Jim Fassel, the former New York Giants head coach who won NFL Coach of the Year in 1997, has died of a heart attack at 71.
According to Fassel's son, who confirmed his death to the Los Angeles Times, Fassel had a fatal heart attack while under sedation after going to the hospital with chest pains. Fassel lived in Las Vegas, and his son said that after he got the phone call about his father on Monday afternoon, the entire family started convening in Vegas.
Fassel had a long career in coaching, both at the college and professional levels. Following a brief playing career — he was drafted in the seventh round by the Chicago Bears in 1972 but never appeared in an NFL game — he transitioned to coaching in 1974. He spent the next decade coaching at the college level, mostly as a quarterbacks and receivers coach, before being named head coach at Utah in 1985.
Fassel leads Giants to Super Bowl
Fassel made the leap to the NFL in 1991, serving as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Giants, and did similar jobs for the Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, and Arizona Cardinals.
Then, in 1997, the Giants came calling, and Fassel became their head coach. After a 6-10 fifth-place finish in 1996, Fassel turned them into a 10-5-1 first-place team that made the playoffs for the first time since 1993, which earned him the NFL Coach of the Year award.
He led the Giants to the Super Bowl in the 2000 season, but their spot in the playoffs was in doubt as late as Week 12. At that point they were 7-4 after losing two straight games, but that's when Fassel made a legendary promise to the New York media and Giants fans everywhere: the team was going to the playoffs.
“You got the laser, you can put it right on my chest. I’ll take full responsibility. I’m raising the stakes right now. This is a poker game, I’m shoving my chips to the middle of the table, I’m raising the ante. Anybody wants in, get in. Anybody wants out, get out.
“This team is going to the playoffs. I believe in my players, I believe in my coaches and I believe in myself. I have a lot of confidence in myself. I have a lot of confidence in my coaches and I have a lot of confidence in the players and I have no fear. I came into this season with a lots of people wondering if I was worried about my job. I'm not worried about it, I'm not worried about the pressure. I've got no worries. I've got no fear. None. Zero. Count on it."
And he was right. From that moment, the Giants didn't lose another game until they hit the Super Bowl, where they got decimated by the Baltimore Ravens.
Fassel announced he would resign at the end of the 2003 season, then spent a few years as offensive coordinator with the Ravens. In 2009 he got his final coaching job, as head coach for the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League, which he did until 2012.
During an interview with the Giants website in 2014, Fassel gave credit to the Giants and his general manager George Young for teaching him how to make it as a coach in the NFL.
"It was a great time, a great time," Fassel said in an interview at his home in Manhattan Beach, California. "People ask me, 'Wasn't the media awful to you?' No, I'm friends with a lot of them. I respect the media. They have a job to do. I'll tell you what, I was with [five] different franchises [including Baltimore, where he served as an assistant post-Giants], but the Giants is how I learned to coach in the NFL, mainly from [the late general manager and Pro Football Hall of Famer] George Young. They run it right. They put the marbles in a row to win."
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