Joe Avezzano, who won three Super Bowl rings as a Dallas Cowboys special teams coach and was known for his engaging personality, died Thursday in Italy. He was 68.
Avezzano reportedly was working out on a treadmill when he suffered a heart attack. He was recently hired as the head coach of the Milano Seamen of the Italian Football League.
Avezzano was the Cowboys' special teams coach from 1990 through 2002. He was named the NFL's special teams coach of the year three times during that span but wasn't retained when Bill Parcells took over as coach in 2003.
He worked for Barry Switzer for four seasons with the Cowboys, including the franchise's last Super Bowl title season. When Switzer thinks of his old friend, 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."
Avezzano served as head coach of the Arena Football League's Dallas Desperados for the next two seasons after leaving the Cowboys before a three-season stint as the Oakland Raiders' special teams coach. He also was Oregon State's coach from 1980 to 1984.
Avezzano remained a popular figure in Dallas-Fort Worth. He worked as a radio and TV analyst and owned Coach Joe's Hat Tricks, a bar and restaurant in suburban Lewisville.
"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," team owner Jerry Jones said in a statement. "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. ... He was an original. There was no one else like him."
Avezzano is survived by his wife, Diann, and his son, Tony
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