Aug 24, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio before the preseason game against the St. Louis Rams at Sports Authority Field . Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Who Will Step Up in John Fox's Expected Absence?

With the completely unexpected news that John Fox will have heart valve surgery, the guy Pat Bowlen hired to take over arguably the worst team in the franchise’s history will now be out of commission for up to two months if all goes well and according to plan.

First and foremost, here’s to hoping and praying that it does.

Fox was admitted to a hospital after getting light-headed on the golf course in North Carolina for a heart condition he reportedly already knew he had. The Broncos’ head coach was anticipating needing the surgery on his heart valve, but he’d hoped to pro-long the surgery until after the season.

Something as serious as your heart can’t be ignored, and when you body tells you it’s time to do something, you need to listen. Fox is fortunate to have caught the issue when he did, and especially fortunate that he didn’t go into cardiac arrest as was originally reported.

This news has taken me and most of Broncos Country into complete surprise, but the team will obviously still be playing its games. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Fox could be out up to two months, and this is surely something you don’t want to rush if you’re Fox or the Broncos.

So what happens now? Who will take over for John Fox in his absence? Here are the options.

1. Jack Del Rio, Defensive Coordinator

Jack Del Rio was/is/has been a prospective head coaching candidate this year and last, and this could be a chance for him to show what he can do as the leader of a team. I am not so sure how big of a fan I’d be of the decision to promote Del Rio temporarily with the defense needing continuity and added focus after a slow start to the season.

Having Del Rio as the interim head coach seems like the most logical direction for the Broncos to go, but I’d be skeptical of the decision simply because I think Del Rio needs to put his entire focus on the defense. There are definitely alternate options for the Broncos, but having Del Rio in this kind of emergency situation is a better scenario than most teams in the NFL have.

2. Eric Studesville, Running Backs Coach

Remember Eric Studesville from the Josh McDaniels era? Yeah, he’s still here and working magic. Not only did Studesville help revive the career of Willis McGahee, but he’s doing the same for Knowshon Moreno this year and lest we forget the debacle that was the 2010 season for the Denver Broncos–he’s been our head coach before, albeit on an interim basis for a very short period of time.

I really would like this move for a number of reasons.

1. Studesville is not a coordinator, he is a positional coach. Coordinators have a very specific task on gamedays, and while I can’t speak directly to the role positional coaches have, I would be much more comfortable in my limited knowledge of the situation to have a position coach like Studesville who’s been an interim head coach before to take over rather than a coordinator who is in charge of calling plays on a weekly basis.

This is just my assumption, but guys like Jack Del Rio and Adam Gase have to gameplan for specifically their units and moving to the interim head coach position would force them to focus on every angle of the game. I wouldn’t want their being interim head coach to interfere with their calling the game offensively or defensively.

Does that make sense? I hope I’m not just rambling.

3. Greg Knapp, Quarterbacks Coach

Knapp has been an offensive coordinator in the NFL since 2001, and would be a solid candidate to fill in as an interim head coach. He’s not got any head coaching experience at any level, but he’s certainly one of the most experienced guys the Broncos have and definitely one of the bigger names.

4. Adam Gase, Offensive Coordinator

Bit of a dark horse here, but there were a lot of people thinking it’d be only a matter of time before Gase became a head coaching candidate thanks to the success of the Broncos’ offense. I don’t know if he’s quite ready for this role yet, especially since there are other guys on the Broncos’ staff more qualified to take the position in Fox’s absence, but if you’re talking about promoting from within, you can’t count out Gase. He’s worked hard to get to where he is and the Broncos obviously have a lot of faith in him.

Final Thoughts

I’m not sure what will come of all this, but I think the best option for the Broncos going forward is for Eric Studesville or Jack Del Rio to be the interim head coach. Del Rio is the obvious candidate because he was the head man in Jacksonville for all those years, but Studesville has also done it before and I like the fact that he wouldn’t be having to pull focus from the game plan of an entire unit.

Surely if he’s well enough, John Fox will contribute in whatever way he can but the plan of action right now is to have him take several weeks off in a leave of absence.

Whatever the Broncos do, it’ll be interesting to see if they stick with Fox’s conservative gameplan. You hate to even think like that, but I know many of you are.

Either way, best wishes to coach Fox and his family, and hopefully he’s roaming the sidelines sooner rather than later.

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Tags: Denver Broncos Jack Del Rio John Fox

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