LOVERRO: He’s no relic, but Jim Fassel sits at home while Jay Gruden gets his shot

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

New Redskins coach Jay Gruden has no NFL head coaching experience, but supporters will point to his head coaching experience in the Arena Football League, and, more recently, the United Football League, where he led the Florida Tuskers to the league title game — and lost to Jim Fassel.

You remember Jim Fassel, don’t you? He had one foot in the door to coach the Redskins not once, but twice. He won two UFL championships, beating not only Gruden but Jim Haslett the year before.

Yet here is Jay Gruden, the guy who lost to Jim Fassel, with a five-year, $20 million NFL head coaching contract, and Fassel, sitting at home in California, with not even a phone call.

Here is Jay Gruden, who can’t leave Redskins Park because he was the offensive coordinator of a Cincinnati Bengals team that has lost three straight playoff games, and Fassel, who won two NFC East titles as the coach of the New York Giants, reaching the postseason three times, and one NFC championship, sitting at home ignored.

Here is Jay Gruden, who is worshipped for developing Andy Dalton, the second-rounder from TCU, into a quarterback who loses three straight playoff games, throwing one touchdown and six interceptions, and Fassel, who took the Giants to the Super Bowl with a quarterback off the scrapheap — Kerry Collins — and he is on nobody’s list of coaching candidates.

When Jay Gruden was the offensive coordinator of the Nashville Kats of the Arena Football League in 1997, Fassel has taken over the New York Giants and turned them from a 6-10 team to a 10-6 team and the NFC East champions with Danny Kanell and Dave Brown at quarterback — sort of like Rex Grossman and John Beck — and was named NFL Coach of the Year in 1997

It doesn’t make sense.

“It is what it is,” Fassel said. “This is what happens when you are out of it for a while.”

Fassel, 64, was once in it — so much so that he was nearly hired as the Redskins‘ coach not once, but twice. The first time came when Steve Spurrier was on his way out near the end of his second season in Washington. Owner Daniel Snyder contacted Fassel to talk about the Redskins job, and the coach met with Snyder and his fellow owners.

But then Snyder pulled Joe Gibbs out of his hat, and that was the end of that.

Snyder must have liked something about Fassel, though, because when Gibbs announced he was retiring after the 2007 season, he was sought after again, and, the way the story goes, had the job. He was operating as if he was the Redskins‘ coach, even putting together his staff. But sources say that Snyder’s village idiot, Vinny Cerrato, sabotaged the hiring, and manipulated the process so that Fassel’s offensive coordinator — Jim Zorn, who was forced on Fassel — would get the job.

That would explain Snyder’s comments to Gary Myers in his book, “Coaching Confidential,” about the hiring of Zorn. “The general manager needs to prevent the owner from hiring someone who’s not qualified,” Snyder said in the book. “And that’s why Vinny is no longer here, to be truthful with you. He’s not here because his job was to prevent the owner from hiring a not-qualified coach.”

Those comments make more sense if Cerrato rigged the process to convince Snyder to hire Zorn instead of Fassel.

Fassel wouldn’t say what happened behind the scenes. “I was very confident I had been hired to coach the Washington Redskins,” he said. “We started having conversations about staffing, then suddenly Jim Zorn was there. Whatever changed, they ended up hiring Zorn.”

Still, he had good things to say about Snyder. “I like Dan Snyder,” Fassel said. “He is very passionate about the game.”

What might have happened if Fassel had been hired? No one would claim it would have guaranteed a path to the Super Bowl.

But it would have saved the Redskins two years of Zorn, followed up by four years of Mike Shanahan.

Fassel, with Giants teams with little talent, managed to put together a 58-53-1 record over eight seasons in New York. He had just two Pro Bowl players on that 2000 NFC championship squad. It’s not unreasonable to think that the last six years in Washington would have been better under Fassel than Zorn and Shanahan.

The Redskins debacle seemed to doom Fassel. He wound up coaching in the UFL, where he was a two-time league champion as coach of the Las Vegas Locomotives. He lost the 2011 UFL title to former Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer.

So having coached against Jay Gruden, I asked Fassel what he thought of the Redskins hire. Somewhere in here, there may be an endorsement, though I’m not sure..

“I like Jay,” Fassel said. “We beat them [Florida] when Haslett was the head coach and Jay was the offensive coordinator. And we beat them again when Jay was the head coach. … I really like Jay. … Is it a good hire? … I would first go to a guy who has done the job.

“I like Jay,” he said again. “When we played against Florida, they were well-prepared, and I thought he had the right demeanor to be the head coach.”

Jay Gruden was well-prepared, and had the right demeanor to be the head coach. More importantly, he was luckier than Fassel, because Bruce Allen, not Vinny Cerrato, was in charge this time around.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com

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