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Former Ute head coach and NFL coach Jim Fassel dies at the age of 71

Jim Fassel, whose coaching career at the college and pro levels included five years as the Utah Utes’ head coach, died Monday from a heart attack

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Former Utah head football coach Jim Fassel talks to coaches in the booth on his headset during a game at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Former Utah head football coach Jim Fassel talks to coaches in the booth on his headset during a game at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Fassel died of a heart attack Monday, June 7, 2021, at the age of 71.

University of Utah Athletics

Jim Fassel, who coached football at the pro and collegiate levels for more than 35 years, died Monday at the age of 71, the Los Angeles Times first reported.

Fassel, who was head coach at the University of Utah in the late 1980s and lived in Las Vegas, experienced chest pains Monday and was taken to the hospital, the Times reported. He died of a heart attack while under sedation, Fassel’s son, John, told the Times.  

Jim Fassel’s connection to Utah

Fassel coached the Utes from 1985 to 1989, where he went 25-33 in five seasons. That included an 8-4 year his first season when Utah won its first five games and finished third in the WAC standings.

He also guided the Utes to a 57-28 victory over rival BYU in 1988, snapping the Cougars’ nine-game win streak in the series at the time.

“We express our deepest sympathies to the family of Jim Fassel,” Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said in a statement. “Coach Fassel played a significant role in the proud history of the Utah Football program, and mentored some of the program’s most prolific offensive performers. His legacy will always be remembered here at Utah.”

Fassel, a native of Anaheim, California, who coached future Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway at Stanford in the early 1980s, also served as the Utes’ quarterbacks and receivers coach in 1976 and Weber State’s offensive coordinator from 1977-78.

“Jim Fassel was a staple in the football community,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said in a statement. “We are privileged to have him as part of our Utah Football family and are saddened to learn of his passing. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this time.”

Fassel’s pro coaching history

Fassel spent more than two decades at the pro level, most notably as head coach of the New York Giants from 1997-2003. He led the team to the Super Bowl in his fourth season as coach, where the Giants lost to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV. 

Fassel went 58-53-1 as New York’s coach, leading the Giants to the playoffs in three of his seven seasons and winning the NFL’s Coach of the Year award in his first year in 1997.


New York Giants coach Jim Fassel, left, talks to quarterback Kerry Collins during a timeout during a game Sunday, Nov. 3, 2002, at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Bill Kostroun, Associated Press

“On behalf of the Mara and Tisch families and our entire organization, I would like to express our condolences to the Fassel family and Jim’s friends,” Giants president and chief executive officer John Mara said in a statement. “We were all saddened to hear of Jim’s passing. Jim was a good man and his record as our coach speaks for itself.

“Jim distinguished himself by the way he managed our team and devoted his efforts to the fire fighters and other families following the tragedy of 9-11. The players respected Jim and enjoyed playing for him and his coaching staff. And we appreciated his seven years of leading our team.”

Fassel started his pro coaching career with the Giants as the team’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 1991-92, and followed that up with offensive assistant positions with the Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals before becoming the Giants’ head coach.

Following his time as Giants coach, he was the Ravens’ offensive coordinator for two seasons after a year as a senior offensive consultant.

Fassel’s final head coaching job was with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League, where he led the team to two championships before the league folded during its fourth season.

He coached in four different professional leagues, including the World Football League, United States Football League, NFL and UFL.

What people are saying about Fassel

Many who knew Fassel shared their thoughts following his death.