Remembering Foge Fazio

As part of a career spanning decades, Fazio briefly brought the Browns defense to respectability.

Foge Fazio, the man who succeeded Romeo Crennel as Browns defensive coordinator and had the job for two years, including in 2002 when the club made the AFC playoffs for the first and only time in the expansion era, has died.

He passed away from leukemia on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, where he lived. He was 71.

Born Serafino Dante Fazio on Feb. 28, 1939 in Dawmont, W. Va., he grew up in the Pittsburgh suburb of Corapolis, Pa. and went on to play linebacker and center at Pitt from 1957-60.

He began his coaching career at Boston University in 1966 and '67, Harvard (1968), Pitt (1969-72, and then again from 1977-85, serving as head coach from 1982-85 and taking the Panthers to two bowl games), Cincinnati (1973-76) and Notre Dame (1986-87).

He then moved on to the NFL, serving as an assistant with the Atlanta Falcons in 1988 and '89, New York Jets (1990-94), Minnesota Vikings (1995-98) and Washington Redskins (2000) before joining the staff of new Browns head coach Butch Davis in 2001.

Joining him on the Cleveland staff that year were tight ends coach Stave Hagen and quarterbacks coach Carl Smith. Hagen and Smith rejoined the Browns in those same jobs on head coach Eric Mangini's staff this season.

The Browns had given up 437 and 419 points in 1999 and 2000, respectively, in their first two years back in the NFL following a three-year absence, but in the first season under Fazio, the 2001 defense shaved those totals by 100 points, surrendering 319. The total was basically the same, 320, in 2002.

In their last two games that year, which the Browns needed to win in order to have a shot at the playoffs, the defense came through in a 14-13 victory over the Baltimore Ravens and a 24-16 triumph over the Falcons. That helped the 9-7 Browns into the postseason as the conference's final wild card.

The defense had a key goal-line stand at the end of the game against the Falcons, and also down the stretch at Cincinnati midway through the year in a 27-20 victory.

Into the third quarter of the wild-card playoff game at Pittsburgh on Jan. 5, 2003, the defense was doing its job again, as was the Cleveland offense. The result was that the Browns had a seemingly commanding 24-7 lead and appeared headed to a divisional round game at Oakland the following week.

The Steelers began getting untracked, but the Browns were still ahead 33-21 with four minutes left before the roof caved in and the Steelers escaped with a stunning 36-33 win.

At one point after having the 17-point third-quarter lead, when the Browns were trying everything and anything to stop Pittsburgh without success, an irate Davis grabbed the headset from Fazio and began calling the defensive signals himself. A quiet man who had an easy way about him, Fazio turned to a couple of Browns players standing nearby and said, "Well, guys, I guess I'm done."

He was right. Davis fired him after the game. He was out of football until 2005, when Vikings head coach Mike Tice hired him as a defensive consultant.

At the time of his death, Fazio was serving as the color analyst on Pitt football broadcasts.

He and his wife, Norma, have two children, Kristen and Vincent.

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