ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Parting is such sweet grumpiness.
Nobody much likes to be fired in the NFL, or to “mutually part ways," or to be replaced, removed, told to move on. The league is full of highly accomplished, highly competitive people who dislike the taste of having something not work out the way they hoped, or expected, it would work out.
While the players actually involved in the game will have plenty of their own issues to worry about by that point on the football calendar, the game will certainly mean a little something to those calling the shots on both sides.
They have each exchanged some not-so-hard-to-read-between-the-lines verbal parting gifts since executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway and former Broncos coach John Fox agreed to part ways after a sometimes fiery season-ending meeting.
Fox's teams won four consecutive AFC West titles, the Broncos went to a Super Bowl in his tenure and won 46 regular-season games in those four seasons.
Fox has since told people in the league he believed he was steadily losing his voice in the team’s personnel decisions. The Broncos, with a 35-point Super Bowl loss still reasonably fresh in their minds, was not happy with a Fox Sports report on the day the Broncos were set to play the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC divisional round that Fox would be “available" to other teams if the Broncos lost.
The Broncos did lose, to the Indianapolis Colts, and Fox was indeed available the following day after a meeting with Elway. Fox signed a deal with the Bears just days later. Then Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase was interviewed, but not hired for, the Broncos' head coach job, which went to Gary Kubiak.
Gase then joined Fox in Chicago as the team’s offensive coordinator, as did several other assistants from Fox’s Broncos staff.
With all of that as a backdrop, a few words have been lobbed out on a variety of public forums, including a volley from Gase on Friday. It doesn’t take much imagination to draw a picture of what must have been said behind the scenes.
When Elway announced the decision to replace Fox, he said: “I think if there is one thing that you would like to have and you want to feel, at least in the last game you want to feel like you go out kicking and screaming. When you're right there, and I think two years in a row it didn't feel like we went out kicking and screaming because of the fact the way we played the last game."
And at the scouting combine, when asked about some of the Broncos' younger players who did not play much this past season, Elway said: “That’s the coaching staff, that’s Gary’s mindset, the coaching staff’s mindset -- they’re not afraid to play young guys. They’ll get them trained up to play, which is going to be beneficial to us."
That’s two heavy swings from the Broncos' big football hitter, that the team didn’t play with enough passion under the former coaching staff and didn’t want to put young players on the field.
Publicly, Fox has played it fairly down the middle, but when asked about Bears general manager Ryan Pace earlier this year, Fox said; “This game’s about relationships. It’s hard enough when you’re arm in -arm on all this stuff. It’s not always the case, but I know in my experience with Ryan thus far, he’s very, very smart. He’s tremendously organized. He’s tremendously humble. I’m excited about getting this going."
And then Friday, Gase was asked at a media gathering about his philosophy on rotating running backs.
"Well, this is an unusual situation just because Matt [Forte] has been in such great shape and has been so dynamic as far as staying on the field. We’ve just got to see how it plays out. In Denver -- C.J. [Anderson] would hate me for saying this -- but he got tired and was a little chubby sometimes. I mean, he got worn down quick and then we had to rotate backs in last year. Matt’s an unusual situation in that position because he’s able to play every play, or has."
So in review, the Broncos believe they will now play with more emotion and play more young guys while the Bears will have some humility and a lead running back who isn’t “chubby" sometimes.
And it's only May.