It was the day earlier than Thanksgiving in 2000, and Giants Coach Jim Fassel, who regarded like a librarian and usually behaved just like the winsome air-conditioning salesman he as soon as was, had a wild, stressed look in his eye.
His Giants, two weeks earlier a shoo-in for the N.F.L. playoffs, had been booed off the sector after two consecutive ugly dwelling losses. Their postseason prospects have been now dim, a mutiny was brewing within the locker room and administration was agitated.
Fassel, who died on Monday at age 71, stepped to the podium for what was usually a professional forma information convention, and in a fiery tone barked: “I’m raising the stakes right now. This is a poker game, and I’m shoving my chips to the middle of the table. I’m raising the ante, and anybody who wants in, get in. Anybody who wants out can get out.”
Fassel then assured the Giants have been going to the playoffs.
“No worries,” he stated. “I’ve got no fear. None. Zero.”
Or, as I wrote that day: Jim Fassel, the Mister Rogers of soccer coaches, tore off his cardigan immediately, tied it round his head and joined the Hell’s Angels.
Two days later, standing with Fassel within the bowels of the outdated Giants Stadium, I questioned what had gotten into the man nicknamed Gentleman Jim.
“If this doesn’t work out, you’re going to get fired,” I stated.
“I was going to get fired before I did this,” he answered. “Now we’ll see what happens.”
The Giants gained their subsequent seven video games, together with a 41-Zero rout of the Minnesota Vikings within the N.F.C. championship recreation — a contest that nearly nobody thought the Giants might win.
They did lose large to the Baltimore Ravens within the ensuing Super Bowl once they couldn’t deal with Ray Lewis, which was hardly unusual again then.
Most remembrances of Fassel are quick on particulars after the Super Bowl defeat, and it’s straightforward to underrate Fassel’s function in bridging the hole from the Giants’ successes between 1986 and 1990 to the Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning championships roughly 20 years later. But Fassel shouldn’t be ignored for main a pivotal franchise renaissance out of the Giants’ darkish interval. In the 2 seasons earlier than he arrived as head coach in 1997, the group was 11-21 and the heyday of Phil Simms and Lawrence Taylor appeared as distant as the times of Frank Gifford and Y.A. Tittle.
The yr Fassel took over the Giants, the Jets employed Bill Parcells. A nationwide journal put footage of each coaches on the duvet of its preseason challenge, besides Parcells took up 90 p.c of the web page with Fassel showing in a one-inch head shot positioned over Parcells’s shoulder. He was labeled, “the other guy.”
Fassel, pictured at his Nevada dwelling in 2011, is remembered for his lively, energetic appearances at floor zero in Lower Manhattan a few days after the Sept. 11 assaults.Credit…Isaac Brekken for The New York Times
The different man took the Giants to the playoffs and gained the 1997 Associated Press Coach of the Year Award. He instilled some accountability, screaming at his group after their first preseason defeat that yr.
“Nobody could have missed that message,” cornerback Jason Sehorn stated. “One preseason loss and he was ballistic.”
Fassel’s ways, nevertheless, have been normally strategic and considerate. Although he was an offensive guru, he let defensive leaders like Jessie Armstead and Michael Strahan take the helm of the group on the sideline as a result of they have been outspoken and commanded extra respect from their teammates than a coach ever might.
At the identical time, whereas Fassel was raised in Southern California and had a laid-back vibe, he understood the territory and panorama of his office. Especially in his first few years with the Giants, he grasped that the group was at its greatest when it mirrored the gritty, blue collar ethos promoted by Parcells, the northern New Jersey native. As an assistant for 2 years to the erudite however miscast Ray Handley, who changed Parcells as Giants coach in 1991, Fassel had witnessed a failure of favor within the Meadowlands.
So Fassel went the opposite means in 1997.
“The man has a mean streak,” Armstead, who was no softy, stated of Fassel in 1997. “You really don’t want to mess with him. He goes after people. You should see him.”
Fassel can even be remembered for his lively, energetic appearances at floor zero in Lower Manhattan a few days after the Sept. 11 assaults.
“I just walked around talking and shaking hands with the people working down there,” he stated on the time. “They looked like they hadn’t slept in days, they were dirty and drained. I stayed as long as I could just saying, ‘Thanks for what you’re doing here.’”
In Fassel’s tenure, a wealth of high Giants expertise was developed: Amani Toomer, the franchise chief in receptions; Tiki Barber, the group’s profession speeding chief; and Kerry Collins, the one quarterback in 96 years of Giants historical past to throw 5 touchdowns in a postseason recreation.
An argument might be made that the high-powered 2002 Giants offense that vaulted to a 38-14 third-quarter lead in a wild-card playoff recreation in San Francisco may need been Fassel’s greatest group. When they blew the lead and misplaced by a level, it was as if these Giants, and Fassel, by no means recovered. The subsequent yr’s group gained solely 4 video games.
He resigned with a 58-53-1 document and days later was on the verge of being named the pinnacle coach at Washington when Joe Gibbs, who gained three Super Bowls there, shocked the group proprietor Dan Snyder by expressing his need to return out of retirement at 63.
There was by no means one other N.F.L. head teaching job provided to Fassel.
He was not lower from traditional soccer coach material. He smiled too simply, advised corny tales, tried to get away from soccer when he might and wished folks to love him. But he gained a lot of video games, made an necessary contribution to a storied N.F.L. franchise, earned the devotion of scores of gamers and, in truth, succeeded in profitable over most everybody who met him.
About 10 years in the past, I had breakfast with Fassel and requested him if he saved his notes from his now-famous Thanksgiving eve speech from 2000. You know, the stuff concerning the poker chips, elevating the stakes and having no concern.
“I never wrote anything down,” he stated, laughing. “I just knew I had to put myself in the cross hairs — and nobody else. I had to kind of cause a distraction. So I just winged it.”