Broncos look for new coach following split-up with Fox
The Associated Press
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — If Peyton Manning decides to return to the Broncos next season, he’ll have a new coaching staff to work with in Denver.
GM John Elway is looking for a new coach after agreeing to part ways with John Fox following the Broncos’ second stunning home playoff loss in three years as heavy favorites.
Manning said after Denver’s 24-13 loss to Indianapolis on Sunday that he was unsure about returning for an 18th NFL season and fourth in Denver but agreed to delay that decision.
Elway and Fox didn’t hesitate to move on without each other.
Fox won the AFC West all four of his years in Denver, but each of those seasons ended in ugly fashion in the playoffs. Fox might already have something in the works with another franchise — he didn’t shoot down a pregame report Sunday night that he could be available if the Broncos lost.
“It became clear that it was best for both the Denver Broncos and Coach Fox to move on and make this change,” Elway said in a statement.
So, Fox is out after going 49-22 in Denver, including the playoffs, following a 78-74 record in nine years with the Carolina Panthers, counting the postseason.
Fox gathered his players at noon Monday but didn’t talk about his own future. Chris Harris Jr. said Fox’s message was “just that he appreciated everybody’s efforts. He loved us and everybody just be smart in the offseason and make sure you take care of your body to be ready to come back ready to roll when OTAs start.”
Two hours later, Elway met with Fox and then gathered the assistant coaches to tell them they remain under contract but were free to pursue jobs with other teams.
Some of them could be headed to the San Francisco Bay area because offensive coordinator Adam Gase is a candidate to replace Jim Harbaugh with the 49ers and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio is a candidate in Oakland.
The players had left Broncos headquarters when the news of Fox’s departure broke, and several reacted bluntly on Twitter.
“Cold World …,” wrote Demaryius Thomas.
“Wow …,” said Omar Bolden.
“Damn,” tweeted Terrance Knighton.
Elway thanked Fox for helping “establish a positive, winning culture for this team” and said he “deserves a lot of credit for the Broncos’ turnaround,” but added “there is still work to be done” to win a Super Bowl.
Fox characterized his meeting with Elway as productive and honest and the two “mutually agreed that the timing was right for this decision.”
“Although we came up short of our ultimate goal, I am proud of our team’s many accomplishments during these last four years,” Fox said in a statement. “It was an honor to coach the Denver Broncos, a first-class franchise with great fans and a winning tradition.
“I am eager to continue my coaching career and look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead,” Fox added.
Fox became the only coach in NFL history to win a dozen consecutive divisional road games on his way to an unprecedented four straight AFC West titles in Denver. But the goal when Manning came on board in 2012 was Super Bowl trophies. Instead, Manning is 2-3 in the playoffs with the Broncos after going 38-10 in the regular season, tying for the best record in the NFL all three years and earning a first-round bye each time.
Elway brought Fox to Denver in the aftermath of the Josh McDaniels era, saying he was looking for someone who could breathe some positive vibes into a locker room that had been beaten down as McDaniels’ 6-0 start in 2009 turned sour and resulted in his firing midway through 2010.
Fox’s first task was figuring out what to do with Tebow, and the coach’s flexibility showed, when he completely remade his offense for Tebow after sticking him in the starting lineup in Game 6 of the 2011 season. Denver won seven of the next 11 games and finished 8-8, which was good enough to win the middling AFC West.
Tebow threw the winning touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas in overtime in the wild card game against Pittsburgh, which set up an ugly — but understandable — 45-10 loss to New England in the divisional round.
Then came Manning, along with the Super Bowl aspirations that accompanied the future Hall of Famer’s arrival.
The Broncos finished the 2012 regular season with 11 straight wins and were shocked when they lost 38-35 to Baltimore in double overtime at home in the divisional playoffs. Fox came under scrutiny after that one — too conservative — mostly for kneeling on the ball with 31 seconds left after the Ravens completed a long touchdown pass to tie the game.
But in 2013, at Manning’s urging, the Broncos were anything but conservative — going to a hurry-up offense that helped Manning and the offense set passing and scoring records on their way to the Super Bowl. That beautiful season ended ugly, as Seattle clogged the passing lanes in a 43-8 victory — a result that compelled Elway to spend $60 million in guarantees on new defensive players, with the thinking that his quarterback shouldn’t have to win it all by himself.
Those offseason changes mostly muted a debate about Fox’s ability to get his team ready for big games, but the coach came under more scrutiny midway through 2014 when the Broncos revamped their offense, and started focusing on the run more.
The Broncos downshifted their Lamborghini offense and entered the playoffs figuring they had found the formula for avenging that Super Bowl debacle: a balanced offense and dominant defense. But for the second time in three years, they were stunned at home.
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