Jim Fassel, who led the Giants to three playoff berths and a Super Bowl and mentored some of the franchise’s greatest players in his seven seasons as the team’s coach, has passed away.
He was 71.
According to numerous reports, Fassel, who lived outside of Las Vegas, was taken to a hospital with chest pains and died of a heart attack while under sedation.
Fassel coached the Giants from 1997-2003. His 58 career regular-season victories are the fourth-highest total among the 19 coaches in the 96-year history of the franchise. He was named NFL Coach of the Year after his first season.
After those two seasons with the Giants, rumors surfaced for the first time that Fassel was on the hot seat and that he had to reach postseason play in 2000 to keep his job.
He did better than that, leading the Giants to the NFC’s No. 1 seed with a 12-4 record, a 41-0 demolition of Minnesota in the conference championship game and a berth in Super Bowl XXXV. The journey to get there was unlikely and unforgettable.
On November 12 and 19, the Giants lost home games to St. Louis and Detroit to fall to 7-4. With three of their final five games on the road, the Giants looked to be in trouble and the pressure on Fassel ratcheted up. No one could have predicted how Fassel would respond.
Three days after the loss to the Lions, Fassel delivered a startling performance at what was normally a pro forma news conference.
“This team is going to the playoffs,” he declared to a room full of stunned reporters. “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.”
The Giants responded in their next game by routing the Cardinals in Arizona, 31-7. The following week they edged Washington, 9-7, to take control of the NFC East race. After Fassel’s declaration, the Giants won their final five regular-season games to finish a game ahead of Philadelphia in the NFC East race. After defeating the Eagles in an NFC Divisional Playoff Game, the Giants annihilated the Vikings in the conference championship game.
“Without a doubt, in a big game, that was by far the best one of my teams ever played,” Fassel said.
The dream run ended with a thud. Facing the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV, the Giants fell into a 17-0 hole and did not score an offensive touchdown in a crushing 34-7 loss, their only defeat in five Super Bowl appearances.
Fassel coached at the collegiate and professional levels for 30 years. He was the head coach at the University of Utah from 1985-89 and he coached in four different professional leagues (the World Football League, United States Football League, NFL and UFL). Fassel coached Pro Football Hall of Famer John Elway as an offensive coordinator at Stanford and with the Denver Broncos and he also had NFL stints with the Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals.