Yet no one involved wanted to talk about it, discuss it or even acknowledge it. Except Fassel. He took the proverbial bull by the horns and did what his heart told him to. End all the speculation and discussion about his future. Now, he can go about his business of finding another job, most likely the Cards head post, and the Giants can go about reeling in Tom Coughlin.
While seemingly unprecedented, Fassel's move made sense for all involved parties. Imagine that. The move that everyone knows should and likely will happen actually happening. All it took was a man with no problem calling himself into the public eye in the meantime. It would have been a lot easier for Fassel to just play out the string, as his boys did once again, by competing with but never seriously threatening the Cowboys in Dallas. But Fassel has never been one to take the easy road.
How else could he have scooped up Coach of the Year honors in his first season in New York with a QB like Danny Kanell at the helm? Kanell had the 'luxury' of throwing to such players as the hardly fleet-footed Chris Calloway and the barely NFL-caliber Kevin Alexander. Surely no one will even remember that as Fassel is shoved out the door.
The next season, Big Blue won its last four to finish 8-8. A great year? Hardly. But losing only 13 of your first 32 games is quite an accomplishment.
By his third season, Fassel was headed to the unemployment line for the first of a million times, as his club dropped its final three contests to slump to a 7-9 finish. Boy is management ever glad they held onto Fassel, who promptly guaranteed the club would make the playoffs the following season and then delivered an NFC Championship and Super Bowl XXXV appearance. Granted the only vision worth remembering from that week in Tampa was Britney Spears. However, it's better to have been there and lost than to have never been there at all.
Things started going downhill for Fassel from there. He got a pass following his second 7-9 campaign since he had brought the troops to the big game the season before. That led to his already having a foot out the door heading into the 2002 season. Fassel saved his skin once more with a four-game winning streak to capture a playoff berth. We'll spare everyone the details of what happened once New York reached the post-season.
So, here was Fassel, admitting that his 2003 club had the most talent he was ever afforded. Unfortunately, his players believed it. He tried again and again to snap them out of it. To wake them up from the nightmare. But they apparently weren't interested. By the time the calendar's final month rolled around, Mr. December had lost his magic. That's easy to do when you have Ike Charlton starting at corner and getting burned for a 64-yard gain on the game's first play in Dallas. That's certainly difficult to fight when Visanthe Shiancoe is playing tight end instead of Jeremy Shockey.
It must have pained Fassel to look across the sideline and see the ghost he could never catch – Bill Parcells – becoming the first ever coach to take four different teams to the playoffs. And it had to kill Fassel to know that management let a valuable member of his locker room – Dan Campbell – walk away and head right to the enemy. If Fassel had more Dan Campbells on this current roster, he'd never be in this predicament.
So now Fassel has one last game to coach. One last chance to capture his 59th career victory. Regardless, he'll leave the Meadowlands as the Giants' third-winningest coach. He'll have to hear how his former coordinator John Fox is headed to the playoffs while he's headed out of town. It won't be fair. But it's just how this game works.
But Jim Fassel will walk away from the Giants with his head held high. And he has every reason to do so.
Like any good production, we'll run the credits as Fassel exits stage left. Here are the highlights of his mostly successful seven-year run and some final words from the guys he leaves behind.
Jan. 15, 1997: Becomes 15th head coach in team history
Aug. 31, 1997: Wins opening game, beating the Eagles, 31-17
Nov. 22, 2000: Guarantees Giants will make the playoffs
Jan. 14, 2001: Giants win NFC Championship with 41-0 win over the Vikings
Dec. 28, 2002: Giants beat Eagles to secure third playoff berth under Fassel
"I wanted to see him stay. I was hoping beyond hope that he would stay. To hear this is tough for me, it really is. He's the only coach I know. And he really has been an inspiration to me. I owe him my career, basically, because he stuck with me when a lot of people would probably have done otherwise." – Tiki Barber
"My reaction is that it's a terrible situation that it has to happen. Being his first draft pick as a head coach, I have to take some of the responsibility, too. I didn't do more to help the cause by playing better football so this wouldn't happen. The players and coaches are all in this together. It's a tough situation to deal with, but we'll have to deal with it." – Ike Hilliard
"Jim Fassel is probably the biggest person that allowed me to come back in my own career. He gave me the opportunity here to do the things I have been able to do the past few years and you hate to see that and you hate to see it go down the way it has gone down but it is part of life in the NFL and we just all have to deal with it and go on." – Kerry Collins
* * *
The result of Fassel's departure is obvious. The Giants need to replace him. By the time you're reading this, Tom Coughlin, the front-runner, will have already interviewed with Big Blue. While our first choice would be to try to lure Jimmy Johnson out of FOX's NFL studios, we realize and understand that that's not the Giants' way – neither financially nor philosophically.
So our choice to replace Fassel is definitely Coughlin. Some veterans have already expressed displeasure at the thought, but the Giants need a taskmaster type at this point. Perhaps you noticed how Cowboys Andre Gurode and Ebenezer Ekuban were yanked off the field by Parcells the second they committed a foolish penalty. That never was and never will be Fassel's way. But it will be Coughlin's way, which is something the Giants are in dire need of.
The Giants brass is well aware that clubs like Buffalo and Miami are going to be interested in Coughlin as well. Hopefully for the first time in years, New York's top choice will come home to roost.
Fassel leaves Big City with head held high
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