JUDGE: Giants should keep Fassel

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Clark Judge

When Philadelphia lost quarterback on Nov. 17, it looked as if the New York were poised to supplant the as top dog in the NFC East. Then Big Blue lost to Houston and Tennessee, and suddenly, it wasn't the who were in trouble. It was coach Jim Fassel. That was as ridiculous to talk about then as it is now, and don't take it from me. Take it from Tampa Bay tackle , who's been in the league 18 years, including two under Fassel. "For what he's done, they should be talking about him as a candidate for Coach of the Year," said Brown. "They didn't sign one free agent and lost 11 guys, and he's supposed to be on the hot seat? It's ridiculous. He's done a phenomenal job with what he's had to work with. I don't know what management expected out of him, but he's a guy who should be rewarded instead of being chastised." I'm with Brown. So the should have held off Tennessee. And, sure, that loss to Houston was a disgrace. But Pittsburgh lost to the last weekend, too, and I don't hear anybody calling for Bill Cowher's neck. And, in case you hadn't noticed, the won seven of their last eight and are on top of the AFC South. "But we live in a world where results are what people want, and where they won't wait long," said Brown. "When they see things going in a losing direction they want to correct them as soon as possible, and they do it either to motivate the coach or to send a message to him and his players. Coaching a team is like playing quarterback. You get all the credit when things are going well and most of the blame when they're not." Fassel has gotten both this year, with critics calling for his firing and one New York paper last week raising the name of LSU's Nick Saban as a possible replacement. Excuse me, but isn't Fassel the coach who took the to an improbable Super Bowl two years ago? And hasn't he won more than he's lost this season? Now, all of a sudden, he's not fit to keep around? Please. This year's have nowhere near the talent or experience of the of two years ago, with the club missing 10 of its 22 starters from Super Bowl XXXV. Look at the offensive line. Fassel started the season with only one starter there, and that was tackle . Except Petitgout moved from the right side to the left, which means Fassel was working with a completely revamped offensive line. Then there are the injuries. The have nine players on injured reserve, including four projected starters, and that doesn't include setbacks to cornerbacks and , defensive tackle and linebackers and . Entering last week the lost 31 games to starters who were sidelined, and there were few clubs that were worse. Last, there's the salary cap to which Brown alluded. The were $17 million over the cap in February, which caused them to let go of players like linebacker , wide receiver , safety , guard and fullback . But it wasn't the players the club jettisoned that hurt Fassel's chances; it was the free agents it brought in to replace them. There weren't any. That's right. The signed no free agents and relied on what was left from an underachieving 7-9 outfit and from what they picked up in the draft. Pardon my ignorance, but I don't see where that's cause for great expectations. Only an optimist would have seen this as an 8-8 club waiting to happen. It was closer to 5-11 or 6-10. Yet the are 7-6 and in second place in the NFC East. Yeah, I know Fassel screwed up the Arizona game with that first-half interception, and I know his game-management decisions have been less than perfect. Second-guessers were all over him two weeks ago for going for two points when he led Tennessee, 26-14, and blamed Fassel for the overtime loss, but it wasn¿t an extra point that cost him the game; not having a back who could gain a yard did. The had to settle for a late field goal when twice failed to crack the goal line from the Tennessee 1. I like Barber and think he¿s having a marvelous year, but it¿s not I hire to push a pile. I thought that was why the drafted . "Jim Fassel is a good coach," said Brown. "I know because I've been around. In Detroit I played under Wayne Fontes and Darryl Rogers, and they were pretty good, but they could only take you to a certain level. And in Arizona I played for Vince Tobin, and he could only take you to a certain level, too. "Coach Fassel took me to that next level, and we went to the Super Bowl. I enjoyed the whole experience there and everything about it. He's a coach who knows how to win, just like Coach (Jon) Gruden here. They're different personalities, but they know how to win." Marty Morhinweg doesn't. Neither does Dick LeBeau. Those two are all but certain to be fired after the season. They're a combined 4-22, with Mornhinweg a perfect 0-15 in two years of road games. Seattle's Mike Holmgren is someone who does know how to win, but he forgot what Bill Walsh should have taught him years ago: It's always wise to leave before your star quarterback. Holmgren was a Super Bowl coach with ; he's 28-33 without him. Anyway, there's a group of head coaches feeling the heat, and Fassel shouldn't be among them. The guy has two years left on his contract, and he deserves a chance to serve at least one of them. We've seen what he can do with ordinary talent; let's see what he does when the roster improves. "You know what I like most about Jim Fassel?" said Brown. "The guy will go to bat for you. And he'll take the heat for you, I know that for a fact. When I first got there he was supposed to be on the hot seat, yet we went to the Super Bowl. To me, he's a great coach, and he deserves more than what he's getting."

Coaches you wouldn't want to trade places with

Marty Mornhinweg, Detroit (3-10) — Let's see, 5-24 for his career, 0-15 on the road and 0-1 on slam-dunk decisions in overtime. He didn't have a chance with a rookie quarterback, but he complicated a tough situation with stupid decisions. When general manager Matt Millen wanted to hire a head coach his first choice was Steve Mariucci, but when he couldn't get the man he decided to hire the system. Next time Mornhinweg rides off on his motorcycle he won't be coming back. Dick LeBeau, Cincinnati (1-12) — Great player, bad coach. You don't have Carolina put 52 points on you and expect another chance. This is a team that has a great running back in and a potentially great wide receiver in . Yet it continues to lead the league in futility. Yeah, I know the whole operation is bad, but, c'mon, 52 points to Carolina? That has nothing to do with the front office. LeBeau is 11-31 as a head coach, and I think that qualifies as grounds for dismissal. Dave Campo, Dallas (5-8) — Chan Gailey never looked so good. Campo's a good defensive coordinator, a nice man and a guy who says all the right things, but that doesn't qualify you to coach in this league. What he needs more than anything he'll never have — a good GM — but he helped bury himself last week by going conservative down the stretch and blowing a sure win against the . Mike Holmgren, Seattle (4-9) — He thinks he'll have another year to turn this thing around, and maybe he's right. But I wouldn't bet on it. After a 9-7 start with Seattle in 1999, Holmgren hasn't done anything — missing the playoffs every year and failing to have a winning season in two of three. His combined record since '99? Try 19-26. And he's 0-2 as a GM in trades with Green Bay. Mike Tice, Minnesota (3-10) — Here's another nice guy who's a victim of circumstance. Not only does he have to baby sit , he has to wonder how serious Red McCombs is about selling his team? Answer: very. Sure, Tice deserves another year, but a new owner might not agree. Color him going, going ...

Coaches who aren't in as deep as you think

Dick Jauron, Chicago (3-10) — So GM Jerry Angelo didn't hire the guy. And maybe he wouldn't have been his first choice. But Jauron took the to a 13-3 record a year ago and has a ready explanation for this year's chaos: injuries and a 16-game road schedule. He gets another season because the were in an impossible predicament, playing at the University of Illinois and playing without a full deck. Dave McGinnis, Arizona (5-8) — Talk about a guy who's done a remarkable job in an impossible situation. First of all, there's coaching with the Cards. Enough said. Second, he's suffered through so many injuries even you could qualify for next week's tryouts. I'm not kidding. The star receiver last weekend was working in a home for trouble children five weeks ago. All I know is that when McGinnis had close to a complete squad, he was 4-2 and tied with San Francisco for first place in his division. Now that he doesn't, he's tied with St. Louis.

Coaches who should be in up to their knees

Tom Coughlin, Jacksonville (5-8) — This is another team with salary cap problems, but, I'm sorry, I don't see what he's done to make improvements. The club has gotten progressively worse, and Coughlin does nothing to engender loyalty from his players or fans. All I know is there were 40,000 people at last weekend's game, which means there were 33,000 empty seats. Owner Wayne Weaver, who has stood by Coughlin, couldn't help but notice. Steve Spurrier, Washington (5-8) — I know he's not in trouble — but he should be. He's done nothing to demonstrate he gets the pro game, and I offer as Exhibit A. One of the game's best backs, Davis was ditched in favor of a sub-par passing attack that killed the . One week Spurrier likes . Then the next it's . Then . Washington won eight of its last 11 last year with . Why? Because Marty Schottenheimer did what Spurrier should — give the rock to Davis. Spurrier said he prefers a passing attack, which is great if you have Sonny Jurgenson. He doesn't. And he doesn't have a clue how to win the division. Exhibit B: He's 0-4 in the NFC East. Clark Judge can be reached at his e-mail address:
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