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"Enough Said! We Are Lucky To Have A Winner Like # 9"


We Are Still Going To The SB
May 24, 2002
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Fiedler's old coach still raving the passer

By Dave Joseph
Posted September 19 2002

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Frank Luisi says he has something to show you. Less than a mile from Weeb Ewbank Hall and the Jets' training facility at Hofstra University, Luisi walks out of a restaurant to his car and pulls a three-page letter from a cluttered trunk filled with folders and cardboard boxes.

"Here it is," says Luisi, holding up stapled sheets of paper under a clear blue sky. "This is it. This is the letter."

The paper is white, the type is single-spaced. "Dear coach," it begins. "I am writing to you in the hope that you may be interested in bringing an outstanding quarterback, a great athlete and a tremendous leader to your organization."

Five years ago when Jay Fiedler couldn't get a job in the NFL, Luisi, his high school coach at Oceanside High School (N.Y.), sent this letter and highlight film of Fiedler's collegiate and professional career to every team in the NFL.

Not only did the letter help save Fiedler's career -- he was signed less than two weeks later by the Vikings -- but one could say it takes on added significance this week since Luisi's letter-writing campaign was fueled, in part, by the Jets' rejection of him.

Fiedler, who listed Luisi as his hero earlier this year, still talks with his high school coach every week and credits him among others for the success he's currently enjoying as the NFL's top-rated passer.

"He's been with me every step of the way," Fiedler said Wednesday morning. "He's believed in me as much as anyone. His belief in me translated into writing letters and sending things out and calling coaches and helping me land somewhere."

Luisi, a short bundle of energy who wears his heart on his sleeve, coached at Oceanside on Long Island for 15 years. He was never shy in expressing his confidence in Fiedler.

"When Jay was a sophomore I told people he could play in the NFL," Luisi said. "People laughed at me when I said he could be better than any quarterback to come out of Long Island. Better than Vinny [Testaverde], better than Boomer [Esiason]. But he was a gifted player. He could have played for me when he was in ninth grade, but we couldn't bring freshmen up [to varsity]."

Luisi, who built his offense around Fielder at Oceanside, followed Fiedler's career at Dartmouth and helped get him signed with Philadelphia as an undrafted free agent. But after bouncing from Philadelphia to Cincinnati to the World League, Fiedler found himself out of work in 1997 and serving as an assistant coach at Hofstra. Repeated attempts to get a tryout with the Jets were unsuccessful. Then, in February 1998 during a Nassau County coaches clinic, Luisi asked Jets' assistant coach Al Groh to encourage and advise Fiedler.

"Al didn't dissuade Jay, he wasn't telling him to give up, but he told him this was a silly business, a tough business if you don't have someone in your corner," Luisi recalled. "He told Jay he was a smart guy with an engineering degree, and if nothing came up, he might want to prepare for the day when football isn't his career. He didn't want Jay being pulled by the chains of every GM and coach in the league."

Instead of walking away dejected from his meeting with Groh, Luisi recalled Fiedler walking up to him on the field where the clinic was being held and said, "Coach, I'm going to show everybody I can do it. I'm not giving up."

Luisi takes a sip of his drink and runs a hand across his head. "Well, when he said that, I said, `Jay, I'm going to help you.'

"Jay had too much to give up," Luisi added. "And, you know, I kept telling him he could do it. This was in his heart. I was going to support him. I mean, I knew he wouldn't give up. But if he didn't play football ... If I didn't keep telling him he could do it maybe he would have been a success [in another area]. I felt responsible because we were like family."

The day after the coaches clinic, Luisi began composing his letter and putting together a highlight film of Fiedler in preseason games and at Dartmouth. In the letter, dated Feb. 20, 1998, Luisi writes that Fiedler is "tough, dedicated, and a player who never quits."

"Jay has the mental, physical and spiritual and emotional strengths to bring your team to victory," Luisi adds. "Jay Fiedler has the `right stuff' to bring your team to victory."

Luisi ends the letter in part by writing; "I personally stake my professional reputation as a coach ... that every one of the qualities and skills described in this letter truly belong to this young man."

Within two weeks, Luisi had received nine responses to his letter. One of those came in the form of a phone call from then Vikings coach Dennis Green.

"Dennis said to me, `Coach Luisi, if this guy Fiedler is as good as you say he is, you better get his a-- out here because I want to see him."

The Vikings flew Fiedler to Minnesota. After a two-hour tryout, he was signed. Fiedler flew back to Long Island, walked into Luisi's classroom and hugged his coach. Along with their weekly discussions, Fiedler gives Luisi a hand each week during his football camp.

"Really, he's been with me and given me pointers and critiqued my game from the start," Fiedler said. "He's been able to tell me the little things. He's been able to focus in on the fundamentals. How my feet are set up, how quickly I'm getting back into my drop. He's not in the meetings, and he doesn't know what we're running offensively, but he can watch on television and say, `You don't have two hands on the ball. You're not faking this the right way.' Usually, what he tells me is pretty accurate."

Luisi, who still teaches at Oceanside, is considering making a trip to South Florida later this year to attend a Dolphins game. Until then, Fiedler's biggest fan will keep watching and helping one of his favorite students.

"Jay's so humble and classy," said Luisi, before adding with a smile. "Pretty good quarterback, too."
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