Coach, team agree: Offense will improve

In: The Ravens' new offensive coordinator has already brought a fresh confidence and cockiness.

Jim Fassel

Ravens Coaching Transition

July 29, 2005|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Long before Jim Fassel began his run of NFL reclamation projects, his first job was serving as ballboy for Southern California's Anaheim High School.

If there was an errant pass, Fassel would run it down. If there were shoes to be shined, he'd grab the polish.

But if a player decided to quit, he was required to hand his jersey to Fassel's father. Bud, the equipment manager in title only, would sit down and offer some encouraging words. The next day, the kid was always back at practice.

For 30 years, Fassel's father was the conscience of the school.

When he heard someone didn't have lunch money, he would leave a sandwich in his locker. When he learned someone couldn't afford new clothes, he showed up at that person's doorstep with a sweat suit, a dozen socks and a couple pairs of shoes.

"My dad was kind of like the school psychologist," Fassel said. "He was always there to help anybody. I learned everything I know about how to relate to people from him."

In that same vein, Fassel has built his reputation on solving problems, too. His latest challenge resumes next week in training camp, where the Ravens' new offensive coordinator looks to complete another offensive overhaul.

Like his father, Fassel is just as much a caretaker as a coach.

Fassel, 55, has succeeded in this game by getting players to believe in him, and by extension, believe in one another. His track record proves that he knows offense, and more importantly, that he knows people.

Contagious confidence

A natural leader his entire life - a pitcher and point guard in high school, a quarterback in college and coach in the NFL - Fassel carries an air of confidence and finds ways to instill it in others around him.

Every offense he's coached appreciably got better, whether it was the New York Giants, Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals or Oakland Raiders. He's tutored the likes of quarterbacks John Elway, Boomer Esiason, Jeff Hostetler and Kerry Collins, and most made striking turnarounds.

Others wished they had more time with Fassel.

"The things I learned from Jim Fassel late in my career, if I could've known those things in college, I would've been setting records," said Phil Simms, the former Giants quarterback who worked with Fassel in 1991 and 1992. "As far as fundamentally teaching me how to play the position physically, [Fassel] and Bill Walsh are the best I've ever been around."

So it came as no surprise when Fassel became the confidant of quarterback Kyle Boller as a consultant last season.

They would eat together on Monday nights, chatting about everything from his throwing motion to women. Fassel offered tips on how to handle himself with the media as well as teammates. He was the one who suggested that Boller should lead the offensive meetings the night before games, pushing him into more of a leadership role.

Off limits in their conversations were game-planning and reading defenses. In Fassel's view, there were already too many opinions being thrown around.

That won't be a problem with Fassel as coordinator. Asked how many voices will be in Boller's ear, he raised up his index finger and said, "Only mine."

"He's someone I can trust," Boller said, "and someone I feel I can talk [with] about anything."

Fassel preaches about finding a comfort zone. A relaxed quarterback is a confident one. And a confident quarterback plays smarter, takes advantage of situations in games and rallies his teammates around him.

"It doesn't matter when I got them in their career, we went back to work on fundamentals and got them where they felt smooth again," Fassel said. "Tiger Woods wants a swing coach. They all do."

Another side to him

A New York reporter once wrote that Fassel looked like the Mr. Rogers of pro football coaches. The perception is he's an easygoing guy, a player's coach.

But bring up how the Giants fired him after the 2003 season in favor of a taskmaster like Tom Coughlin and the gentlemanly exterior quickly fades.

"It [ticks] me off that people wanted to portray that," Fassel said. "Show me you are not concentrating or don't care to be the best, and you will see a different side of me."

Though Fassel believes his teams have been disciplined, Giants officials rationalized the firing by pointing to how noncompetitive the team was in its season-ending eight-game losing streak in 2003.

"By the end of the year it was a joke, really," Giants center Chris Bober told reporters after Coughlin's hiring. "We had so many guys who would just go to practice, and when they were done, they'd be playing on the Internet or kind of hanging out. A guy like Tom Coughlin is going to demand more out of us, where Jim Fassel kind of left it up to us."

Others have witnessed a more volatile Fassel.

As head coach at the University of Utah in the late 1980s, he got his message across at halftime by throwing a briefcase through a chalkboard and a Coke can against a wall. The Utes, in fact, came back to win that game.

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