Instead of waiting for the Giants' front office to pull the trigger, head coach Jim Fassel fired himself Wednesday morning.
He said that he knew that his firing was inevitable, that the head coach must take the bullet for such a disappointing season as this one has been, and instead of waiting -- "it was making everybody uncomfortable" -- he telephoned Giants' CEO John Mara Tuesday morning and requested a meeting.
At approximately 10 a.m. he walked down the corridor to Mara's office -- "a very long walk, and I wasn't happy making it" -- and said that it was time to stop playing "this shell game." He said that if the Giants were planning to terminate him after the season ends, in two more weeks, that he'd rather announce it immediately.
"Since John didn't stop me, I figured that was how it was going to go," he said yesterday at a hastily assembled but mobbed press conference. "I told him that it was very important to me that I be allowed to finish the season, to remain as the head coach for these last two games. John said that if I wasn't afraid I'd lose the team after the announcement, that they would like that, too."
At 2 p.m. the formal meeting was convened. Fassel met with John Mara and the two co-owners, his father Wellington and Bob Tisch.
"It was all very amicable," he said. "I respect these gentlemen and this organization more than I can say. I told them that my only goal was left unfulfilled, that I wanted to deliver a Super Bowl trophy to them. It never happened, but we did get close [the Giants finished second in Super Bowl XXXV]. These men did everything I asked, treated me with kindness and professionalism, and I am as sorry for them as I am for myself. But we had a pretty good run, all things considered."
Fassel will finish seven full seasons as the Giants' head coach -- "that's a long time in this business, and especially in this town," he smiled -- and to this point his record is 58-51-1. His team made the playoffs three of his seven seasons, including the Super Bowl which turned into a 34-7 whipping by the Baltimore Ravens.
"I have been thinking about this for a while," Fassel said. "I have worked for this organization for nine years [two as an assistant coach under Ray Handley] and I signed five contracts with them. They have always been fair and easy to deal with. You know, nothing in this league is long term. In fact, there are only two coaches who have been in their job longer than I have [Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh, Jeff Fisher in Tennessee, and Cowher is in serious trouble].
"This was a hard season," Fassel continued. "This was very disappointing. I wanted to do the right thing for this organization and I think this is it. Now they don't have to feel like they're sneaking behind my back looking for a new coach. What I did was alleviate the tension, and I think we all feel better about it. We're grown men, professionals. These things happen."
The Giants' list of prospective replacement head coaches will grow, of course, but a few names currently in vogue include former Jacksonville head coach Tom Coughlin, New England assistants Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, Dallas assistant Maurice Carthon, St. Louis assistant Lovie Smith and head coach Nick Saban of LSU.
"We have a list," said general manager Ernie Accorsi. "We always have a list. I never thought this day would come, though. I told Jim once that I'm 10 years older than he is and I was sure I'd leave first. He is a very classy man and I am sure he'll be coaching just as soon as he wants to be."
SERIES HISTORY: This will be the 83rd meeting between the teams, with the Giants holding a 50-30-2 lead. The Cowboys won the first game this season, 35-32 in overtime, after the Giants squandered an almost certain victory with a kickoff that went out of bounds on the Dallas 1-yard line with 11 seconds left in regulation time. That allowed the Cowboys to kick the tying FG, and they won it in OT with another Billy Cundiff FG. Prior to that game, the Giants had won five of the previous six games.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
--The resignation of head coach Jim Fassel, effective after the final game of the season, surprised and saddened most of the players. "This is sad," said RB Tiki Barber. "Jim is the only [pro] coach I know. He has always been a big supporter of me, and I know our paths will cross again. I told him the way he has handled himself throughout his career has been an inspiration to me. It's going to be tough for me to see him go."
WR Amani Toomer was more fatalistic. "It's just the business we're in," he said. "There are a lot of things that went wrong this year, including all the injuries we've had. The consensus around here is that it's really not his fault, but that's the way the business works. I think the players must share the responsibility. We were all surprised when he told us [at a morning meeting] but it has been talked about and it didn't come as a total shock."
Fassel, who said he will "definitely" be in charge of the team for the final two games, indicated that QB Kerry Collins (high ankle sprain) will probably not play again this season. "It wouldn't be fair to him or to the organization," he said. "If he isn't fully mobile, to put him behind a young and struggling offensive line would be unfair, and it would hurt the team next season."
The other starting WR, Ike Hilliard, is another who has only known Fassel as his NFL coach. He was drafted in 1997, as was Barber, and that was Fassel's first year. "My reaction? It's terrible that it had to happen," he said. "Being his first draft pick as a head coach I have to take some of the responsibility. The players and coaches are all in this together, but we'll have to deal with it."
Fassel won the NFC East in his first season with a 10-5-1 record and was named NFC Coach of the Year. Then he went 8-8 in his second year and was told his job was on the line. "What a splash of cold water that was," he said. "But this is a tough place to coach. They expect the best all the time. These fans always want to win. I love these fans. I expected the best and the worst from them, and that's what I got."
Cowboys' head coach Bill Parcells, who was the Giants' head coach from 1983 through 1990 and took them to their only two winning Super Bowls, expressed "sadness" at the situation yesterday.
"It's a shame when a guy does a good job and then had a bad year and this happens," he said. "I always thought Jim was a high class coach who always did a good job with his personnel. The attrition rate in this league is frightening. I think maybe one-third of the coaches might lose their jobs each season and that's just not acceptable."
BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- The last two head coaches employed by the Giants will both leave their jobs this year, Dan Reeves (who left the Atlanta post with three games to play) and Fassel. Reeves replaced Fassel, the only other Giant coach to get the team to a Super Bowl.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This whole thing just evolved. I don't think I can put my finger on when, exactly, but maybe it was the Atlanta game [a 27-7 loss] that started things rolling down that hill. We have lost six in a row since then. I guess that was the point when it started to look inevitable." -- Giants' G.M. Ernie Accorsi on the decision made by head coach Jim Fassel to announce his departure.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
There are so many injuries and so many band-aids stuck on so many positions that it is impossible to compare this team to the one that started the season. It would appear that LT Luke Petitgout, TE Jeremy Shockey and QB Kerry Collins will miss the final two games of the season, and that several others with nagging injuries will be kept out since there is precious little to be gained.
The Giants placed their ninth player on Injured Reserve, CB Ralph Brown (dislocated shoulder), who re-injured himself last Sunday night during the horrid display of non-football in the 45-7 loss to New Orleans.
--CB Ray Green, cut by the Giants in October, claimed by the Jets and released by them Dec. 8, has been re-signed by the Giants and will assume the role of nickel back against Dallas on Sunday.
--DE Osi Umenyiora, the team's second round draft pick, will share duties at RDE with veteran journeyman Keith Washington, and will rotate to the LDE spot when Michael Strahan (who had 14 sacks, trailing Tampa Bay's Simeon Rice by one) needs to take a few plays off.
--RB Ron Dayne, who has spent the season on Game Inactive each week, will not get any late-season chance to impress prospective suitors. "To dress him means taking down somebody who could help on special teams," said Fassel. "I feel badly for Ron but he is just in a difficult spot right now."
--QB Jesse Palmer, despite horrendous statistics last week in New Orleans, will start again in Dallas, but Fassel said that if he shows further signs of helplessness, one-time Cowboy Jason Garrett, the third quarterback, will get a chance to play.
--WR David Tyree, a rookie drafted specifically for special teams duty, will start again this week. He has caught 11 passes this season for 179 yards and a long gain of 48.
GAME PLAN: The Giants will simply try not to be devastated again. They honestly don't have the personnel to compete, and the secondary, for instance, appears to be fair game for any passes the Cowboys would like to complete. They will try to establish some semblance of a running game, so as to keep the Dallas offense on the sidelines, but there simply isn't enough manpower to make anything seem possible at this point.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: The Giants' LDE Michael Strahan, who has 14 sacks this season and 109.5 for his career, will play against Dallas RT Kurt Vollers, a second-year Notre Dame product at 6-7 and 317. It should be no contest for Strahan.
--The Giants' ORT, Jeffrey Hatch, will have to contend with the leading Dallas sacker, LDE Greg Ellis. Hatch was a third-round pick last season who missed the entire year due to back surgery and started his first game just two weeks ago.
--Giants' QB Jesse Palmer, inexperienced and tentative, will try to throw into a top-notch defense featuring Roy Williams and Darren Woodson at safeties, top rookie pick Terrance Newman and Mario Edwards on the corners. He will do so without starting WR Ike Hilliard, too.
INJURY IMPACT: There is no way to explain the depth of injuries suffered by the Giants -- "the most I have ever seen in one season," Fassel says -- and that should impact badly on any hope they might have to even be competitive in this game.
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