PITTSBURGH -- Foge Fazio, who succeeded Jackie Sherrill as the football coach at alma mater Pittsburgh and later was a defensive coordinator for the NFL's Vikings and Browns, died Wednesday night following a lengthy battle with leukemia. He was 71.
Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson confirmed Fazio's death while attending the Pitt-Duquesne basketball game on Wednesday night.
Fazio, who grew up in Coraopolis, Pa., in suburban Pittsburgh, was a former Pitt linebacker and center and was chosen as the team MVP in 1959. He was drafted by the AFL's Boston Patriots in 1960 but soon after moved into coaching. He spent nine seasons as a Pitt assistant, the final three as defensive coordinator, before being promoted to head coach in 1982, following three successive 11-1 seasons under Sherrill.
Fazio's first Pitt team, quarterbacked by Dan Marino, began the season ranked No. 1 and started 7-0, but lost three of its final five as the Panthers' offense struggled. His 1983 team went 8-3-1, but he was fired with two years left on his contract following a 31-0 loss to Penn State in 1985.
Fazio was 25-18-3 at Pitt, including a 3-7-1 record in 1984.
"I don't know that anyone embodied the Pitt spirit better than Foge Fazio," Pederson said. "It was obvious from the first time that I met him how passionate he was about this university and its football program. Foge had the unique ability to make everyone he came in contact with feel special. In so many ways he represented all the great things associated with the University of Pittsburgh."
After leaving Pitt, Fazio was hired as coach Lou Holtz's defensive coordinator at Notre Dame. He also was an assistant coach with the Falcons, Jets and Redskins and was the defensive coordinator of the Vikings (1996-98) and Browns (2001-02). He retired with Cleveland in 2003 but returned two years later as a Vikings defensive consultant under coach Mike Tice.
Fazio spent the last two seasons as a radio analyst on Pitt football broadcasts, but hadn't worked this season since the South Florida game on Oct. 24. He recently told broadcast partner Bill Hillgrove he hoped to return for the No. 14 Panthers game Saturday against No. 5 Cincinnati.
"Foge was a true 'Pitt Man,' " Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "He loved this university and everyone at Pitt loved Foge. He was an outstanding football coach and an even better person. From the time I came back to Pittsburgh five years ago, no one has been a better friend or supporter of what we are doing at Pitt. He will be greatly missed."
Pitt basketball coach Jamie Dixon also knew Fazio and called the Panthers' 67-58, double-overtime win over Duquesne as "bittersweet" because it came on the night Fazio died.
Even after being diagnosed, Fazio was helping Our Lady of Sacred Heart High School in Coraopolis start a football program that will begin play in 2010.
Fazio was born Serafino Dante Fazio, but was called Foge because of the way he pronounced the word "fudge" as a youngster.