Former University of Pittsburgh football coach Serafino Dante "Foge" Fazio, who built a national reputation as a defensive-minded strategist in the college and pro ranks, died yesterday. He was 71.
University of Pittsburgh Athletic Director Steve Pederson confirmed the news of Mr. Fazio's death during last night's basketball game between Pitt and Duquesne University at the Mellon Arena.
Born in Dawmont, W.Va., the son of immigrant parents, Mr. Fazio grew up in Coraopolis, where he lived above the family's grocery store. He was given his nickname "Foge" as a child when he mispronounced the word "fudge."
An all-state linebacker at Coraopolis High School, he chose Pitt over Penn State despite being recruited by Joe Paterno, then a young assistant coach. He played linebacker and center for the Panthers, earning varsity letters in 1958 and 1959.
Mr. Fazio was selected by the Boston Patriots of the American Football League in the fifth round of the draft, but played only one season with the team before being cut. He returned to Pitt, where he served as a graduate assistant coach while earning a master's degree in education, then went back to Coraopolis High as a social studies teacher and football coach in the mid-1960s.
"I wanted to go to law school, but once I got started with football, I forgot about it," Mr. Fazio once said. "Once I started coaching, I seemed to like it."
He was 13-3-1 in two years at Coraopolis before moving on to jobs as an assistant coach at Boston University and Harvard before returning to Pitt as an assistant coach.
Mr. Fazio left shortly after Johnny Majors was hired as head coach in 1972. He took a job at Cincinnati, where he became known as a top defensive coach and strong recruiter. When Jackie Sherrill was hired to replace Mr. Majors, Mr. Sherrill asked Mr. Fazio to return to Pitt.
Mr. Fazio started out as linebacker coach and later took the reins as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach. When Mr. Sherrill left in 1982, Mr. Fazio, who was widely regarded as his natural replacement, was named head coach the same day.
He inherited a team that returned 18 of 22 starters, including quarterback Dan Marino, and was ranked No. 1 in preseason polls. But the team struggled to a 9-3 finish, capped by a 7-3 loss to Southern Methodist University in the Cotton Bowl.
Mr. Fazio was fired by Pitt in November 1985, less than 24 hours after his fourth season ended with a 31-0 loss to Penn State and a 5-5-1 record. He was 25-18-3 in his four seasons as head coach.
Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak was recruited to Pitt out of Steel Valley High School by Mr. Fazio and was with the Panthers in 1985.
"When he came into the living room and sat down with my parents, I knew he was the guy I wanted to play for because he was genuine. He was honest. There was no bull with him," Mr. Cherpak said.
He later served as an assistant coach for Notre Dame and several NFL teams before returning to Pitt as part of the university's radio broadcast team for football games.
Most recently, Mr. Fazio had devoted his efforts to creating a football program at Our Lady of Sacred Heart, a Catholic school in Coraopolis. As a consultant, he helped hire his former pupil, Bill Daniels, as head coach and led fundraising efforts for the school. But his involvement had waned recently as he battled illness.
"We knew it was coming," said Bud Beatty, athletic director at OLSH. "We just didn't think it would be this quick."
Rip Scherer, a longtime high school coach in Western Pennsylvania and another adviser for the school's football program, said the last time he saw Mr. Fazio, the former coach was energized about his work with OLSH.
"The world lost a good man and a great coach," Mr. Scherer said.
Mr. Beatty said the team would likely wear patches in its inaugural season in honor of Mr. Fazio.
Funeral arrangements are incomplete.
Dan Majors can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1456.