Fueled by Perseverance, Fassel in Family Business As New Director of Operations for Tiger Football
By Bill Alden
A deep scar spreads across his Adam's apple and his voice is raspy.
Although it is 13 years later, Mike Fassel still shows the effects of the life-threatening larynx injury he suffered in a freak accident at age 10 during an indoor baseball practice.
In the wake of the injury in which his larynx and voice box were crushed when he accidentally sprinted into a table, Fassel underwent several operations including a tracheotomy at age 11.
While dealing with such an injury would have driven many away from sports, Fassel wasn't about to let that setback keep him from playing football.
As the son of NFL coach Jim Fassel, the former head coach of the New York Giants and the current offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, the younger Fassel had a football support system in place.
With heavy contact ruled out, Fassel focused on being a kicker and a holder. The wiry 5'11, 173-pounder ended up kicking and holding for Don Bosco Prep School, helping it to the New Jersey state championship game.
Fassel then went on to Division I power Boston College where he walked on to the football team and made it on to the field as both a kicker and a holder.
Now, Fassel's love affair with the game is taking another turn as he has joined the Princeton University program as its new Director of Football Operations, replacing Nolan Jones, who left for a similar position at Northwestern.
As Fassel gets settled in at his new post, he acknowledges that football is in his blood. "My dad offered to give me a golf membership after my injury if I decided that I wanted to take up golf," recalled the amiable Fassel with his ready grin.
"I didn't go for that because I wanted to get into football any way I could. Even if it wasn't for my family, I think I'd be interested in football. No matter what happened, I still would've wanted to play football."
Fossel's ambition to play football got a major helping hand from Don Bosco's head coach Greg Toal.
"He came in my junior year and he kind of took me in," recalled Fassel, who honed his kicking skills by practicing at the New York Giants practice facility with kicker Brad Daluiso and training with Pat Sempier, a private kicking coach. "He wanted me to play different positions but he let me concentrate on kicking. He was a great coach and role model."
In his senior year, Fassel kicked four field goals as the team made it to the state championship game at Giants Stadium.
For Fassel, ending his high school career on the turf at Giants Stadium was particularly meaningful.
"It got me to realize that that you can make a difference in the game, it was a great feeling," recalled Fassel, who scored a touchdown in his first high school game when he recovered a fumbled kickoff.
"I'd been to Giants Stadium so many times; it was great to be the one actually playing the game. The stadium wasn't filled but it felt like we were playing a big-time game going against Bergen Catholic."
With Toal's son going to Boston College, Fassel was influenced to head to Chestnut Hill himself where he was determined to continue his football career by taking a shot at walking on to the school's football team.
While Fassel could've gone to a smaller school where his odds of seeing playing time would have been better, he was willing to be patient.
"I was thinking that if I worked hard and put my time in, my time would come," said Fassel. "Some people come in and think they have to be able to kick their freshman year. I just wanted to be part of the team and be part of something working toward a goal. I also wanted to go to a school where if football didn't work out, it was in a place I wanted to be at."
Things worked out on both fronts. In football, Fassel made it on to the field by his sophomore year. He scored the first points of his college career when he ran in a two-point conversion on an errant snap against Navy.
In his junior season in 2003, Fassel saw more action, handling the offside kicking and holding duties as well as connecting on nine of 10 PATS. His college football career ended on a down note as a knee injury sidelined him for his senior season.
In the classroom, however, things finished on a high note as Fassel earned an undergraduate degree in marketing and a masters in administrative studies. Utilizing his education, he started TGB, a video recording company based in Bergen County.
But Fassel, who spent several summers doing odd jobs at Giants' training camp and tagged along with his father on the sidelines during games, was itching to get into the family business. When he heard about the football director opening at Princeton, he jumped at the opportunity.
"I heard about the job from a Princeton alum and I applied right away," said Fassel, whose older brother John is also a coach with the Ravens.
"I came down to Princeton; I think they brought in seven people for interviews. I meshed well with the staff. A week later they called with the offer and I didn't need to think about it. I accepted it right away."
Fassel's persistence and business background will come in handy in his new post, which involves the coordination of recruiting efforts and assisting in the day-to-day administrative needs of Tiger head coach Roger Hughes.
"I'm managing our recruiting data base and right now we have 7,000 names in the data base," explained Fassel, who started on the job in late June.
"I'm also working on setting up transportation for our road games. During the season, I will handle all aspects of recruiting including setting up recruiting weekends and all the official visits. Basically, I handle all administrative logistics involved with the program. Right now, I usually get in the office around 7:30 a.m. and leave at 7 in the evening. During the season, I'll plan on getting in at 6:30 a.m. at the latest."
Fassel is looking forward to working with Hughes and the rest of the Princeton coaching staff. "Coach Hughes is a great guy," asserted Fassel.
"He's always energetic and upbeat. One of my goals is to let the coaches coach. Just before I got here, Stan Clayton [offensive line coach] was put in charge of getting all the food after games. He should be worrying about the offensive line which is the biggest part of the team. I want to take that stuff off their shoulders."
Having been exposed to the NFL, Fassel is excited to take the plunge into the game. "Being around the New York Giants, I saw how you can make a job fun," said Fassel. "I enjoy being around collegiate student athletes. Down the road, I'd like to be an athletics director. Right now, I just want to concentrate on Princeton."
Fassel's special perseverance should hold him in good stead as he sweats out the Tigers' administrative details.