- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2008

PHOENIX — Great coach. Offensive innovator. Heckuva coach.

Although the vibe on the message boards has been consistently negative toward the prospect of Jim Fassel becoming the next Washington Redskins coach, three of his former players with the New York Giants and one of his assistant coaches have vouched for him this week.

Fassel, who lives in nearby Scottsdale, Ariz., has gone silent since owner Dan Snyder opted not to offer him the job last week.

Fassel remains the front-runner even as Snyder reportedly plots a plan to chat with former San Francisco and Detroit coach Steve Mariucci and Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Those close to New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels don’t expect him to pursue the Redskins’ opening.

Spagnuolo cannot be interviewed until Monday at the earliest — some inside the Giants organization expect an interview to happen Tuesday.

Indianapolis defensive coordinator Ron Meeks remains an option if things further unravel, which is possible with the way the search has gone.

Eleven Giants — including seven on the active roster — played for Fassel when he coached the team from 1997 to 2003. Among those who thrived under Fassel’s leadership were Michael Strahan, Amani Toomer and Jeremy Shockey.

“He was a great coach for us,” Toomer said. “He really let us kind of take the team and make it ours, which I thought was good for that group. He was a coach that was very organized and very prepared.”

Toomer had his five best seasons with Fassel — catching at least 63 passes and five touchdowns each season from 1999 to 2003.

The only current Giants assistant coach who was on Fassel’s last staff is tight ends coach Mike Pope.

“A great coach,” Pope said. “The thing I remember about Jim is that he hired you to coach your position, and he didn’t over-coach you if he liked your philosophy and your approach to the players. He gave you the job and respected you to do it.”

Pope and Toomer point to injuries as the cause for Fassel’s firing in 2003. But he had a falling out with then offensive coordinator Sean Payton, stripping him of play-calling duties during the season. The Giants lost their last eight games and were a dismal 1-7 at home.

Starters Shaun Williams, Kenny Holmes, Will Peterson and Rich Seubert ended the season on injured reserve, and Shockey was limited to nine games.

“As usually happens when you get players hurt, coaches get fired,” Pope said. “The quality of his coaching was very high, but things happened that we couldn’t control and changes were made.”

Former Redskins player Brian Mitchell spent his final NFL season with the Giants in 2003.

“I don’t have any problem with his coaching style — I loved the innovation of his offense,” Mitchell said. “He wouldn’t be a bad coach.”

The fact Fassel had success in the NFC East (30-19-1, two division titles) could make him a good fit, especially since he’s renowned for his work with young quarterbacks. But the backlash had Fassel been hired last week would have been immediate and so strong it’s possible it gave Snyder pause.

“The process and the way they came out talking about continuity and to pop a name in like that, that’s the problem,” Mitchell said. “The way things started with this — Gibbs and Snyder saying they want continuity and how they have people in the right place, and then, all of a sudden, boom, they’re blowing it up. That’s what is really bothering a lot of people.”

Mitchell thinks some of the fan furor will dissipate if the colorful Fassel makes a good first impression.

“If he’s impressive and can say the right things, some people will shut it down,” Mitchell said. “But a lot of people won’t until they see how the season goes. The way this team finished the season and now to change it, people are going to ask, ‘Why would you break that up?’ They’re going to see how they respond to him and the team.”

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