Dallas Cowboys: Joe Avezzano 1943-2012


Bill Bates doesn’t remember the date or even the opponent, but he vividly recalls being stunned as he came to the Cowboys’ sideline and saw blood trickling out of the gash on special teams coach Joe Avezzano’s forehead.

Avezzano brushed it off when Bates asked what happened, saying he’d tell the special teams captain about it after the game. Avezzano got bandaged up and coached the rest of the game.

“Don’t worry about it, but you head-butted me,” Avezzano told Bates in the locker room later, explaining that it happened while celebrating a big play and adding that he didn’t want Bates to be distracted by having injured his coach.

Bates told that story after Avezzano’s sudden death Thursday because he thought it epitomized what made Coach Joe special. Players simply loved playing for Avezzano, who won three Super Bowl rings during his 13-year tenure as the Cowboys’ special teams coach.

It’s one thing to motivate Bates, who was established as one of the NFL’s elite special teams players before spending his last eight seasons playing for Avezzano, to cover punts and kickoffs and do other dirty-work tasks on special teams. Avezzano was such a master motivator that key starters, such as safety Darren Woodson and linebacker Ken Norton Jr., lobbied to stay on special teams.

“Joe had that ability to have everyone’s attention,” Bates said. “Not only have their attention, but they wanted to play for him, wanted to succeed for him, wanted to give their best for the coach.

“He was able to be an old-school coach, kick your ass, cuss at you. Then next time you saw him, he’d hug your neck. You knew he cared about you and wanted to get the best out of you. … He had the ability to motivate players to want to play for him and want to make his special teams the best in the league.”

Jason Garrett comments on Coach Joe

April, 5, 2012
4/05/12
9:19
PM ET
The Dallas Cowboys released a statement Thursday night from coach Jason Garrett talking about the passing of former special teams coach Joe Avezzano.

Garrett played for the Cowboys from 1993-to-1999 and of course was around with Avezzano.

"Joe Avezzano was a great football coach, but, more than that, he was an outstanding human being. The impact that he had on me and the hundreds of other players and coaches who had the good fortune to be around him was significant. There are not many days that go by where we are not sharing a legendary Joe Avezzano story or using a trademark Joe Avezzano expression. He was a wonderful friend. We loved him very much, and he will be sorely missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Diann, and his son, Tony."



Five-time Pro Bowler Darren Woodson was stunned to learn about the passing of former Cowboys special teams coach Joe Avezzano.

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Former Cowboy Darren Woodson remembers Coach Joe Avezzano. He said Avezzano had an immense amount of respect in the locker room.

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"It's hard to believe," Woodson said Thursday afternoon. "I haven't talked to Joe in a year and half, but whenever we do talk it's always a strong conversation, as if we talk to each other every day."

Woodson said he learned about all three phases of football -- and being on time -- from Avezzano.

"I always learned about punctuality," Woodson said. "If a meeting started at 8 a.m., Coach Joe would say the meeting started when he got there. So if he got there at 7:45 a.m., that's when the meetings started. I carried that around from Day 1 after I met him."

Woodson said several of the Cowboys' players from the 1990s had a special bond with Avezzano because he was able to separate the business side of the NFL.

"He knew your family, he knows all my kids and I know his wife and son," Woodson said. "Daryl Johnston, Kenny Gant, all of us loved him. Back then, the starters played on special teams and if I'm playing 75 defensive snaps I also played on three special teams units. I would get tired and he would say, 'I ain't hearing that stuff.' He would jump on my butt and D.J.'s butt in meetings if we messed up. But he was a part of my family away from football too."

Bill Bates hit hard by Coach Joe's passing

April, 5, 2012
4/05/12
2:13
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- When Joe Avezzano joined Jimmy Johnson’s staff in 1990, Bill Bates knew the Cowboys were getting a good coach.

As a freshman at Tennessee, Bates was coached by Avezzano.

News of Avezzano’s death has hit Bates hard.

“We were lifelong friends from my days at the University of Tennesse. He coached there for a year so I knew him from my freshman year,” Bates said. “Having him come to Dallas and be the special teams coach in the early ‘90s was a blessing to me. To have somebody I knew I could actually help in the coaching process and feel truly like a player-coach on the field, it was great getting that coaching experience never knowing I was going to play as long as I did.”

Bates played for the Cowboys from 1983-97, overlapping with Avezzano for eight seasons, including three Super Bowl wins.

Bates was one of the NFL’s pre-eminent special teams’ players and Avezzano became one of the best and most popular special teams coaches.

“Those kinds of coaches that have the ability to motivate players and do it in a way when sometimes you need to have a coach in your face yelling at you and a few plays later you’ve got a coach that’s hugging your neck, that’s the difference between old-school coaching and the way coach Avezzano coached,” Bates said. “You knew coach Avezzano wasn’t just worried about his job, but also the life of people. Anytime you were around him, man, you always had a smile on your face. He was always bringing laughter even in the tough times.

“For me, the memories with him and his family through a lot of years, some bad years but also some great years, will always be remembered.”

Reaction: Joe Avezzano, 1943-2012

April, 5, 2012
4/05/12
1:49
PM ET
Reaction to the death of longtime Dallas Cowboys special teams coach Joe Avezzano, who died Thursday in Italy at the age of 68:

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Former Cowboy Nate Newton shares stories about the late Joe Avezzano.

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Cowboys owner Jerry Jones:

“Joe Avezzano was a very special part of our Dallas Cowboys family and our organization’s history. He was also a wonderful father, husband and friend. No one enjoyed life more than Joe, and no one that I know had a greater appreciation for the people that he loved and the lives that he touched. We grieve with Diann and Tony and the thousands of fans who loved Coach Joe. He was an original. There was no one else like him.”

Former Cowboys safety/special teams standout Bill Bates:

“No. 1, what a great husband and a great dad and obviously a great friend and coach that I’ll miss forever. It just breaks my heart for the family. I knew he was in Italy, coaching over there. … I had no idea anything like this would happen. It just breaks my heart for everybody.”

Former Cowboys head coach Barry Switzer:

“Joe would rather have been a country western music star or on-stage performer than a football coach if he had a choice. Joe did a great job coaching, was highly ambitious and a hard worker, but Joe always thought he could sing. I got a kick out of that.”

Former Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson, via Twitter (@JimmyJohnson):

"Joe was great guy and coach..prayers go out to his family..."

Cowboys wide receiver Jesse Holley, via Twitter (@Mr4thAndLong):

"Coach Joe Taught me how important Sp Teams was & it doesnt take talent 2 be great on Sp Teams it takes Effort, Passion & "Want To"!"

Cowboys kicking coach Chris Boniol, who was coached by Avezzano for three seasons:

"Joe loved being a Dallas Cowboy, and he cared an awful lot about being part of this organization. He also cared a great deal about having his players be as prepared as possible to do their job. He had a very high standard for performance and production from his players. He was also entertaining and could coach with a sense of humor. He was unique in that he could bring humor into the meeting room without having it affect his authority. He made it fun to play for him, but he always demanded respect."

Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett
"Joe Avezzano was a great football coach, but, more than that, he was an outstanding human being. The impact that he had on me and the hundreds of other players and coaches who had the good fortune to be around him was significant. There are not many days that go by where we are not sharing a legendary Joe Avezzano story or using a trademark Joe Avezzano expression. He was a wonderful friend. We loved him very much, and he will be sorely missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Diann, and his son, Tony."
Barry Switzer knew Joe Avezzano for four decades, dating to the Avezzano’s days as a young coach on Johnny Majors’ staff at Iowa State. Avezzano worked for Switzer for four seasons with the Cowboys, including the franchise’s last Super Bowl title season.

But when Switzer thinks of his old friend, who died suddenly Thursday, football usually isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Switzer thinks of Avezzano strumming a guitar and belting out country songs.

“Joe would rather have been a country western music star or on-stage performer than a football coach if he had a choice,” Switzer said. “Joe did a great job coaching, was highly ambitious and a hard worker, but Joe always thought he could sing. I got a kick out of that.”

Switzer laughed as he recalled a party he hosted after a Cowboys game once that included Charley Pride and a couple of other country stars as guests. It didn’t take long before the music started, with Avezzano right in the middle of the group.

“They were all over there pickin’ and singin’,” Switzer said. “That’s what Joe loved to do – pick and sing. That was his passion.”

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