A Conversation with Jim Fassel

"I'm not worried about my future. I'm doing this right now for the love of the game. I don't worry about it because whatever happens to me, I'm going to be moving in the direction that I want to be moving. Someone asked me if I still have the fire to coach. Absolutely I do. Retirement to me is not on my radar screen. I've heard there are four or five teams that might be interested in me. That's just the business we're in. I'm not going to sit around and worry about it."

Q: How tough is it to operate knowing you're not going to be back here?

A: I've had the mental training for a long time. I used to worry about it when I was a young coach; I don't worry about it anymore. Don't go into the military and want to be a green beret and on the front line if you're afraid of dying. You have to go. It goes back to what I've always said. When I took this job seven years ago, I had a couple other opportunities that might have been a little easier with a little less pressure. But I wanted to come here; I wanted to come here. I knew it was a pressure cooker, but I wanted that challenge. So you can't feel sorry for yourself when you're having a bad season and everyone's getting on you. That's just the way it is. You resolve the fact by looking at your overall record and what you've accomplished, and though you're struggling this year, you don't let people beat you down.

Q: Several former coaches have said that after a while a team just needs a change at the top. Your thoughts?

A: That's the way the game is today. There are only three guys that have held a job longer than I have out there (Mike Shanahan, Denver; Bill Cowher, Pittsburgh; Jeff Fisher, Tennessee). And they're not operating in the cities that I'm operating in. Two of the three (Shanahan, Cowher) are getting a lot of heat. This is not a job for the faint of heart. When you add it up, seven years in New York is a lot harder than 10 years somewhere else. (Bill) Parcells said it best. A good shelf life used to be 10 years. Now it's about four. Some coaches move every three or four years just to avoid that. To me you overcome the odds. The Jets have had four coaches while I've been here (Rich Kotite, Bill Parcells, Al Groh, Herman Edwards). You know the longer you stay, all anyone goes back to talk about is the lost games. Nobody goes back and talks about what good has happened. Since free agency, everybody's been up and down. The first couple games of the year, the Philadelphia Eagles were buried. Now all of a sudden they have all the answers. It's the same guys doing the same things.

Q: Do you feel that your players let you down?

A: No, I think they tried. Sometimes that's the culmination. A guy like Tiki Barber, everyone talks about the fumbles. Well he's our back. People want to call for me to bench him. As a head coach you have to be a little more stable in your thinking. I'm looking at it like Ahman Green in Green Bay had one more fumble that he did; he wasn't getting benched. Jamal Lewis in Baltimore had one less and he wasn't getting benched. Troy Hambrick, if he had the same amount of carries, had one less than Tiki Barber. He wasn't getting benched. You take those three coaches and they're not benching their guy either. And Tiki was as productive as all those backs. You think I'm wrong for not benching him when those three guys aren't benching their guys?

Q: What the heck went wrong this year?

A: First of all, it's been very frustrating and very disappointing. I think more than anything else, what really drives me is that Wellington Mara and Bob Tisch mean a lot to me. I've had a long relationship with them and I don't want to see them go through this. I knew what the Giants were when I first came here. There were a lot of problems going on, and I thought I could do some things. But we're struggling right now. Maybe I've never got the point across to them, and I've had to battle the media, which in this town is large. Before the season, everyone was talking about how good we were going to be. But we had holes like everybody else and concerns like everybody else. What I tried to tell them is that we were no better off or worse off than about 25 teams in this league, and that we have to play a certain level of ball to be there. We started off well, played a solid game to beat the Rams. But that Dallas loss really took the wind out of our sails; really shook the core. Then we tried to fight our way back, not really playing as well. Then after the Philadelphia game – we had them too. Two teams in our division that are going to the playoffs, we had them down and out. From then on, we never, ever, ever were able to get our momentum back. And where we are now, we're so banged up it's difficult.

Q: Looking back, what could you have done differently to prevent this?

A: I knew the offensive line was a problem area, but I didn't want to say that publicly. Then all the guys on the offensive line think that we have no confidence in them. You can only react to what the circumstances were a year ago. At the end of last year, we had lost some games because we couldn't hold up defensively up front. We had had some injuries and we were really thin. It cost us the Tennessee game when we were ahead of them but couldn't put any pressure on (Steve) McNair. It cost us the San Francisco (playoff) game, because we couldn't put any pressure on them. That was the first area. The second area was that we obviously needed some special teams help. We needed a snapper, we needed a punter; we needed some things. So we went after those two areas. We didn't have enough money to go after defensive line, special teams and offensive line. What would have been good would have been if we could have signed (Jason) Whittle back and (Mike) Rosenthal back. Then we wouldn't have had to go searching. I really thought we'd get those guys back, so when we didn't, yeah, we have created another hole. But there wasn't a whole lot we could have done about it. You have to have some money to get some guys.

Q: What can you take from this season?

A: First of all, a bad year. It's the worst year I've had. There are certain things you do to prevent losing. The starting point for me was turnover ratio. Going into this year, in six years, we were a plus-23. Right now, we're a minus-12. You're not going to win that way. There's really nobody in this league that has a superior enough team to be able to survive that. Philadelphia started the year with eight turnovers in the first two games. In the next 10 or 11, they had only nine, averaging less than one a game. You can see it in their won/loss record. You just see things we could have done that would have prevented it. You wonder why we fell into that trap. Sometimes you just don't know. We had a kick that if it had stayed in bounds we would have won (Dallas). We have a kick that if it would have gone out of bounds we would have won (Philadelphia).

Q: Finally, what's the state of Jim Fassel right now? How are you holding up?

A: I'm a little more worn out than usual. I don't sleep as well. This is my life. This is all-consuming to me. All I do is go home, go to sleep and come back in here. There's nothing else in my life. A lot of coaching associates and friends ask me and are worried about how I'm doing. I'm doing fine. I'm doing fine. I'm just trying to keep my focus on doing my job.

Read the entire conversation in the latest issue of The Giant Insider.

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