Coach ’em Up: John Fassel
By T.J. Randall
Concluding our series is special teams coordinator John Fassel, who enters his 12th NFL season. John is the son of former NFL coach Jim Fassel.
After playing wide receiver at Weber State in 1999, Fassel signed with the Colts as an undrafted free agent. That same year, he was hired by Bucknell to coach receivers and assist in recruiting before moving on to the Amsterdam Admirals a year later. In 2001, Fassel was a GA for Idaho State, returned to Bucknell a year later, and served as New Mexico Highland’s head coach from 2003-2004.
He earned his first position in the NFL with the Ravens, serving as a special teams assistant from 2005-2007 as they finished top 10 in punt and kick return averages. Fassel was then hired by Oakland as the special teams coordinator from 2008-2011.
In his first season, the Raiders ranked ninth in the league in kickoff returns and 10th in the league in kickoff coverage while finishing second in punt return average; punter Shane Lechler led the NFL with a 41.2 net punting average and earned a Pro Bowl berth. The following season, Lechler set a franchise record with 51.1-yard average per attempt, and his net average of 43.9 yards per punt also set an all-time NFL record. Kicker Sebastian Janikowski converted a career-high 89.7 percent of his field goals that same season, while tying an NFL record with a 63 yarder in 2011. Long snapper Jon Condo also made two Pro Bowl appearances under Fassel’s tutelage.
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Fassel joined the Rams in 2012 in which they were one of just two teams in the NFL that did not allow a return touchdown or a blocked kick. Kicker Greg Zuerlein set a new team record with eight field goals from 50 yards or more, while punter Johnny Hekker’s 45.8 gross average and 39.9 net average were both the fourth highest single-season totals in team history. Opponents averaged an NFL-low 2.6 yards per punt return the next season, while Zuerlein connected on 26-of-28 on field goals.
In Fassel’s first two seasons, the Rams did not allow a special teams touchdown. Hekker also set a new single-season NFL record for net punting average (44.2). as he was named First-Team All-Pro and made his first trip to the Pro Bowl.
2014 saw numerous highlight-reel fakes and returns, featuring Tavon Austin who finished fifth in punt return average (11.2) and was an alternate to the Pro Bowl, while Benny Cunningham led the NFC and was fifth in the NFL in kick return average (27.5). The Rams were fifth in net punt average (41.8), third highest in team history, and second in punt return average (13.0) this past season.