Joe Avezzano, who coached Oregon State football from 1980-84, died Thursday in Milan, Italy. The Dallas Morning News reported that he apparently collapsed while running on a treadmill in that city, where he was head coach of the Milano Seamen in the Italian Football League.
Avezzano’s most notable work came when he was special-teams coach of the Dallas Cowboys from 1990-2002 under three head coaches — Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer and Dave Campo. Avezzano was the long-maned figure often pictured on TV in animated fashion (aren’t all special-teams coaches?) on the sideline.
Avezzano was one in a long line of failed coaches at Oregon State. His record there is emblazoned on my brain — 6-47-2. It wasn’t for lack of trying, more an absence of fit and the wherewithal to reverse the course of a program that was slipping into a dark abyss of 28 straight losing seasons, an NCAA record.
Taking over for Craig Fertig in 1980, Avezzano quickly took a cue from OSU partisans who were sensitive to the fact that down the road in Eugene, Rich Brooks’ staff was usually signing the best players in the state (when they didn’t go out of state). So Avezzano, in his first signing class, took 12 Oregonians and the Ducks took one. This was way pre-Internet, pre-scouting service, pre-anybody-really-knew-how-good-a-prospect-might-be days, so Avezzano was able to get away with the notion in some quarters that he had landed a real haul. An Oregonian writer — who shall remain nameless because he’s still there — wrote that the Beavers “plucked the tailfeathers off the Ducks” that year in recruiting. Which, of course, made Brooks livid. And in time, it was obvious that that OSU class was about quantity of state recruits, not quality.
Avezzano was a fun guy to be around. He enjoyed country music, and even on occasion would grab a microphone and croon a tune.
His OSU days never really could gain any traction. At the end of his fourth year, in the 1983 Civil War game, the two teams played to the memorable scoreless tie in a rainstorm at Autzen Stadium. It was, well, as dreadful as it sounds. Avezzano, whose team was a 13-point underdog, afterward tried to co-opt it as a sign that his program was on the right track. Here he was, campaigning to keep his job — which he did — on the heels of a 0-0 tie that elicited all sorts of punch lines.
Avezzano, who had come from the University of Tennessee staff, was gone by the next year. He migrated to an assistant’s job at Texas A&M, and then had the extended run with the Cowboys, where he found a niche.
“It just breaks my heart,” Cowboys former special-teams standout Bill Bates told the Morning News. “Joe changed people’s lives in a positive way. If you were around him enough, you would be affected by his ability to make people smile.”