So I’m reading the newspaper here, because what else is there to do in this city, when I find my curiosity piqued.
You probably recall the name too: Jim Fassel.
He was big time in Southern California as a quarterback at Anaheim High, then Fullerton College, on to USC and Long Beach State.
He recruited John Elway out of high school, coaching him at Stanford and later with the Broncos. A line began to form, NFL teams wanting his offensive input as coordinator, the Redskins, Broncos, Chiefs, Raiders, Rams talking to him about becoming a head coach.
Later he would rise to the very top of his profession as 1997 NFL coach of the year, and in 2000 made the outrageous guarantee his down-and-out team would be in the playoffs and became a household name when his Giants did go on to play in Super Bowl XXXV.
“You go through something like that and you feel as if you have a 100-mph wind behind you,” Fassel says. “The Super Bowl was awesome. I’ve got Gen. [Norman] Schwarzkopf standing right next to me before the game and telling me good luck.”
I’m saying the same thing to the cab driver, the first one giving up, the second with the GPS finally successful in locating Fassel here.
The best in his business at one time, Fassel is now coach of the Las Vegas Locomotives. See what happens when you lose a Super Bowl, 34-7?
“We won the championship here last year,” Fassel says, which makes him the only one in the room who knows that.
“It doesn’t matter,” he says. “I don’t care if there’s no one in the stands, we were champions. We won it all and it was fun.”
Fassel is general manager, coach and janitor in something called the United Football League. “I empty my own trash now and I’m happy to do it,” he says, which goes to show you what a perfect fit he is for the UFL.
“Feel sorry for me? — no way,” Fassel says. “That’s exactly what I told my team in our first meeting. Check your resume at the door. Don’t feel sorry for yourself because you’re not in the NFL. I can build my own case, and I don’t feel sorry for myself. This is our focus right now.”
Nice speech. It apparently worked on his football players, but how do you go from New York, where if you can make it there you should never end up here?
It took two hours, questions asked over and over, and the answer remains somewhat unclear.
Blessed with the gift of gab and well-trained in coach-speak, Fassel wants everyone to believe no one can have as much fun coaching as this, so long as one’s ego and bank account aren’t all that important.
It’s a tough sell, though, because Fassel also says things like, “I turned one organization around, got them to the Super Bowl and I know I could do it again.”
To put his mind at ease, I tell him he’s got no shot to be a head coach again in the NFL, and he says, “I don’t believe that.”
He remains undeterred when asked whether he had a single call from the NFL a year ago after winning the UFL title, and he has to say, “No.”
He’s happy where he is, but how often does he dream about another NFL opportunity?
“Sure, it goes through my mind at times because I know I should be there,” he admits, “but in order to keep my sanity, I’m not going to let it grind my rear end and get high blood pressure. I have a life, and I’m enjoying it.”
He’s 61, hasn’t worked as a coach in the NFL since being fired as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator during the 2006 season, but remains so gung-ho he was in the Locomotives’ offices at 4:30 Sunday morning.
“Why?” he repeats, “because I want to win. I want to win badly.”
He won more games on the grand stage than he lost in the seven years he was in charge of the Giants, so what’s wrong with him?
He can explain why things went wrong in Baltimore, and there were understandable reasons, he says, why he took Sean Payton’s play-calling duties away when they were together in New York. Who knew Payton would go on to coach a Super Bowl champion?
He dismisses the rumors he’s too demanding and doesn’t always work well with others as malicious gossip, and calls reports he wrote a letter begging Al Davis to hire him as head coach “totally inaccurate.”
His son is already working as an assistant coach for the Raiders, but is Fassel so desperate, as someone must be to coach the Raiders or Clippers, to take such a job? It might be his only chance to return to the NFL as a head coach.
“I’m not going there,” he says, unclear whether he’s talking about the question or Oakland.
“How about the Clippers’ job?” I suggest. “It will be open again in two or three years.”
Hard to say if the UFL will last so long.
“If you told me this league was going to make it, I would never leave,” Fassel says, his first-place Locos taking on the Omaha Nighthawks next.
“No matter what happens, I’ve had a great go of it,” he says. “I raised five wonderful kids and had a good time coaching. When I first started, my dream was to be head coach of Anaheim High School.”
When it comes to dreams left unfulfilled, he seems to do just fine.