Climbing the ranks from the FCS level to the NFL head coach, former Utah football head coach Jim Fassel passed away on Monday morning.
According to the L.A. Times, Fassel suffered a heart attack after experiencing chest pains. Fassel’s son, John, told the Times that his father was having the chest pains when a friend took him to the hospital. While under sedation, Fassel suffered the heart attack and died.
“We express our deepest sympathies to the family of Jim Fassel,” Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said in a statement. “Coach Fassel played a significant role in the proud history of the Utah Football program, and mentored some of the program’s most prolific offensive performers. His legacy will always be remembered here at Utah.”
After several assistant and position coaching roles once his playing days ended, Fassel began to make his coaching mark in the state of Utah when he served as the Utes' quarterbacks and receivers coach in 1976. He then moved north and took over as offensive coordinator at Weber State from 1977-78. He then bounced around as offensive coordinator at Stanford and with the New Orleans Breakers of the United States Football League.
Fassel returned to the state when he became the head coach of the Utes in 1985, overseeing the program for five years and compiling a 25-33 record. Although it wasn't extremely impressive, Fassel's biggest win of his career came in a 57-28 victory over hated-rival BYU, ending the Cougars nine-game winning streak in the series.
While the win-loss record is easily forgotten, what will never go away was the intrinsic offense Fassel employed at Utah.
Nicknamed the "duck" offense, Fassel sought to create mismatches through unusual formations. With the quarterback in shotgun formation, only one player would be lined up in front of him to snap the ball. The remaining linemen and skill players were spread throughout the field, now able to take advantage of mismatches and use their athleticism in space.
It helped the Utes emerge from the dark ages of a strictly power-running offense to one that because more focused on throwing the ball with quick slants, hitches, outs and screens. The biggest beneficiaries were quarterback Scott Mitchell, Utah's all-time passing leader, and running back Eddie Johnson.
“Jim Fassel was a staple in the football community,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said in a statement. “We are privileged to have him as part of our Utah Football family and are saddened to learn of his passing. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this time.”
Upon being fired at the end of the 1989 season, Hassel expressed sentiments to move on to the professional ranks and leave college football behind — something he did.
Throughout two plus decades as a coach in the NFL, Fassel became well known for his offensive prowess.
He eventually secured the New York Giants head coaching position, leading the team from 1997-2003. In just his fourth season, he lead New York to Super Bowl XXXV where they came up short against the Baltimore Ravens.
With quarterback Kerry Collins surrounded by skill players in running backs Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne and wide receivers Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard, the Giants offense proved dangerous by averaging 30.5 points per game that postseason entering the Super Bowl.
“On behalf of the Mara and Tisch families and our entire organization, I would like to express our condolences to the Fassel family and Jim’s friends,” Giants president and chief executive officer John Mara said in a statement. “We were all saddened to hear of Jim’s passing. Jim was a good man and his record as our coach speaks for itself.
“Jim distinguished himself by the way he managed our team and devoted his efforts to the fire fighters and other families following the tragedy of 9-11. The players respected Jim and enjoyed playing for him and his coaching staff. And we appreciated his seven years of leading our team.”
Fassel is survived by his wife Kitty and their four children, including John Fassel. John has followed in his father's footsteps and is currently the special teams coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys.