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Jim Fassel, former Giants head coach, dies at age 71

Giants head coach Jim Fassel talks with Michael

Giants head coach Jim Fassel talks with Michael Strahan andJesse Armstead after the Rams scored a touchdown in the first quarter on Nov. 12, 2000. Credit: Newsday/Kathy Kmonicek

Jim Fassel, who coached the Giants to their third Super Bowl appearance in 2000 and won NFL Coach of the Year honors in his first season in 1997, died Monday near his home in Las Vegas. Fassel was 71.

The Giants confirmed Fassel’s death Tuesday. According to the Los Angeles Times, Fassel had experienced chest pains Monday and suffered a fatal heart attack while under sedation at a Las Vegas hospital.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, the impact he made here for the Giants is something that we talk about as a team, and we’ll make sure we reflect on it today," Giants coach Joe Judge said Tuesday. "With the passing of coach [Fassel] last night, that’s something that makes you kind of sit back and reflect, it brings up a lot of great coaches that have been through here."

"Jim was a good man, and his record as our coach speaks for itself," Giants president John Mara said in a statement Tuesday. "Jim distinguished himself by the way he managed our team. We appreciated his seven years of leading our team."

Fassel was hired after the Giants parted ways with Dan Reeves, who was ousted after four seasons in 1996. General manager George Young hired Fassel, who had previously served as the team’s offensive coordinator in 1991-92, to help revive the Giants’ offense. The team won the NFC East in 1997 with a 10-5-1 record as Fassel benched struggling starter Dave Brown and replaced him with Danny Kanell. Fassel was selected as the league’s top coach that season.

Fassel later helped revive quarterback Kerry Collins’ career, and Collins blossomed with his best season in 2000. That team won the NFC East with a 12-4 record, but not before Fassel sparked his struggling team after two straight midseason losses by guaranteeing a playoff run.

"You got the laser, you can put it right on my chest, I’ll take full responsibility," Fassel said after losses to the St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions dropped the team to 7-4. "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 can get out.

"This team is going to the playoffs, OK? This team is going to the playoffs. [Team owner] Wellington Mara made a statement to me when I took this job that I’ll always remember. He said, ‘This is not an easy job. If it’s an easy job, you wouldn’t have it.' "

The team went on a five-game win streak to end the season and beat the NFC East rival Eagles, 20-10, in the divisional playoffs. The following week, the Giants demolished the Vikings, 41-0, at Giants Stadium in the NFC Championship Game as Collins threw for 381 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions in one of the most dominant performances in franchise history.

But in Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa, Fassel’s Giants were routed by the Ravens, 35-7. Baltimore was coached by Fassel’s close friend, Brian Billick.

The Giants finished 7-9 in 2001, but Fassel was lauded for his handling of the team in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that felled the World Trade Center. Fassel met with first responders at Ground Zero, helped raise nearly $1 million for their benefit and spoke openly to his players about the need to come together after the attacks. The team won its first game after 9/11, beating Kansas City on the road.

"Everything is so visible in my mind," he told the Talk of Fame Network in a 2016 interview. "I can replay everything. It is probably the most indelible in my mind of all the games, of all the things that went on in my career. Because it was hard to get the players back and focused a little bit. That’s why I told the coaches, 'No yelling, no screaming; everybody's got a little bit of a story going on.’ That whole season after that happened was something where we had to refocus ourselves.

"I told the players . . . Giants Stadium, you park your car and get on a bus to go to New York/Manhattan," he said. "For about 10 days, there were a whole bunch of cars left there. And I can only picture the fact that those people parked their cars, got on the bus and went over there, and they perished. It was tough on your stomach every morning when you went to work every day and saw all those cars sitting there."

The Giants went back to the playoffs in 2002 as a wild-card team, losing to the 49ers, 39-38, after blowing a 24-point lead. During the game, long snapper Trey Junkin, signed just days before the game as an emergency fill-in, botched two snaps, including one on a potential game-winning field-goal attempt on the final play.

The Giants bottomed out the following season, finishing 4-12 and ending Fassel’s career with the team. He announced with two games remaining that year that he would resign after the season. In seven seasons, Fassel was 58-53-1.

Fassel was an assistant with Billick’s staff from 2004-06, but his only other head coaching job came with the United Football League’s Las Vegas Locomotives from 2009-12. He won the league title in 2009 and 2010.

Fassel, who went to Anaheim (Calif.) High School, played quarterback at Fullerton College, USC and Long Beach State. He was a seventh-round pick of the Bears in 1972 and was with the Chargers and Oilers before playing for the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL and the Hawaiians of the World Football League.

Fassel held assistant coaching jobs at Fullerton Junior College, Utah, Weber State, Stanford and the USFL’s New Orleans Breakers before becoming head coach at Utah in 1985. After coaching the Giants’ offense in 1991-92, he worked for the Broncos, Raiders and Cardinals before becoming the Giants’ head coach.

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