November 29, 2004
A Look Back at Foge Fazio

With the Vikings winning with defense in Sunday's tilt with Jacksonville, I take you back to July, 1996 when I interviewed then defensive coordinator Foge Fazio.

ďWhen you come into the presence of a leader of men, you know that you have come into the presence of fire, that it is best not uncautiously to touch that man, that there is something that makes it dangerous to cross him.Ē Woodrow Wilson

You are the defensive coordinator in charge of some of the biggest, meanest, fastest, baddest defensive players in all of professional football. You are responsible for walking up to the likes of 280-lb John Randle to inform him that his missed tackle during a scrimmage cannot be tolerated when the real season begins, August 31, against the Buffalo Bills. Question for you, my readers, is could you do that with out shaking like a leaf as your voice crackles in fear? Answer? Thank the Viking Gods above for Foge Fazio who has the respect and admiration of the entire Viking defense. Foge speaks and the players respond. I met with Coach Fazio earlier this week in his office at Winter Park where he was preparing for the opening of training camp, July 15, in Mankato, Minnesota. The Viking Underground and the Minnesota Vikings are happy to present another in-depth interview to its most loyal fans world-wide:

VU: Ed McDaniel is back. Can you sleep a little better at night this summer because of that?

FF: Well, you know, Eddie did cause us a lot of sleepless nights when he got hurt on the third day of practice at training camp [last year]. Seeing him out there at mini-camp and other practices weíve had so far, itís a good feeling to have him back.

VU: Will there be any significant changes to defensive alignments or schemes this coming season that you can share with the readers?

FF: Well, we have basically the same starters that we were planning on going into last year with, the same guys if Eddie comes back. Our backups are going to be awfully young and inexperienced. We did lose a lot of backup players. But because we have a core of people that have been together for at least a year now under our system and two or three years under a system that was basically the same, weíre going to have a few little wrinkles. Maybe a little different blitz here, a little different coverages there, but basically itís going to be about the same.

VU: I was able to spend a little time with Jeff Friday, Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach, a few weeks back. While watching Jason Fisk work out, I observed that the players just go through one rep at each station. For the benefit of the readers, could you briefly discuss the Viking regimen and philosophy in the weight room?

FF: Well, number one, you mentioned Jason Fisk. Hereís a guy thatís self-made. He came in here as a seventh round pick. And he has really worked himself into the position that he might be the starter come this season. He will be starting nose tackle right off the bat. Now somebody [may] come and beat him out, but he made the team simply because he spent many, many months in the weight room in the off-season, many hours of training.

What we try to do in the weight room for the defensive guys, naturally, weíre looking for strength, especially in the defensive lineman, a little bit of bulk. Our defense is predicated on speed and agility, so we donít try to lose the agility part of it, the flexibility part of it and also the quickness part. That is also very important. And a lot of the reps that they do are the explosive type.

If you watched them, they really try to be very explosive in coming off the ball. So thatís basically [how] we try to build our defense in the weight room and the techniques they use in there are pretty close to what weíre looking for.

VU: After the Dallas playoff loss last season, many fans pointed blame at a perceived weakness at linebacker and a lack of depth at linebacker. What, if any, adjustments will you make or have already made at the linebacker positions based on that playoff loss?

FF: Well, I think that when that happens when they run the ball, itís not only the linebackers. Itís the safety support, itís the nose tackle, and maybe the defensive end going too wide. Thereís a lot of reasons, missed tackles. Weíre going to work, naturally, on our tackling and to be in the right positions. Those things that are very correctable.

As far as the linebackingís concerned, Jeff Brady had to play almost every snap. Dixon Edwards had gotten hurt, missed a lot of games and the back-ups had to play. This year Dwayne Rudd, who is a legitimate number one draft choice, will come on and spell some people and be able to back up people.

So weíve addressed that issue and with Eddie McDaniel being there, now our linebacking core is getting a better and better look, you know, as we go along. We also signed Ron George, who started last year for the Atlanta Falcons. [Heíll] give us some speed and quickness, and he also fits into our mold. So where last year we had three starters, and when Eddie went down, we really had to scramble around and move people.

Our back-ups were kind of young and inexperienced but now Pete Bercich has been with us. Heíll be a pretty good back-up player, and Ron George will be an excellent back-up player and also Dwayne Rudd, so [we] have five, six guys now that are legitimate NFL linebackers.

VU: As a coach, do you get more satisfaction from developing an unknown player like John Randle into a star or developing a high draft pick such as Fernando Smith into the star player everyone expected him to be?

FF: Well, uh, we always look at it when youíre coaching a young guy that he kind of reflects what youíre trying to do. Sometimes we get credit for developing a player when we shouldnít [get credit]. Of course, we get blamed whenever they donít develop.

I donít care if heís a number one draft choice or a free agent. You get a lot of satisfaction when you see the guys execute the techniques of the game, which is very important. When they execute the techniques of the game, when they follow the defensive patterns and are in the right spots and doing the right things, executing the game plan, itís a rewarding satisfaction that coaches get no matter, again as I said, whether heís a first round pick or a free agent. It means a lot to you.

VU: Can Tony Williams be that next John Randle? (Tony Williams has been nicknamed ďLittle JohnĒ because of his Randle-like intensity)

FF: (laughs) I donít know. I have been coaching for a while and thereís not too many John Randles. Itís hard to project that. He does have a high motor. They both came, you know John came from a small program, although Tony came from Memphis State which is a Division One team. They both have high motors. Johnís a little big bigger than Tony but Tony has the same quickness and motor. Itís just a thing weíve got to wait and see.

VU: Will Tony stand cocked-stanced at nose with his perceived inability to be that two-gap nose tackle?

FF: Our nose tackles arenít really two-gap guys. We have cocked them because we felt that they can get in a lane and be able to run and chase the ball and get into their lanes and keep their gap. Weíre a gap control team and sometimes being cocked like that, you can get into a gap a little bit better. Sometimes itís hurt us but, again, weíve got Jason Fisk who was coming on pretty good last year at the end. Weíve got big James Manley, and, hopefully, he might be able to develop also.

VU: How will you get around John Randle being doubled- and tripled- team again this year?

FF: My first year here, watching it, we had Eddie and usually Eddie is on the same side of Randle. We shot Eddie in the gap a lot of times in-between a center and a guard. And what theyíd do with John, theyíd have a center and a guard on that side double-team him. The center was looking for him all the time if John got past the guard.

What we did, we shot Eddie in there a couple of times and that made the center a little bit conscious of ĎHey, I got to be careful, heís coming.í That gave John a chance to go one-on-one. We feel if John goes one-on-one against somebody and the quarterback holds the ball a split second, Johnís going to be in the guyís face. Thatís what weíre hoping.

VU: How is Orlando Thomas and when will he be back to full strength?

FF: His rehab is going very well. Of course, you donít know until you get out there. The same with Eddie. We were planning on, maybe in the early pre-season games, playing Eddie maybe a few snaps just to get warm and let Dwayne Rudd take the rest of them. Then maybe towards the end [of pre-season] let Eddie play a quarter or so. With O.T. weíll probably just keep him out of the first couple pre-season games, and in scrimmage, of course, heíll just be an observer. Maybe if we get into that fourth or fifth pre-season game, next to the last or last game, [weíll] try to get him a few shots. We want him to start that first game of the year.

VU: I attended the first mini-camp back in May, and I came away very impressed with one individual, Stalin Colinet, the defensive end out of Boston College. Could you comment on Colinet and where you see him fitting in this season?

FF: Yeah, we liked Stalin. He is a big, rugged guy who has good practice habits, good motor, Heís a type of guy you could play inside if you had to. We have him as a defensive end right now, but he did play inside and maybe could back up John Randle even if we had to because he has the kind of the body and temperament of being there.

I expect him to play from what Iíve seen in mini-camp. Of course you put the pads on and have a little competition and see what happens, but right now based on what we can go on, we like him a lot.

VU: Is one of the reasons you picked up Torian Gray in this yearís draft that he can play equally well at both free and strong safety, given the injuries in defensive backfield at present?

FF: Yeah, I think if we have a weakness, we donít have an experienced, I should say, guy whoís played in the NFL as a back-up corner or as a safety. We have O.T. whoís an excellent free safety and Robert Griffith who started every game last year for us at strong safety, got hurt and missed a couple games. But you know we donít have Harlon Barnett who was a bonafide starter in the league as a back-up or Alfred Jackson who backed up as a corner. We donít have those guys or Vanhorse who played in the league as a corner.

All of our backups are unproven guys so Torian Gray whoís a high round draft choice, second round same as O.T. was, hopefully he can come in here and provide us some back-up positions. And weíre going to play the safeties a little bit different this year. Weíre going to let them both be free and strong, so it shouldnít be much of a problem there.

VU: You have a lot of young defensive talent on the team this year. Sometimes, even on the practice squad, thereís just not enough game time to go around. Will you be sending anybody to the World League next year to help development as the Vikings have done with offensive players Brad Johnson and Everett Lindsay?

FF: I have no idea about that. Thatís so far off, itís pretty hard for me to comment on that. But I could see if a James Manley doesnít get enough time this year that he could be a candidate, just off the top of my head. But it would be something that we would have to look and see.

But right now, I think that if we do carry eight or nine defensive lineman, theyíre going to get a lot of playing time in the pre-season, I promise you that. James Manley, Tony Williams and Stalin Colinet, Duane Clemons, those guys will be out there a lot in the five pre-season games and will get a lot of practice time.

VU: How close is Duane Clemons to actually starting?

FF: Well, heís done a lot of things in the off-season that have looked pretty good. Heís put some weight on; heís up to the 280ís now. Heís been here a lot working out, [but] he still needs a lot of work on his strength. Heís quick and heís smooth and heís got pretty good speed; he has good lateral movement. But he has to continue to work on his strength, to take a beating in there every day. If he can hold that 280 weight like he is right now, I think heíll be a guy who will, you know, play a lot. We lost Marty Harrison who played over 55% of the snaps last year. He shared them basically with Derrick Alexander, and Derrickís the type of guy who canít go every snap. He takes a beating, heís a high motor guy so we expect Clemons to be one of the guys in there.

VU: A few years back we saw Buddy Ryan , then defensive coordinator of the Houston Oilers, go after the Oiler offensive coordinator and blows were exchanged. How well do you get along with Brian Billick, the Viking offensive coordinator, and do you have a good working relationship on game day?

FF: Brianís a true professional. He studies the game; heís really into it 24 hours a day, twelve months out of the year. You canít say enough about Brian as far as his preparation, his competitiveness to win, and weíre all in this together.

I have no ego problem. I donít think Brian has an ego problem. Sometimes when you have ego problems like what you mentioned happened in Houston, those things can happen. As long as Denny Green is the head coach here, I don't think anybody is going to have a problem as far as the team is concerned. Denny really lets the coaches coach. Heís well prepared, you know where youíre at with Denny, the players know where they are.

The coaches sit together in that staff room, and we discuss what the game plans are going to be. We know going in whatís going to happen. Iím sure if Brian looks and he sees a guy wide open and they run it for a touchdown, heís going to put his chin strap on and say ĎLetís go offense, weíre going to drive down the field and score.í If the offense turns the ball over, we say ĎThatís what the defense gets paid for, and letís go out and stop them.í We have that kind of attitude.

So we have never had any problem like that. I donít even foresee it. I donít think it would ever happen. Plus heís too doggone tall to swing at. [laughs]

VU: What would be a bigger victory for you: a playoff win where the defense gives up a lot of points or a regular season victory over the Packers where the Viking defense holds them scoreless?

FF: I would rather win a game any way you could win it. I was head coach in high school and in college, and thereís nothing more exciting than winning a playoff game or a bowl game. I donít care what the score is.

If Green Bay scores 20 and we score 21 or somebody scores 40 and we score 44, Iím happy. It doesnít make any difference. This game is a long season and when youíre in it as long as weíve been in it, youíll see everything happen. Weíve seen 3-0 games, 3-2 games, the game at Detroit two year ago on Thanksgiving Day that was like a 44-40 game [44-38]. Of course we lost that one. Nobody was happy.

VU: Well, the refs helped in that one.

FF: Yeah, nobody was happy after that one. Iím sure Brian and the offensive guys feel the same way. You go in the locker room and you lose 44-40, nobodyís hooting and hollering. Theyíre all down. Whether youíre Cris Carter and you catch twelve balls or youíre Robert Smith and you gain 180 yards, youíre still going to be down. Or if we go in and we lose a game 7-6 or we lose the game 3-0 on an intercepted pass or we have five interceptions and they donít gain any yards youíre still down, no oneís hooting.

Itís a team game and thatís what I like about football. I think that thatís important. In basketball maybe a guy score 45 points and he might be happy, or in baseball a guy hits three home runs and he might be happy. But football is not that way.

VU: Orlando Thomas and Corey Fuller are, should we say, very chatty players on the field. How have you adjusted your coaching over the years to handle players who have a lot of fire in the belly?

FF: Well, I kind of get fired up and I might say a few things during the course of a game or the course of practice. We always have a saying Ďas long as its not a distraction to the individual or to his teammates.í Being that all the guys on the team know how O.T. and Corey are and knowing how I am, sometimes in practice thereís a few words and shouting going on or even in the course of the game. As long as its not a problem with the intensity or the distractions that come along with it, Corey knows that and so does O.T. and the other players [as well]. They know to button it up if we have to. But right now it hasnít been a distraction.

VU: When you were a kid playing football in the backyard, which defensive player did you emulate and why?

FF: Oh man, [laughs] itís been so doggone long ago. Some of the guys, naturally as I grew up in Pittsburgh, in those days the pro players, a lot of them were going both ways and I was a big Pittsburgh Steeler fan. I played center and linebacker and they [Steelers] had a guy named Chuck Terengelo (sp?) who played, not too many people remember, and watching the other teams come in and seeing Chuck Bednarik. [Click here to read how Chuck Bednarik flattened Frank Gifford in 1960.]

You know, he was like the last of the two-way players in pro football. When I was getting a little bit older and going in to junior high and high school, he was like the last of the two-way players. Actually he didnít play for the Steelers [Eagles] but there were a lot of the players that the Steelers had in those days. Even when they played the Cleveland Browns, I used to know a lot of their players by name too. It was a big rivalry. And watching those guys, of course I didnít know if I was going to be a defensive player or a offensive player back in those days.

I liked Otto Graham. He played for the Browns. He was a quarterback and I liked to be the quarterback. Jimmy Finks, believe it or not, he played for the Steelers. I liked him a lot too and the way he played the game. He was the quarterback way back in those golden days of football.

VU: How has Dennis Green helped you in your career to date and what attributes of Dennisí would you take with you if a head coaching position becomes available to you?

FF: Well, uh, one thing when I was at the Jets and we [coaching staff] got let go, we all had time on our contract. Denny called me and I never even thought, you know. We were all looking for what jobs were going to be open. I didnít even know there was going to be an opening here. And he had called me and said to meet him down at the Senior Bowl which was the next day, and I walked in and he offered me the job and I accepted. And some of the other guys said, ĎHey, thereís a lot of other jobs open.í I said ĎHey, the man called me, and I didnít even have to ask him.í

So that was reassuring and then when Tony Dungy left, he made me the defensive coordinator which was I thought a good thing on his part to keep the continuity. He expressed complete belief in what I was doing and doesnít interfere. Heís very knowledgeable both on offense and on defense, and I think thatís very important. Heís very well-prepared throughout his organization, in training camp and the mini-camps, and off-season. Heís very highly organized. And Iím going to keep all that stuff just in case [laughs] I ever get a shot.

I think Denny creates an atmosphere, a very positive atmosphere on the practice field, in the class-room where the player knows, ĎHey, every opportunity is given to us to be successful.í And Denny provides that, heís the leader. Again, heís very knowledgeable in the special teams, defense, offense. Gets very emotional before the games. But right to the button, you know, no B.S. The players know where heís coming from. Heís consistent in handling them, which I think is very, very important. And he has tremendous credibility with the players because of his background and his knowledge. I think that if you can establish the credibility with the players that he has, I think youíre going to be O.K. They respect him and they like him.

VU: One of your teammates at Pitt was Mike Ditka. With Ditka coming back to the league this year as head coach at New Orleans, do you have any special advice for him?

FF: No, [laughs] you know Mikeís been away for maybe four years but heís been in that booth. I know that when Mike became head coach of the Bears, I became the head coach of the University of Pittsburgh. He called me and he said ĎOnly in America, that a Slovak from the steel mills of Aliquippa [Pennsylvania] and a Italian kid from the steel mills of Coraopolis [Pennsylvania], their sons can become head coaches of their alma maters,í He wrote that in his book in fact. [Click here for actual Ditka quote.]

Mike was such a hard competitor. I remember in high school, we didnít play them in football because they were a lot bigger high school, but we did play them in baseball. And boy, heíd be playing shortstop and I remember his brother in center field made an error one time. Mike turned around and almost chased him right out of the ball park [laughs].

You didnít want to tangle with Mike Ditka. This guy was a tough competitor and a great student of the game. And itís no nonsense with him. Tough guys are going to be the guys that make the team. If youíre not tough, if youíre a, if you shy away, you ainít going to be there very long. He will get the most out of his talent. He had good talent with the Bears, no doubt about it. But he developed those guys and they played his style of football.

VU: Speaking for John Randle, which quarterback in the league would he most like to sack?

FF: Knowing John Randle, I think he doesnít care who it is. In fact, in practice if he was allowed to sack our guy, he would. And I know that watching him in the drills, you know we have dummies up out there and we go through drills where they avoid the blockers and get up and sack, he even enjoys sacking that doggone dummy out there too.

VU: Will there ever be another defensive NFL MVP or is there just too much focus on offense and scoring?

FF: I donít know. Itís pretty hard nowadays for a defensive player to be dominant. You know, if any one had a chance at it, I guess maybe L.T. [Lawrence Taylor] in his hey-day. But then of course, they adjust the blocking schemes. You can always, you know, take one guy out of the game.

Ronnie Lott was tremendous. I know we had him in the twilight of his career [Jets], but he was still a great ball player. And, um, itís pretty tough, like I said. You know, you can double-team Randle. Reggie White, you can double-team him, stay away from him, you know. I guess that whenever Alan [Page] won it, I guess he still had the other Purple People Eaters out there. Maybe they couldnít concentrate too much [on Page] then Jim Marshall would have got them or somebody else might have pumped up and got them.

But I think itís just too hard for one guy, even a great cornerback. You know how many balls are thrown Deionís [Sanders] way. Heís an outstanding cornerback. Even when Ronnie Lott was playing free safety, how many shots do you get, you know? The gameís close and theyíre running the ball a lot. You make a lot of tackles, but he had a tremendous amount of interceptions. I think itís kind of hard. I think the focus is on the offense.

VU: A tough schedule awaits this year with three of the first four games on the road. Will those first four decide the fate of the remaining 12 games?

FF: I donít know. We had the same thing last year. We came out 5-1 but we lost four in a row. I think the schedule is such that you got to go with the old clichť Ďone at a time.í

VU: Monday night, December 1, Green Bay comes to town. How can the fans help the team during that game, and just how badly do you expect to destroy the Team Formerly Known As The Super Bowl Champions?

FF: Well, any time you play on Monday night home or away, itís kind of like an extra juice. The players, they know it. They know itís the only time their counterparts, their colleagues, the other NFL players, [have] a chance to watch. Everyoneís watching and they know that. Not only their parents and stuff like, that but they know that the epitome of NFL football is to play that night.

And being that itís home and being that itís Green Bay, itís going to be a wild, woolly affair like it always is. Like Iíve seen it the last two years here and hopefully that our guys will win the game somehow, some way. We expect to win it and hope we can pull it out again.

VU: Do you hope to get the crowd more behind you this year?

FF: Well, I think the crowd here is just like any where else. I mean, I remember when the Steelers won four Super Bowls, and I was coaching at Pitt. This is in late Ď79 or Ď80 and opening game was against Houston. We [Pitt] had played on a Saturday and had an open day, and so I went to the game. I sat in the stands and they were playing the Houston Oilers, their dreaded rivalry.

The Steelers jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but at half-time they were losing 17-10. You would have thought [laughs] they were playing away. The fans had turned on them in one half, and that was the opening game after they had won the Super Bowl the year before.

So itís like anything else, I think. If you play hard and you show youíre trying and youíre out there playing hard and youíve got some victories under your belt and youíre very competitive, I think the fans see that. I think what the fans donít like is if youíre not competitive and you lose some games you should have won, those always happen. Thereís always games that somehow the other team steals. Weíve stole a few games ourselves.

Itís a situation now because thereís so much importance placed on a team to win the Super Bowl, that if you donít win it, if youíre not there, then everyoneís disgusted about it. Being that Green Bay won it and that their fans are rubbing in our fansí noses that they won a Super Bowl and that they want to get back in it, I think our players realize that and they [will] play hard. Theyíre going to play hard even if nobodyís at the game.

But they love football. Out of fifty-three guys, I would say that ninety-nine percent of them are really out there to win the game. Because they love football.

Posted by maasx003 at November 29, 2004 8:04 AM