.

Immediately, Fassel organized trips to visit and speak with first responders who were involved with the cleanup effort at Ground Zero. Plus, he worked effortlessly in raising money to assist surviving family members who lost a loved one in the attacks. And no Giants fan will forget the team’s emotional road win against the Kansas City Chiefs in the first game following 9/11. Fassel’s work did not go unnoticed as Giants owner John Mara highlighted it in his press release following the announcement of his former coach’s death.

Fassel would lead the Giants to one more playoff appearance in 2002. Unfortunately, it was highlighted by an epic collapse in a 39-38 wildcard weekend road loss to the San Francisco 49ers. It is mindboggling to think the Giants once led in the contest by a score of 38-14. The after-effects from this defeat lingered into the 2003 season as the G-Men went 4-12 in Fassel’s last season at the helm.

In seven seasons (1997-2003) at the Meadowlands, Fassel went 58-53-1, which places him fourth in the franchise all-time coach’s wins list behind Steve Owen (153), Coughlin (102), and Parcells (77). The Giants made the playoff three times under Fassel and he is one of three head coaches to lead the franchise to a Super Bowl appearance.

Jim Fassel was Right Man for Giants

It was surprising that Fassel never received another opportunity to lead an NFL franchise once again. Multiple media reports indicated that Fassel was the runner-up to Joe Gibbs for the head coaching job with the Washington Football Team in 2004. Team owner Daniel Snyder considered Fassel once again following Gibbs’ retirement in 2008. Many football insiders felt Fassel was miscast by NFL executives for how his tenure ended in New York.

Fassel’s death came far too early as the NFL lost a good man and a great coach.

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