John Fassel, who is known as one of the most creative special teams coaches in the league, enters his third season as the Cowboys special teams coordinator. Fassel, who headed up special teams for two pro clubs prior to his arrival in Dallas - LA Rams (2012-19) and Oakland Raiders (2009-11) - has dramatically improved the Cowboys special teams unit since his arrival in 2020.
Prior to Fassel's arrival, Dallas finished the 2019 season last in the NFL in kick return average and 31st in both net and gross punting average. After Fassel's second year with Dallas in 2021, the Cowboys ranked fifth in the NFL in kickoff return average, topped the league in net punting average and finished fourth in gross punting average.
In 2021 Fassel's special teams unit was one of the most effective groups in the NFL, highlighted by a league-high three blocked punts - two of which were recovered for a touchdown. Fassel's unit also led the NFL with four blocked kicks (three punts, one PAT) while tallying an NFL-high three special teams touchdowns. Fassel had a major influence in signing veteran punter Bryan Anger in free agency prior to the 2021 season. Under Fassel, Anger was selected to his first career Pro Bowl after leading the NFL and setting a team record with a 44.6 net average in 2021. Anger's 44.6 net average was also the fourth-highest in NFL history. Along with an impressive net average, Anger set the franchise record in gross average (48.4). Fassel, who was with Greg Zuerlein since his rookie season with the LA Rams in 2012, watched Zuerlein become the third-fastest kicker to reach 250 field goals in NFL history, doing so in just 144 career games. Fassel was instrumental in Dallas' kickoff return game, as the Cowboys finished fifth in the NFL with 24.8 yards-per-return.
In 2020 Fassel helped Dallas secure Zuerlein, a player Fassel coached through his entire tenure with the Rams, to help the kicking unit. Zuerlein converted 34-of-41 field goals and 33-of-36 PAT tries, allowing him to set the club record for field goal attempts in a season, tie for the most field goals made and tie for second in single-season points (135). Tony Pollard settled in as the kickoff returner for Dallas, and he tied for second in the league with 32 returns, was fourth with 766 yards and eighth with an average of 23.9 yards-per-return. Additionally, Fassel worked with two different punters - Chris Jones and Hunter Niswander - after Jones was lost midway through the season with an abdominal injury.
In 2019 the Rams special teams unit returned two of the NFL's top specialists in Zuerlein and Johnny Hekker. Zuerlein's 24 field goals (24-of-33) tied for fourth in his career, and he connected on all 42 PAT tries. Called on for only 66 punts in 2019, Hekker finished third in the NFL with a 47.4 gross average and seventh with a 42.4 net, along with 22 punts downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line and a long of 71 yards (second-longest of his career).
Fassel's group continued to flourish in 2018 in all four phases of special teams, despite using multiple kickers and returners during the regular season. Cory Littleton blocked a pair of punts and posted an additional deflected punt en route to earning his first career Pro Bowl selection. It marked the ninth Rams special teams selection since Fassel took over in 2012. Zuerlein converted on a 57-yard game-winning field goal in overtime of the NFC Championship game to send the Rams to the Super Bowl, marking the longest game-winning kick in playoff history.
In 2017 four Rams special teamers were named to the Pro Bowl in returner Pharoh Cooper, Hekker, long snapper Jake McQuaide and Zuerlein. Zuerlein led the league in scoring (158 points) despite playing in only 14 games before going on the Reserve/Injured list.
In 2016 Hekker earned his third trip to the Pro Bowl after setting an NFL record with 51 punts downed inside the 20. He also established an NFL record for single-season net punting average (46.0), breaking the previous record that Hekker himself set in 2013. McQuaide became the first long snapper in franchise history to earn a Pro Bowl berth. From 2013-17, Benny Cunningham averaged 27.1 yards-per-kickoff return, a franchise career record. In addition to his special teams duties, Fassel served as interim head coach for the final three games in 2016.
In 2015 Hekker produced one of the best punting seasons in NFL history to earn his second Pro Bowl honor. The fourth-year pro led the NFL in punts (96), gross average (47.9), net average (43.7) and punts downed inside the 20-yard line (41), becoming the first player to lead the league in all three categories since the NFL began tracking punts inside the 20 in 1976.
In Fassel's 2014 campaign, his units finished among the league's best in several categories. As a team, St. Louis was fifth in net punt average (41.8) and second in punt return average (13.0). The team's net punting average was the third-highest ever by a Rams special teams unit. Individually, Tavon Austin finished fifth in punt return average (11.2) and was an alternate to the Pro Bowl, while Cunningham led the NFC and was fifth in the NFL in kick return average (27.5).
In 2013 Fassel's punt team, led by Hekker, set a single-season NFL record for net punting average (44.2) and was named first-team All-Pro along with his first trip to the Pro Bowl. Zuerlein connected on the first 15 field goal attempts of his career and set a team record with eight field goals from 50 yards-or-more.
Fassel spent four seasons with the Raiders, first as assistant special teams coordinator in 2008, then special teams coordinator for three seasons (2009-11). While with the Raiders, his units led the NFL in takeaways, turnover differential and points scored in 2009 and 2010. Under Fassel's tutelage, punter Shane Lechler earned a Pro Bowl spot three consecutive years. In addition, Sebastian Janikowski achieved a single-season career-high 89.7 field goal percentage, missing only three attempts (47, 57 and 66 yards) in 2011. Janikowski also converted the then third-longest field goal in NFL history, a team-record 61-yarder at Cleveland in December 2009 and tied a then NFL record with a 63-yarder in 2011. Additionally, long snapper Jon Condo earned two Pro Bowl berths.
From 2005-07, Fassel was Baltimore's assistant special teams coach and helped the team to top-10 finishes in punt and kick return average from 2006-07.
From 2003-04, he was the head coach and assistant athletic director at New Mexico Highlands University. Fassel also served six months as the school's interim athletic director and taught undergraduate and graduate courses. He earned a master's degree in athletic administration at Idaho State, where he was a graduate assistant and sports science instructor from 2000-01. In 1999 and 2001, Fassel coached wide receivers and recruited for Bucknell. In Spring 2000, Fassel was the strength & conditioning and wide receivers coach for the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe.
Fassel played wide receiver at Weber State, graduating in 1999 with a degree in exercise science. He signed as a rookie free agent wide receiver with the Indianapolis Colts.
Fassel is the son of late NFL coach Jim Fassel, who guided the New York Giants to the Super Bowl during the 2000 season. John is a triathlete who has finished three Ironman distance triathlons. He and his wife, Elizabeth, have three daughters: Lilah, Avery and Anna.