Published January 13, 2011
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – John Fox turned around a floundering franchise before. The Denver Broncos are counting on him to do it again.
Fox was picked over four other candidates to replace Josh McDaniels, who was fired Dec. 6 amid the Broncos' worst slide in four decades and the embarrassing Spygate II videotaping scandal.
The lost season led to a restructuring of the front office and the return of Hall of Famer John Elway as chief football executive. On Thursday, Elway hired Fox, the 55-year-old former Carolina Panthers coach to a four-year contract.
"For what this building needed, John Fox was the perfect fit for us," Elway said outside team headquarters before zipping off in his Bentley on Thursday evening.
"The one thing I saw in John he had great football wisdom," Elway said. "And I think that comes with the experience that he has. But not only does he have it on the defensive side, but overall his football wisdom is what won us over."
Elway broke the news of Fox's hiring on Twitter in keeping with the organization's new emphasis on transparency as it tries to reconnect with a disenchanted fan base.
Fox went 78-74 including playoffs in nine seasons with the Panthers, who didn't renew his contract following an NFL-worst 2-14 season.
"I'm very competitive," Fox said as he left the team's Dove Valley headquarters Thursday night. "Last year was obviously a very disappointing and very hard season, but that's all the more reason to jump back in and get things turned around here."
Fox and general manager Brian Xanders spent much of the day putting together a coaching staff. Speculation centered on Fox keeping Mike McCoy as Denver's offensive coordinator and hiring former Seahawks head coach Jim Mora Jr., as his defensive coordinator.
"There's been no decisions in that area yet," Fox said.
Fox's task in turning around this team seems as high and steep as the biggest peaks in the Rocky Mountains.
The Broncos are coming off a franchise-worst 4-12 season, own the second overall pick in the draft and are in need of a major overhaul — much like the Panthers were when Fox arrived in 2002 following a 1-15 season.
He led them to a 7-9 mark in his first year before guiding them to the 2004 Super Bowl in his second season.
Fox arrived in Denver on Wednesday to meet with Elway after his flight out of North Carolina was delayed three times by winter weather. He was the fifth and final candidate interviewed, and his sit-down lasted 90 minutes longer than the others'.
Xanders said the interview lasted 5½ hours, followed by a dinner with he, Elway and Fox that lasted just as long at Elway's Steakhouse.
"The more he talked, the more football wisdom came out in terms of different situations," Xanders told The Associated Press. "Running the defense, the offense, the nine years of head coach experience came out in his answers. And then his personality, his energy and positive outlook fit the Broncos model."
In the Broncos' new organizational structure, Elway oversees Xanders, who's in charge of roster-building, and Fox, who's in charge of the team.
"We spent some time at dinner, a long dinner after the interview, and the more we talked the more matched up we felt," Xanders said. "We fit in with each other."
Team president Joe Ellis told The AP he couldn't pick one thing he liked most about Fox.
"Everything. Energy. Enthusiasm. Wisdom. Tremendous connections throughout the league. He did a great presentation on his whole scheme, his whole plan. He's turned it around before, when he was in Carolina. Great reputation as a head coach. I just think all of his experience. And then you look at where his real background was throughout football: on the defensive side," Ellis said.
"I think we were really pleased that John Elway made a special emphasis to get consistent and good on defense and John Fox is going to help us do that."
A one-time assistant under Chuck Noll, Fox spent 13 years as a defensive coach with the Steelers, Chargers, Raiders, Rams and Giants, including seven seasons as coordinator, before taking over the Panthers, who owned the league's worst defense.
In his first season in Carolina, the Panthers rose all the way to No. 2, the biggest turnaround since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
"It's a good thing that he's a defensive-minded coach; that will really help the defense," linebacker Joe Mays said. "It's also good that he's a proven head coach, as well. I think it's a good hire."
"He's had success in the past," wide receiver Eric Decker said, "so why not here?"
Although fellow coaching candidates Eric Studesville, Perry Fewell and Dirk Koetter had interim head coaching experience and Rick Dennison has been with the Broncos for 24 years as a player and an assistant, none of them had the coaching credentials of Fox.
His Carolina teams posted three 11-win seasons, won two NFC South titles and went 5-3 in the playoffs, appearing in two conference championships and losing to New England in the '04 Super Bowl.
But they were inconsistent. Although his teams averaged nearly nine wins, they never posted consecutive winning seasons under Fox.
Still, Fox touted a top-of-the-pile resume that included a road map for leading the Broncos back to respectability after a five-year playoff drought.
"It's not my first rodeo, so to speak," Fox said. "So, I think I do have a blueprint to do it."
The team's top priority is fixing the last-place defense, which will be the focus of the draft, and Fox said he wouldn't have a problem if the Broncos want to stick with the 3-4 defensive scheme they've employed since 2009 even though he mostly used a 4-3 look in Carolina.
Xanders said the scheme won't be decided until a defensive coordinator if hired.
Elway said last week when he was hired as the team's new chief football executive that his new coach should be willing to work with rookie quarterback Tim Tebow. And Fox said he's a big believer in the former Florida star who started Denver's last three games.
Tebow didn't stop to speak with reporters on his way out of Dove Valley on Thursday, but later he tweeted: "Welcome to Denver Coach Fox! Can't wait to get to work with you!!!"
Fox met with some members of the holdover staff on Thursday after agreeing to take over the Broncos, but there was no announcements on whether any of them would stay.
Studesville went 1-3 after being promoted from running backs coach when McDaniels was fired and provided the foundering franchise with a much-needed breath of fresh air. He'd like to stay on if Fox will have him. However, he told The AP on Thursday that he didn't know what his next move was.
"But I would like to tell the organization and fans that they are first class," he said, "and I appreciated every second of it."
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Denver contributed.