Joe Avezzano saw Beavers through their bleakest days
Former Oregon State football coach Joe Avezzano died Thursday in Italy. He was 68.
Avezzano coached the Beavers from 1980-84, going 6-47-2 — the bleakest era of OSU’s NCAA-record 28-season losing streak.
Avezzano recently was hired to coach the Milano Seamen of the Italian Football League. The team reported his death on its website. He reportedly was working out on a treadmill when he had a heart attack. Attempts to revive him failed, according to the Seamen’s report.
“I thought coach Joe had been retired,” said Nick Aliotti, a member of Avezzano’s staff at OSU. “I guess I was shocked that he went to coach, but not shocked that he went to coach in Italy. It would have been a great low-key environment and I could see him having one heck of a good time.”
Avezzano achieved great renown as the special teams coach with the Dallas Cowboys, helping the NFL franchise win three Super Bowls as an assistant coach under Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer and Dave Campo. Campo had been a member of Avezzano’s OSU staff.
He coached special teams for the Cowboys from 1990 through 2002, but was not retained when Bill Parcells took over in 2003.
Avezzano did coach the Arena Football League’s Dallas Desperadoes, owned by the family of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, for two years and was the special teams coach for the Oakland Raiders under Norv Turner for two years.
“Joe Avezzano was a very special part of our Dallas Cowboys family and our organization’s history,” Jones said in a statement on the team’s website. “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. There was no one else like him.”
Avezzano came to Oregon State in 1980 from the University of Tennessee, where he had been the offensive coordinator under Johnny Majors. Avezzano also had coached with Majors at Pittsburgh, helping the Panthers win a national championship in 1976 as the offensive line coach.
Avezzano played football at Florida State and for the Boston Patriots of the American Football League in 1966.
He is survived by his wife, Diann, and son Tony.
Throughout his time at OSU, Avezzano took chances. He recruited athletes with rough backgrounds and great talent, and he hired coaches with limited resumes.
“Joe was a riverboat gambler,” said Aliotti, who was hired by Avezzano as the running backs coach at the age of 24. “He was a guy who was full of life, full of energy. He loved to work hard and he loved to play hard.”
However, it was during Avezzano’s era that OSU played one of its most infamous Civil War games against rival University of Oregon: the 1983 scoreless tie that became known as the “Toilet Bowl.” The few fans who stayed to the end of the game — played in a relentless downpour — witnessed 11 fumbles, five interceptions and four missed field goals. It was the last scoreless game in college football.
Avezzano’s gambles did not translate into winning seasons for the Beavers. He twice oversaw 14-game losing streaks, ironically sandwiched around a stirring 31-28 victory over Fresno State that was then the greatest comeback in NCAA history.
He was far more successful with the opportunities he offered his players.
“He was a great position coach, he was really good at recruiting talent,” former player Mike Parker said. “He gave guys chances that many places would not.”