It certainly shocked the football world when word got out that John Fox was hospitalized Saturday.
Fox, Denver's third-year coach, was taken to the hospital due to what were believed to be symptoms of a heart attack. We now know that Fox didn't have a heart attack, although he will undergo surgery to replace an aortic valve early this week, according to The Denver Post.
Consequently, he will miss up to two months. He will miss at least four weeks, ensuring he will be helpless in Denver's upcoming, pivotal battles against the San Diego Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs (twice) and New England Patriots. In his absence, defensive coordinator and former coach Jack Del Rio will likely assume the head-coaching duties (according to The Denver Post).
In other words, the Broncos will have to endure their toughest stretch of the season without their leader. And it won't be easy.
But while it will be hard, it won't be impossible.
The Broncos still have quarterback Peyton Manning and the best offense in the league. They still have sack machine Von Miller. They still have a 7-1 team clearly destined for the playoffs. Plus, barring an unlikely setback, Fox will return for the playoffs.
When the Broncos need him most, he will be there. But even when he won't be there, the Broncos won't miss him much. Leaders are abundant in the coaching staff, as the Broncos have Del Rio, Adam Gase, Eric Studesville, Jeff Rodgers and Greg Knapp roaming Sports Authority Field on gamedays.
Del Rio went 68-71 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, which, in contrast, have a miserable 4-24 record since his departure. He transformed a mediocre Broncos defense into a juggernaut upon his arrival in Denver, so he would be more than serviceable as the interim coach.
However, Del Rio isn't the only leader in the locker room.
|Broncos Coaches' Experience as a Head Coach|
|Record||Playoff Experience||Teams Coached||Time Coached|
|Jack Del Rio||68-71||1-2 (2005 and 2007)||Jacksonville Jaguars||9 years (2003-2011)|
|Eric Studesville||1-3||None||Denver Broncos||4 games (2010)|
|Pro Football Reference|
Studesville coached for four games in 2010, so he could assist Del Rio in keeping the team focused or do a nice job himself. In addition, Denver has Manning, who is well known for his superb leadership. Middle linebacker and defensive captain Wesley Woodyard is no slouch in that department either.
The team's veterans and coaches will keep it focused on the elusive prize ahead, one coming in the form of a silver trophy. With a defense returning to form and one of the best offenses in history, that trophy might not be so elusive.
And yes, that holds true even with Fox's upcoming absence.
There are just eight regular-season games left, so staying focused, especially after a much-needed week of rest, shouldn't be a problem. In fact, Fox's health hiccup should motivate the Broncos even more to do well and put their coach in a good position when he returns.
That's certainly possible, as the Indianapolis Colts proved last year. They went 9-3 without coach Chuck Pagano, who was diagnosed with leukemia. They stayed focused and made the playoffs as a result. The Broncos don't have to survive for as much time, and unlike the Colts, they can go on knowing they have legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.
Again, that is true even without Fox.
Yes, Fox, who is a remarkable 29-14 as Denver's coach, will be missed. He won't be able to contribute much to game plans, and he won't be able to keep the team in check or help during games. However, he will be in the team's heads as a chief motivator, which will be beneficial.
It will also be beneficial that Denver conveniently has a former head coach on its staff. Del Rio can handle the rigors of being spontaneously thrust into a head-coaching role down the stretch, and he can keep the team focused and calm until Fox returns.
In other words, the Broncos are lucky to have a great fit for this situation in Del Rio. And they are lucky this situation isn't going to halt the team's Super Bowl run.