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Thursday, January 13, 2011
Elway scores with John Fox hire

By Bill Williamson

John Elway’s first drive as the Denver Broncos’ football leader has ended in the end zone.

John Fox
John Fox takes over a Denver team that hasnít made the playoffs since the 2005 season.
John Fox was the best candidate the Denver Broncos interviewed, and his hiring to resurrect the Broncos from the disastrous Josh McDaniels era was the right call. There was talk Thursday that Elway and Denver owner Pat Bowlen would go back to the Broncos’ glory days and hire former Broncos player and coach Rick Dennison to replace McDaniels.

Hiring Fox was a much better option. The Broncos don’t need familiarity and comfort. They need to get better. They need experience. Denver clearly understands that. The Broncos were expected to go to a round of second interviews and make their hire next week. Yet, one day after Fox was in Denver’s building, Denver ensured that he won’t leave.

It was a terrific first move by Elway.

The Broncos are inexperienced in the front office with Elway and general manager Brian Xanders. They needed a proven commodity in one facet of the leadership department, and Fox is it. Fox spent the past nine years as the head coach in Carolina and he is one of the more respected defensive coaches in the NFL.

Denver fans shouldn’t be swayed by Fox’s terrible last season in Carolina when the Panthers went 2-14 and earned the No. 1 pick in the draft. He was forced into a youth movement he didn’t want, and his shelf life in Carolina basically expired. It happens.

Fox needed a new challenge, and the Broncos are a perfect fit. When Fox was hired by Carolina in 2002, he took over a 1-15 team. The Panthers were 7-9 in Fox’s first season and then made the Super Bowl the next season.

The Broncos were 4-12 last season and haven’t made the playoffs since the 2005 season. They need to be recharged. In addition to having the head-coaching experience Denver was looking for, Fox was the best defensive coach available. Denver’s defense was ranked last in overall defense and points allowed, 471, in 2010.

Fox, who runs a 4-3 defense, knows how to turn a defense around. Equipped with the No. 2 overall pick, Denver is expected to take the best available defensive player -- perhaps Auburn defensive lineman Nick Fairley if he enters the draft. A Fox-Fairley pairing would be a good first step to a defensive reclamation in Denver.

Fox would have been a better hire than McDaniels for Denver two years ago if he was available. Denver’s defensive problems were a primary reason why Mike Shanahan was fired after 14 seasons. Instead of going for a defensive-minded coach then, Denver hired McDaniels, who was New England's offensive coordinator, to replace Shanahan.

For a myriad of reasons, McDaniels, who was 32 when he was hired by Denver, was a failure in Denver. Don’t expect Fox, 55, to make the same mistakes McDaniels did. Besides his experience as a head coach, Fox isn’t interested in making the personnel decisions that led to McDaniels’ demise. Fox worked with a general manager in Carolina and is content simply coaching the team. He is also well respected by players. He shouldn’t clash with Denver’s top players as McDaniels often did.

With Fox prepared to do his part as a stable head coach, it will be up to Elway and Xanders to give Fox the ingredients to get better. Then, they must get out of the way and let Fox improve the product on the field. Kudos to Elway for recognizing that hiring Fox was the right decision to make.

Fox was the least risky of all of the candidates Denver interviewed for a job that Denver has to get right. Combine his experience, defensive knowledge and strong reputation around the league, and the Broncos have begun to put the McDaniels’ mistake behind them and started their march back to trying to relive the glory days of Elway’s first tenure in Denver.