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December 06, 2001

Now, coaches are Super friends
By Dan Patrick

While neither Jim Fassel nor Brian Billick has coached a Super Bowl team before, each guy is doing a pretty good job so far. By laying down the law as soon as they got here, Fassel and Billick let everyone know who's in charge. It's not that surprising when you remember that they are the best of friends.

Brian Billick
Brian Billick has had to adjust to coaching a team built around its defense.

Jim Fassel took charge as soon as he landed in Tampa. With his authoritative voice, he declared, "This is what's going to happen. And this is the way we play. And this is what we're all about." He acknowledged that the Super Bowl is the biggest of games but that his Giants had to approach it the same way they approached the games, and wins, that got them here.

And then there is Fassel's close pal Billick, who did the same thing when he touched down. He set the parameters. He pounced on what would be the obvious distraction of the week, The Media versus Ray Lewis, and tried to dictate the tone of that exchange. The value and smarts of that tack is debatable, but at least Billick didn't pretend the issue did not exist. He jumped right into it.

They're both very demonstrative and outspoken. We talk a lot about Fassel making the guarantee. But don't forget Billick, who is just as vocal and expects just as much from his team. He just didn't guarantee anything.

Fassel had nothing to lose by making that guarantee. He was probably going to lose his job if the Giants didn't make the playoffs. So he makes the guarantee. So what? He makes the playoffs with a good team that was 7-4 at the time of his pronouncement.

Let's be honest -- if he's coaching the Browns, does he make the guarantee? No. He had a good team that needed a wake-up call. He had offensive and defensive coordinators who needed to be reminded that, if he gets fired, they get fired. So it all came together.

It was nice coaching -- don't get me wrong. But they benefited from the Vikings losing their last three regular-season games. As Sterling Sharpe said, if the Giants went to Minnesota for that NFC title game they probably would have lost -- or certainly the Vikings would not have panicked down 14-0. But Fassel got his team to turn it on, play well and they're here. But he also gets part of the blame because they were underachieving.

Jim Fassel
Jim Fassel feels the less said by his Giants, the better.

Imagine Brian Billick's season. He had to put his ego on the mantle and say, "I'll be back, I'll pick you up here after the season." Billick was doing just that halfway through the season when he had to say, "It doesn't matter what we do offensively. I have only so many weapons."

Billick, who made his name as an offensive coordinator with that amazing 1998 Vikings team during Randy Moss' rookie year, would rather win a game scoring 41 points than allowing no points.

But Marvin Lewis is the focal point of that coaching staff because of the defense. So here is Billick fighting himself a little, fighting his own resumé. He has a chance to win a Super Bowl, but he'd love to win on his own terms -- which would be with a big offense, not a big defense.

But Billick is too good a coach to not run with what he has. He'll take a Super Bowl win by 3-0 and build an offense later. And Jim Fassel would probably prefer not to have to make guarantees every year. But he laid it out there this year and it paid off.

You do what works if you're Brian Billick. You do what you have to do if you're Jim Fassel. And for each guy, so far, so good. But when it's all over, one guy will need to do some consoling. That's what friends are for.

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