Former-Panthers Coach Brings Physical Defense, Conservative Offense
By Dan Karpiel
Friday afternoon John Fox was introduced as the fourteenth head coach in Denver Broncos team history. Fox had spent the previous nine seasons in the same role for the Carolina Panthers, compiling a 78-74 record including the playoffs.
In choosing Fox, the Dove Valley quartet of Pat Bowlen, Joe Ellis, John Elway and Brian Xanders opted for the safe choice. Of the six candidates they interviewed for Denver’s head coach vacancy, only Fox had experience as a NFL Head Coach. Eric Studesville and Perry Fewell had been interim head coaches with the Broncos and Giants, respectively, but Fox was the only one who had held the job on a full time basis.
In many ways Fox is the antithesis of Josh McDaniels. Where McDaniels was young (32) and inexperienced, Fox is older (55) and has been through it all. Where McDaniels’ specialty was offense, Fox’s is defense. Where McDaniels had coached for only one NFL team before landing in Denver, Fox has coached for six. Where McDaniels was finesse, Fox is hard-nosed. Where McDaniels was shady and abstruse, Fox is blunt and plain-spoken.
Do not think for a second that those factors did not play a role, even a predominant role, in the Broncos’ decision. For an organization desperate to recover from the public relations battering it took under McDaniels, Fox appears to be the safest choice.
McDaniels was a boom-or-bust pick for the Broncos whereas Fox is very much a won’t-boom-but-won’t-bust-either choice. With Denver’s Front Office leadership of Elway and Xanders lacking much meaningful experience, hiring a head coach with Fox’s seasoning, 26 years in the NFL to be exact, makes a lot of sense.
Fox’s first order of business will be to assemble a talented group of assistant coaches. Following the Broncos 8-8 finish in the 2009 season, McDaniels sent defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and offensive assistants Rick Dennison and Bobby Turner packing. The 2010 season saw the Broncos’ win total cut in half. Coincidence? Hardly.
The best teams not only have a great head coach but they have great coordinators and position coaches as well.
McDaniels, for many reasons but none larger than his ego and desire to control everything, felt it necessary to surround himself with a staff of lackeys and yes-men. Fox cannot make the same mistake. And he won’t, saying today he is not a dictator and prefers that his staff feel that they are working with him, not for him.
Rumor has it that Fox has already reached out to former-Seahawks and Falcons Head Coach Jim Mora Jr. for the defensive coordinator position. Mora would make a stellar defensive boss. Denver’s current offensive coordinator Mike McCoy worked for Fox in Carolina and has a decent chance of remaining with the Broncos. Fox admitted today that McCoy is under consideration for the job but that both sides have to explore all of their options.
Fox’s Broncos will play a physical, ground-and-pound style of football. Gone will be the shotgun spread formations with four or five wide receivers used so frequently in the McDaniels days. In their place will be more two back and two tight end sets. Several times in his Friday afternoon press conference Fox spoke of the need for the Broncos to get more balanced offensively. Read: more running, less passing.
Fox spoke highly of the Broncos offensive line, of quarterbacks Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton and of running back Knowshon Moreno. He said Denver’s contingent of wide receivers is one of the best in the league. Moreno shares a lot of similarities with Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams who ran for over 1500 yards and made a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2008 while playing for Fox. If he can manage to stay healthy, look for Moreno to become a centerpiece, if not the centerpiece, of Fox’s offense.
Fox stated the obvious when explaining that the Broncos biggest needs are on the defensive side of the ball. When pressed about whether he would keep the current 3-4 scheme or revert to the 4-3, Fox was opaque. He explained that in his quarter-century of NFL coaching experience he has used both schemes and wouldn’t try “to fit square pegs into round holes.” He added that he can adapt his schemes to his available talent, a not-so-subtle dig at McDaniels who was regularly criticized for being unable to do that.
The Broncos made a good decision in hiring John Fox. He will restore the Broncos to respectability quickly, employing a recognizable brand of football centered on running the ball on offense and stopping the run on defense.
In hiring Fox, the Elway-led Broncos may not have hit a home run but they did get a bases-clearing double. For a franchise that has struck out far too often recently, they’ll take the double.