DALLAS -- Former Dallas Cowboys special teams coach Joe Avezzano, whose wild sideline antics made him a fan favorite when the Cowboys won three Super Bowls in the 1990s, died Thursday. He was 68.
Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple confirmed that Avezzano died in Italy. He had moved to Milan earlier this year to coach an Italian Football League team, the Milan Seamen. That team said on its website that Avezzano died of a heart attack. Attempts to resuscitate Avezzano were unsuccessful, the team said.
Right before his move to Italy, Avezzano talked with WFAA's George Riba about his new assignment.
"People play for passion and the excitement and the love of it," he said. "You don't practice as much and you play on Saturday, and it gives you free time during the week to go on a trip."
Avezzano's team had played the first four games of their season. His son, Tony, had a phone conversation with his dad less than an hour before he died.
"There was absolutely no indication he wasn't feeling well or anything," Tony Avezzano said. "It happened while he was working out, so I think even more that he felt fine. That it was... just a very quick thing that happened."
Avezzano had a 12-year run with the Cowboys and became a popular figure in North Texas. Avezzano was the Cowboys' special teams coach from 1990 to 2002, prowling the sidelines as the team won Super Bowls in 1993, 1994 and 1996. Avezzano was named the NFL's special teams coach of the year three times.
Known affectionately in the Dallas area as "Coach Joe," he maintained a high profile after he left the Cowboys staff when Bill Parcells was hired as head coach in 2003.
"Joe Avezzano was a great football coach, but, more than that, he was an outstanding human being," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett in a statement. "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."
He spent two seasons as head coach of the Arena Football League's Dallas Desperadoes, which were owned by the family of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. He became a regular on Cowboys-related TV and radio shows in the Dallas market, including four years on WFAA analyzing the Cowboys, and opened a "Coach Joe's" restaurant in the area.
"Joe Avezzano was a very special part of our Dallas Cowboys family and our organization's history," Jones said in a statement released by the team. "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 also coached special teams for the Oakland Raiders for two years under Norv Turner until Turner was fired after the 2005 season. Avezzano and Turner were on the staff together in Dallas.
"Joe Avezzano was a great coach and a super guy," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. "We are saddened by his loss."
He loved to sing and used every opportunity he could find to get in front of a microphone with his wife, Diann, or anyone else that would sing with him.
He took the job in Italy because he loved to coach. In February, Avezzano took over the Seamen. Italians in Dallas threw Avezzano a send-off party before he left.
"I am the long lost heir to the throne," Avezzano joked. "They've been looking for me in Italy for years. Now they've found me and I'm going back and I will return to Avezzano. And that's going to be part of my travels."
Associated Press Writer Frances D'Emilio in Rome contributed to this report.