And so it begins...
The Denver Broncos went with the candidate who had the most experience at the head coaching position, and the most coaching experience, period among their three finalists - Rick Dennison, Dirk Koetter and John Fox. The announcement of Fox’s hiring came via Twitter from John Elway; Fox will be the 14th head coach in Denver Broncos history.
Much like Denver's last head coach Josh McDaniels, Fox has a reputation as a man who is devoted to making sure that the details are taken care of. Said Fox,
When I went into the Panthers at 1-15, it was very similar. We had a second (overall) pick, the rebuild (here) is probably going to require a little more on defense than offense, but I have a blueprint that we executed in Carolina, and I don’t see any reason why it can’t work here. I’ve been doing it. I have a plan, whether it’s a bye-week schedule, a training-camp schedule. It’s not my first rodeo, so to speak. I do have a blueprint to do it. We’ve had success — some years more than others — but I think the full body of work is a blueprint for success.
That body of work became out of shape in the past couple of years, especially in 2010 when the Panthers earned the first overall pick in the upcoming draft by virtue of having two fewer wins than the hapless Broncos, who will pick second. For once, it’s good odds that Denver will use that first pick on an impact defensive player, most likely a lineman. If Carolina doesn’t take him, it’s pretty fair odds that Nick Fairley will be that player, given his performance in the biggest game of his career Monday night. If Fairley is gone, names such as Da’Quan Bowers (who would probably be best in a 4-3 DE slot), Marcell Dareus, and cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara will probably be carefully scrutinized.
Oddly, this now makes three of the four AFC West teams that have ties to Fox. He played football at Castle Park High School in CA under local celebrated coaches Gil Warren and Reldon "Bing" Dawson and Southwestern College (California) in Chula Vista from 1974-1975 before going to San Diego State, where he played defensive back with future NFL player & head coach Herm Edwards. Fox received a bachelor’s degree in physical education and earned teaching credentials from San Diego State. He moved to Mike Gottfried's University of Kansas staff, as the secondary coach in 1983. Fox briefly broke into coaching professional football when he spent 1985 as the defensive backs coach for the short-lived USFL's Los Angeles Express.
The following season, Fox was reunited with Gottfried at the University of Pittsburgh - he became the Panthers' defensive backs coach when Gottfried took Pitt's head coaching position. Soon thereafter, Fox was promoted to defensive coordinator by Gottfried, and while at Pitt, Fox got to know some of the Steelers' coaches. Fox became the defensive backs coach for the Steelers under Chuck Noll in 1989; with Pittsburgh he would coach the likes of Rod Woodson and Carnell Lake. He would then move to the same role for the San Diego Chargers and head coach Bobby Ross from 1992 to 1993.
In 1994, Fox got his first NFL coordinator position, taking over the Raiders' defense for two seasons. Fox's '94 Raiders ranked 17th in the NFL in points allowed, 10th in yardage. The following year, Fox's defense ranked 10th in points allowed and 11th in yardage. Fox next coordinated the Giants' defense from 1997 until 2001, ranking as high as 3rd in the league in points in 1997 and 5th in yardage allowed in 2000, when the Giants' defense led them to an unlikely Super Bowl appearance.
Far more relevant (and important) to Broncos fans is that Fox took over the Panthers following their 1-15 2001 season and lifted them to a 7-9 record in 2002. Fox's Panthers took another quantum leap in 2003, reaching the Super Bowl with an 11-5 record. Although Carolina was defeated by the New England Patriots, Fox joined Vince Lombardi as the only coaches to take a former 1-win team to the NFL title game. Just as important, the Panthers were able to overcome a 3-game losing streak during that season under Fox' guidance. Additionally, his Panthers began the 2004 season 1-7 and lost their top three running backs but recovered to win six of their last eight games, barely missing the playoffs. Carolina's playoff hopes were also shaky in 2005, when Fox rallied the team for a season-ending win at Atlanta and guided the Panthers to the NFC Championship game.
Given the problems that Denver has had over the past few years breaking out of losing streaks, those experiences could prove essential. Fox’s background in defense had to be one of the factors that won him the position - after two offensive coaches in a row with increasingly poor results, Denver was ready for a change in a variety of ways. Fox has been asked about his feelings on 4-3 versus 3-4 defenses. While it’s hard to argue that different personnel are required for either system, Fox’s perspective on it is interesting:
Not really. It’s semantics. Obviously there are some personnel things that aren’t that deep-seated. Everybody plays under/over, whether you originate out of the 3-4 or 4-3. A lot of it is pretty much the same. I think moving forward this season might be a bit different from other seasons because we don’t know if we’re going to be in a lockout-type situation or not.
Fox hasn’t officially announced which approach he’ll be going with, but that may be in part related to which defensive coordinator he chooses. It’s worth noting that when Fox's replacement in Carolina Ron Rivera took over the Chargers' defense, he was knocked because he had only taught the 4-3 in prior experience. But Rivera had no problems adapting and putting a top defense on the field despite multiple injuries. Fox’s lack of vehemence in this issue is understandable - like most defensive coordinators, he feels that defense is defense. His players have had a reputation for toughness and preparation.
To wit, Carolina had six different defensive players go to the Pro Bowl during his time there, including defensive end Julius Peppers' five selections; linebacker Jon Beason has played in the last two NFL all-star games. Defensive tackle Kris Jenkins played in two Pro Bowls, while linebackers Mark Fields and Dan Morgan and defensive end Mike Rucker each represented the NFC squad once under Fox's tutelage. On offense, WR Steve Smith appeared in three Pro Bowls under Fox, with RB Stephen Davis, QB Jake Delhomme, tackle Jordan Gross, center Ryan Kalil, guard Mike Wahle and running back DeAngelo Williams making one appearance each.
A lot of discussion will fill the internet as to Fox’s choices of offensive and defensive coordinators. Mike McCoy’s relationship with him could work either way, but Fox has the experience around the league to be able to find quality individual coaches that will help Denver to change back to their recently lost winning ways. One thing is very good - Fox has the scouting department in place and has time to work out any kinks with GM Brian Xanders between now and the draft. The coordinators will come first, but preparing for the draft and the next FA period, whenever that may be (and while it’s an outside chance, the FA period could still come this spring) will be essential to preparing Denver for 2011. Fox’s honeymoon in Denver could be short, with the fans on edge after watching their team dropping in the standings to this point.
But finally, we know something. It’s a good change of pace.