Fassel's no fossil

His current title sounds like a made-up, figurehead position you dutifully bestow on old coaches or administrators past their prime: "Senior Consultant/Offense." But the truth is when former Giants coach Jim Fassel became available last year, Ravens coach Brian Billick probably would have shoved his own mother out of the way to get him.

And why not? Fassel with 60 victories is the Giants third-winningest coach in team history, behind Hall-of-Famer Steve Owen (153) and Bill Parcells (77).

But Billick, who beat Fassel in Super Bowl XXXV, is his own favorite head coach. (Just ask him.) Instead he looked to Fassel to help groom his young quarterback, Kyle Boller, a 2003 first-round pick. Since Fassel's coaching résumé contains more successful quarterbacks than a Pro Bowl roster, it was an easy call.

While with the Broncos as offensive coordinator in 1993-94, Fassel helped John Elway take his game from perennial Pro Bowler to putting up Dan Marino-type passing numbers. In his 11th season, Elway had his finest statistical year leading the NFL in all six categories. Fassel also tutored Phil Simms, Boomer Esiason, Jeff Hostetler and Kerry Collins. Each one became a Super Bowl QB.

"Outside of Bill Walsh, I think Jim is the best quarterback teacher I know," Billick crowed the day he hired Fassel.

Of the current Giants QBs, only Jesse Palmer was here last year to benefit from Fassel's teachings.

"He did a lot of work with us on our mechanics," Palmer said. "He's a great coach for quarterbacks on helping them improve mechanics: Footwork, ball-handling, delivery, those types of things."

Beyond the fundamentals, Palmer said Fassel is a perfect teacher for young QBs, such as Boller, because he goes beyond fancy footwork.

"He helps young quarterbacks out a lot with the cerebral part of the game," Palmer continued. "Last year with Kerry (Collins), Jason (Garrett) and I, he got us thinking, not only fundamentals, but Xs and Os and game management. Those are things that you don't always get coached up on."

For Boller, the cerebral part of the game is most important. It's not about throwing for big scores and big numbers. After 12 weeks, Boller was 15th in the AFC with a 70.6 rating. But, more importantly, his leadership and game management helped the Ravens to a 7-4 record.

Billick realizes that, especially with the usual coaching changes in the NFL, he may only have Fassel for the 2004 season. But if that's enough to get his team to the playoffs with a second-year QB, then it was well worth it.

So far, with only coaching vacancies open in Miami and Cleveland, it seems the Dolphins would be the better fit. The Browns seem enamored with Iowa's Kirk Ferentz or LSU's Nick Saban, although they may not want to go with another college coach after Butch Davis.

Wherever he ends up, Giants players agree, Fassel is no fossil when it comes to being considered for coaching opportunities.

"He was here for seven years and did a great job," fullback Jim Finn said. "He has a great track record. I don't see why he wouldn't be a candidate to replace (Dave) Wannstedt. I think teams would be foolish not to look at him and consider him for head coaching jobs."

"I think he did some real good things here in New York," center/guard Wayne Lucier said. "He took the team to the Super Bowl in 2000. Obviously last year didn't turn out so great but there are ups and downs in football. I definitely see him getting another shot somewhere."

Of course, the ups and downs Lucier mentioned included going from a 10-6 playoff team in '02 to an underachieving, under-disciplined squad in '03. Injuries had a lot to do with the Giants' quicksand plummet. Among the Giants on IR last year included LT Luke Petitgout, SS Shaun Williams, DE Kenny Holmes, CB Will Allen, WR Tim Carter and G Rich Seubert. But were injuries really the major reason?

Several Giants thought so.

"We had a lot of injuries. We were playing with probably 16 guys that weren't on the opening day roster," Finn said. "Unfortunately it happened in a year where it didn't help (his situation). I don't think his coaching had anything to do with it."

"It definitely was a major reason why we struggled. We had so many guys out," said Lucier, who quickly became the starting center after the line was reshuffled early in the season due to injuries. "I even missed the last few weeks. I think it just got insurmountable."

"I don't think there was one thing that unraveled the team," Palmer said. "The obvious thing was, of course, we got hit by a lot of injuries. We never seemed to recover from that. It just got worse and worse. There are some other things but I think that was the most apparent."

None of the Giants wanted to speculate on what other things, beyond injuries, contributed to their downfall. That's old news. But one player didn't even want to use injuries as an excuse.

"I don't think injuries had anything to do with it," cornerback Will Allen stated. "We're all professionals and if someone gets hurt, you need to be able to step in and play well.

What about discipline?

"It didn't have anything to do with lack of discipline," Allen continued. "We just didn't play well and it was just one of those things. I don't have an answer for what happened last year."

Despite the team's 4-12 record under Fassel, even worse than the 5-11 record put up by the 'Ol' Ball Coach,' former Redskins coach Steve Spurrier, it doesn't seem Fassel's dismissal has hurt him regarding future head coaching consideration.

"As a quarterback he was great to play for. He was a real players' coach and I know guys loved to play for him," Palmer said.

With other possible coaching vacancies in Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans, and even Denver (if Shanahan, as one of many rumored, takes the University of Florida job) Fassel may be back as an NFL head coach as soon as the first snowflake falls in 2005.

And let's face it. 'Head Coach' sounds a heck of a lot warmer and fuzzier for a coach still in his prime than 'Senior Consultant/Offense.'

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