weather icon Partly Cloudy

Fassel’s winning pedigree keeps Locos on task

Jim Fassel stood among his Locomotives football team this week and delivered a discourse not meant for those unable to attend R-rated movies.

He had watched the offense stumble around for a few hours, watched its lack of focus and effort, and dressed down the entire group one mistake and blown assignment at a time.

“I was not happy at all with the way we practiced,” Fassel said. “This team has a lot of character, but I’m not going to back off them one bit. You have to forget last year and know this is a new deal.”

His competitive fire still burns as it did after that state championship loss in high school, when Fassel’s father approached him with words of encouragement and the son wouldn’t speak.

He was a quarterback for Fullerton College when it won a national championship, played on the Southern California team that won a Rose Bowl in 1969 and coached the New York Giants to a Super Bowl.

Fassel has rings and countless memories, but none is more special than the title he now hopes to successfully defend.

He enters his second season directing the Locomotives, who will open defense of their United Football League championship tonight against Florida at Sam Boyd Stadium.

It was in November when the same teams met in the same venue and Las Vegas won 20-17 in overtime.

The good: UFL (Part I) offered a much better brand of football than many expected. Players. Coaches. The game itself was good.

The bad: UFL (Part I) lost $30 million and struggled mightily on the marketing and attendance side of things, offering fictitious numbers weekly for how many souls were purchasing tickets.

They announced close to 15,000 for the championship game, and there weren’t 8,000 in the stadium. Those kinds of numbers.

Still, the job description for Fassel and his staff hasn’t changed — offer a product others want to see and hope to equal last year’s results.

Think of it this way: UFL teams that first season were like prep all-star squads assembled for a holiday game. Four teams. Six games each. It couldn’t have been a softer opening act.

They all sort of came together, not really knowing one another except for perhaps college playing days, and those with the most structure and expertise stood tallest in the end. The Locos proved to be that team.

There are now five teams, and each will play eight games with a championship set for Nov. 26 at a site to be determined. You know the Locos’ preference for the game’s venue and host team.

“If you have a championship and any pride at all, you want to defend it, and that’s a feeling from Little League all the way up to a Super Bowl,” said returning cornerback Wale Dada, who was also part of a conference co-championship team at Washington State in 2002. “The (UFL title) meant a little more than the one in college just because of how we started off as a team here.

“We just walked onto a field one day and grew together over six to seven weeks. Now, we know every other team will be gunning for us. I don’t want to say it’s going to be easier, but we’re much closer as a team now because of winning it all last year.”

For Fassel, it’s all in the attitude.

Teddy Lehman led the UFL in tackles last season at middle linebacker, and the former NFL player is back after being among the Jacksonville Jaguars’ final cuts. Then walked in longtime NFL linebacker Ed Hartwell, a natural for the middle spot. Brandon Moore is another linebacker with NFL experience.

“I think some people anticipated some problems there for us with where everyone might play,” Fassel said. “It took five minutes in a meeting with them for all to say they would do whatever was needed for this team to win. Those are the kind of guys I want on this team. Great players. Great leaders.

“Bill Walsh once told me that when a good player becomes a bad leader, get rid of him. But when a good player becomes a good leader, hold onto him with everything. We’ve got good players and good leaders on this team. Last year was special. It was really something special.

“But two in a row would be great.”

The title defense begins tonight.

UFL (Part II) has arrived.

That alone should be considered success.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at
egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.