Jan 30, 2014; Jersey City, NJ, USA; Denver Broncos coach John Fox at a press conference in advance of Super Bowl XLVIII on the Cornucopia Majesty yacht on the Hudson River. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
3. Is John Fox the Right Coach to Lead the Broncos to the Promised Land?
John Fox became the sixth head coach in NFL history to lead two different teams to Super Bowls last season when the Broncos captured the AFC pennant. Interestingly enough, Fox and Dan Reeves are the only coaches on that list (Shula, Parcells, Vermeil, Holmgren) that weren’t able to win a Lombardi Trophy with either. Reeves of course was the lead man in Denver from 1981 – 1992 and coached the Broncos in all three of John Elway’s Super Bowl losses in the 1980’s, followed by being the losing coach of the Atlanta Falcons in Elway’s storybook ending that was Super Bowl XXXIII. Luckily for Fox there is still great chance of winning a Super Bowl in Denver, but Peyton Manning isn’t getting any younger.
“You play to win the game!” – Herm Edwards
Jan 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos head coach John Fox holds up the Lamar Hunt trophy after the 2013 AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field against the New England Patriots at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Fox’s tenure in Denver started in 2011 with a lackluster roster and Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow as quarterback. Fox and then-offensive coordinator Mike McCoy did the coaching jobs of their lives by adjusting to Tebow’s
strength, the read-option, and miraculously won the division with a .500 record before upsetting the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild-Card round of the AFC playoffs. Tebow’s career in Denver ended with a frigid playoff blowout a week later and Manning entered the picture the following off-season.
McCoy blended his philosophies with Manning’s in 2012 and coached his way to the head job in San Diego after the Broncos went 12-4 and won the AFC West again. Another frigid playoff loss, this one in double-overtime to the Baltimore Ravens, ended Manning’s first season in Denver two wins shy of the ultimate goal. “Foxball” wisdom was to run on 3rd and long in the four minute offense instead of going for the game-clinching first down, and we all remember what happened next. Many pointed to Fox’s choice to have Manning kneel on the ball and run the clock out at the end of regulation instead of trying to get into Matt Prater’s field goal range as a sign that Fox just can’t let his historically conservative decision making go.
While he later explained that the team was in shock and needed to regroup after Rahim Moore’s mis-play of a Joe Flacco pass allowed the Ravens to tie the game up. Fox obviously never listened to Herm Edwards when he said “you play to win the game”, and it ended up costing the Broncos their season.
Fox seemed to actually learn from his mistakes last season, with the Broncos going for it on 4th down nine times (88.9%) compared to just five (60%) in 2012. When faced with a similar situation as the 2012 Baltimore game in last year’s AFC Championship game against the Patriots, the Broncos went for the throat and succeeded with a pass completion to Julius Thomas for a first down.
However, two weeks later in New York, the Broncos were unable to make any in-game adjustments as they were shell-shocked and then shellacked in Super Bowl XLVIII. Sure the game couldn’t have gotten off to a worse/more fluky start, but Fox’s inability to get the team refocused and adjust let to the embarrassing end of yet another season.
Worth mentioning as well is Fox’s challenge record, which isn’t exactly stellar. He was just 1 for 8 last season (12.5%) and is 11 for 24 (45.8%) in his three seasons with Denver. Including his time with Carolina from 2002 – 2010, Fox has thrown the red flag with just a 36% success rate (40/110), well below the league average of 47%.
This means either Fox needs to fire whoever is watching the replays and advising him up in the booth, or he is influenced by the heat of the moment and disregards the advice from upstairs, instead using his intuition and vantage point from the sideline. Neither scenario is favorable when you’re talking about potentially game altering reversals or critical last-minute timeouts.
Is John Fox a good enough coach to lead the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl victory this year? If they are able to stay relatively healthy and advance deep into the playoffs as they have the previous two seasons he better be, because he might not get another chance if the Broncos fall short in 2014.