SALT LAKE CITY — In case you missed the news (a definite possibility), the Las Vegas Locomotives defeated the Florida Tuskers to win the United Football League championship last week.
The party at the Bellagio must have been something.
More likely, the people at the Bellagio have never heard of the Locos. This is a five-team league; attendance is spotty. Most games, you could crash a blimp and no one would get hurt.
Still, it is football, which is exactly Jim Fassel's point. He's coached at major colleges (Stanford, Utah, Utah State) and in the pros (Arizona, Denver, Oakland, Baltimore) and was the head coach for the New York Giants, where he guided them to a Super Bowl and was named NFL Coach of the Year.
So what does he do after all that? What everyone does when they want to forget their worries — they go to Vegas. In his case, to coach the Locos.
"This is as much fun as I've had in coaching," Fassel said in a phone interview this week. "That first (UFL) championship (2009) was special, but winning back-to-back is a really special feeling."
Fassel would coach in Greenland if it meant breaking down film and hanging with the players.
"I love the camaraderie and the players, developing team unity, those are fun aspects," Fassel continued. "I had a great job (doing NFL radio and TV commentary for ESPN). I had a very nice life. I made enough money. People said 'Why go back?' Just because I love coaching. That's who I am. I'm a coach."
Bring it up in the next team meeting.
Fassel is a familiar face in Salt Lake, having coached the Utes to a 25-33 five-year record in the 1980s. While he didn't win any titles, he did entertain. Under his leadership, the team introduced the "duck" offense. It mostly involved spreading players across the field in crazy formations — sometimes everyone on one side of center — and seeing what happened. His staff even named the formations: Daffy, Daisy and Donald.
You might say it was a bit Looney Tunes.
But it was entertaining. Defenses would be scratching their heads when the ball was snapped. Often the quarterback could walk into the end zone untouched.
Since then, Fassel has been hired and fired a couple of times. His most visible stop was New York, where — in a fake-out of duckian proportions — his Giants reached the Super Bowl (2001) before losing to Baltimore.
He must have impressed the Ravens, because they later hired him as their offensive coordinator.
The UFL is among the latest incarnations of football, joining a long list of hopefuls that included the USFL, Arena Football, AF2, WFL, XFL and even LFL (Lingerie Football League). The good news is that the UFL is actual football. No ultra-trampy cheerleaders, no pro wrestling-type drama, no tackling off the dasher boards.
Its selling point: cheap tickets, low overhead and good talent.
"And no colored footballs," said Fassel.
They play by NFL rules, with minor exceptions. The league is comprised of former and aspiring NFL players; Fassel estimates 80 percent have spent time in the show, mostly on practice squads.
That's not to say the UFL is huge yet. The Locos play at Sam Boyd Stadium, which isn't even a great college venue. Only 10,000 fans attend, and that's announced figures, not necessarily actual.
No problem for Fassel.
"Coaching is coaching," he said. "When I got into coaching, it was for the love of coaching. I think some of the younger generations are in it because they like the publicity and the money."
Fassel says though he made great money in New York, and good money as an NFL assistant, his salary was just $60,000 when he was coaching at Utah (1985-89). His first assistant coaching job paid $15,000.
He was in it for the thrills.
Speaking of thrills, the Utes, who fired him after a 4-8 season, are going to the Pac-10, something Fassel never envisioned.
"I really didn't," he said. "But I don't really understand college and what's going on. Utah to the Pac-10, BYU going independent, TCU to the Big East. ... I don't know. I just never saw Utah playing in the Pac-10."
He probably never saw himself coaching in Las Vegas, either. But now he's there and settled. His house is a few hundred yards from Mike Tyson's place. (They haven't met.)
Life, Fassel says, is good.
Any day in football is a day to savor.
In anyone's league. For anyone's team. In anyone's stadium.
ONLINE POLL QUESTIONS:
1. Did Utah fire Jim Fassel too soon? (Y/N)
2. Have you hear of the UFL? (Y/N)
3. Fassel said Salt Lake was considered for a UFL franchise. Would you attend? (Y/N)=
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