Gorman: Forever a 'Pitt Man,' Fazio gets last laugh
TribLIVE Sports Videos
It was a joke he wore out on the banquet circuit, but one that perfectly fit the personality of Foge Fazio. The former Pitt football player and coach liked to crack that he got three degrees from the university: His undergraduate, masters and when fired, the third degree.
Fazio had the unfortunate legacy at Pitt as the coach who inherited a program in 1982 coming off three consecutive 11-1 seasons but never won more than nine games in a season.
Yet, few handled such perceived failure as flawlessly as Fazio, who died Wednesday at age 71 of lymphoma. The architect of the nation's No. 1 defenses in 1980-81 simply renewed his reputation as a defensive genius in the NFL before joining Pitt's radio broadcast team as a color analyst.
"I know football better than most," said Bill Fralic, the former All-America left tackle, who shared the radio booth with Fazio, "but compared to him, I played checkers, and he played chess. He could see things most of us can't. I can look at a play after its run and tell you what happened, but he was two or three steps ahead. He brought sophistication to the broadcast."
Fazio also brought an engaging persona to Pitt practices, where he was welcomed back by Dave Wannstedt and spent at least one day a week at the South Side complex. How many schools do that with a fired coach• That alone speaks to the genuine respect extended to Fazio as a "Pitt Man."
"The one thing we have going for us in our program is our great tradition, and Foge Fazio was part of our tradition," Wannstedt said. "We probably talked more football when we were in the NFL, to be honest. It was more things that were about being a head coach, from recruiting and alumni and administration — things that were non-Xs and Os but equally as important."
As decades passed, Fazio's tenure became more understandable. He was 25-18-3 in four seasons at Pitt, a mark bettered by only one game by Mike Gottfried (26-17-2) over the next four seasons before he met a similar fate. In fact, no Pitt coach won as many as 25 games in his first four seasons until Dave Wannstedt (25-23) matched that mark last year.
"I don't think the fans are fair; they're too critical of what his record was," said Pitt historian Alex Kramer, a close friend of Fazio's. "He did not let it get him down nor did he let it alienate him from Pitt. Foge never felt bitter toward Pitt. His affection for Pitt always transcended personalities."
To hear Pitt people tell it, the university's commitment, or lack thereof, to its football program lessened Fazio's chances for success.
"I think Foge was in the right place at the wrong time," Fralic said.
But Fazio was described as "impossible to dislike" and remained popular with his players, mostly because of his big heart, infectious high-pitch laugh and great sense of humor. When told Playboy predicted a 4-7 season for Pitt in 1983, Fazio quipped, "I switched my subscription to Penthouse." (Fazio led Pitt to the Fiesta Bowl that year, and it would be another 21 years before the Panthers played in another New Year's Day bowl).
"He was always a guy that kept it light," said John Congemi, Pitt's quarterback from 1983-86. "You always knew where Foge was in the room because he had that laugh."
Not that he wanted it that way, but Foge Fazio got the last laugh in leaving a new legacy: he will be forever remembered as a "Pitt Man."Additional Information:
Viewing for Serafino 'Foge' Fazio will be from 7-9 p.m. today and 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Copeland Funeral Home at 981 Broadhead Road in Moon, with funeral Mass at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Margaret Mary Church in Moon.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers’ Harrison eyes stretch run
- Starkey: Artie Rowell’s incredible odyssey
- Penguins co-owner Lemieux snuffs rumored rift with Crosby
- Steelers notebook: Tomlin ends practice with third-down work
- Emotional send-off awaits Pitt seniors
- Michigan State takes bumpy road to finale against Penn State
- HS highlight reel: Pair of title games to be on tape delay Saturday
- House fire displaces family of 6 in Somerset County
- Palestinian artist who appealed blasphemy sentence of 800 lashes, prison sentenced to execution
- Gorman: Thomas Jefferson quarterback Kelley savors run after injuries, illness
- Knoch girls seek dividends of experience