ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — John Fox wasn’t ready to hit the beach, the greens or the slopes after enduring the first double-digit losing season of his coaching career.
He wanted to jump right back into the fray after his dismissal from the Carolina Panthers this month, and the Broncos were looking for just such a man to lead them out of their own misery.
Fox beat out Houston offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, who has deep Denver roots, and three other coaching candidates to replace Josh McDaniels, who was fired last month amid the Broncos’ worst slide in four decades and the embarrassing Spygate II videotaping scandal.
After such a trying season Fox said he “wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy,” why not just take a year off to rest, relax and regroup?
“They asked me the same thing,” Fox said of the search committee headed by John Elway, the Broncos’ new chief football executive. “I did have options. But I am extremely competitive. That’s probably all the more reason why I am here today. I wanted to jump back in and erase that.”
Many Broncos fans tired of five straight seasons without a playoff berth are expecting a quick fix much like the one Fox engineered in Carolina, when he took the Panthers to the 2004 Super Bowl two years after inheriting a 1-15 team.
And Fox didn’t say anything to dampen those lofty wishes.
“I’m here to try to add another ring and trophy to that foyer,” he said.
Fox went 78-74, including playoffs, in nine seasons with the Panthers. The team didn’t renew his contract following an NFL-worst 2-14 record in 2010.
Carolina was the only team worse than the Broncos, who lost a franchise-record 12 times last season and own the second overall pick in the NFL draft behind the Panthers.
Fox will have to turn around a deficient defense that ranked last in the NFL and remedy a one-dimensional offense that had trouble running the ball and protecting the quarterback.
“I don’t see it as ‘unfixable’ at all,” Fox said. “If it looked too dire I don’t know that I would be standing here.”
McDaniels was on the job less than two years after replacing Mike Shanahan in January 2009 but he left the team in need of a major makeover because of a series of personnel blunders that shed the Broncos of a bevy of draft picks along with talented players such as Jay Cutler, Peyton Hillis and Brandon Marshall.
The lost season led to a restructuring of the front office and the return of Elway as chief football executive. His first big decision was offering Fox a four-year contract that’s believed to be worth about $14 million.
“The thing that got me was his wisdom and his energy,” Elway said. “This place has been deflated for a year and maybe even two years.”
Team owner Pat Bowlen, who is on the hook next season for $3.5 million to Shanahan and for millions more to McDaniels, who was due $3.2 million in 2011 before a recent, undisclosed settlement, said he’ll give Fox “all the help I can give him.”
“He can come in here and turn this organization around,” Bowlen said. “I do not have any doubt about it.”
Eric Studesville, Dirk Koetter and Perry Fewell also interviewed for the job, and many considered Dennison the front-runner given his 24 years in the organization as a linebacker, special teams stalwart and assistant coach before becoming the Texans’ offensive coordinator last year.
“They all did a great job, but Ricco obviously was different because I played with him, he’s from Denver, he knows the culture, he knows everybody in the building, and I knew how bad Ricco wanted the job,” Elway said. “But I think that probably the tipping point was: was it a defense or an offense? And I just thought that it was important for us to get the great defensive mind like John. And when we had an opportunity to get John that we had to take advantage of that.”
Team president Joe Ellis said Fox’s credentials put him over the top.
“Just his depth of experience, knowledge, contacts, scheme,” he said. “Put it all together, it’s the complete package.”
Elway said he got several texts from Fox’s former players “about how much his players like him and how hard they play for him, which is something that we really need here. I think that when you combine that and you combine the energy that he brings into the room when he walks in and the energy that we need in this building, as well as in this community (surrounding) the Denver Broncos, we could not have found a better fit.”
Fox said it was too early to say if the Broncos will bring back Champ Bailey, who could be a free agent in 2011, or if Tim Tebow will remain the team’s starting quarterback, although he said he’s a big fan of both Bailey’s resume and Tebow’s future.
“I think he has work to do, he knows it,” Fox said of Tebow, who supplanted starting quarterback Kyle Orton by season’s end. “But one thing I’ll say is that he will do whatever it takes. He has as good of intangibles as (any) athlete that I have ever been around.”
One thing that could hurt Tebow is a protracted lockout followed by a truncated training camp to learn a third offensive system in a little more than a year.
Fox is expected to name his staff on Monday but he declined to reveal any names other than to say he would keep some holdover Broncos assistants and will bring some members of his staff over from Carolina.
Fox said he’s spoken with Mike McCoy about staying on as offensive coordinator, but noted “he has other options just like we have other options.”
“Mike is a guy that spent seven years with me prior to even coming to the Broncos, so I might even know him better than the people here in the Broncos organization,” Fox said. “I definitely hold him in high regard and he is definitely in consideration.”
Studesville, who guided Denver to a 1-3 record after being promoted from running backs coach Dec. 6, also is drawing interest from other NFL teams.
Fox said the Broncos’ new staff will convene in Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl on Jan. 29.
“I think it’s going to be important that we start building relationships with our scouting department and that’s a pretty good place to do it,” Fox said. “Mr. Bowlen’s been kind enough — it’s an expense, but one of the things that impresses me is that he’s going to do whatever it takes.”