John Fox: The Pluses and Minuses of the New Denver Broncos Coach
John Fox is the new Denver Bronco head coach if you haven't already heard. Prior to getting the job with Denver, Fox was with the Carolina Panthers for nine years. There were ups and downs throughout his tenure with the Panthers, but the highlights were a Super Bowl appearance and two NFC championship appearances.
A Fox detractor would point out that in his nine years with Carolina, the Panthers finished with a winning record just three times. Overall, Fox's teams generally hovered at or around .500 save this past season.
Nevertheless, John Elway believes he found his man in Fox.
So for those Denver fans that are not familiar with Fox and his work, here are the pluses and minuses of your new coach.
Plus: Has Turned a Franchise Around Before
When Fox took the job with Carolina he inherited a team that was coming off of a 1-15 season. Fox quickly turned the Panthers around by instilling an identity as a hard hitting defensive team. The Panthers went 7-9 a year removed from a one-win season, which is truly amazing.
Then in his second season, Fox outdid himself by leading the Panthers to their first Super Bowl apperance in franchise history. Carolina fell short to the New England Patriots by a score of 32-29 in one of the best Super Bowl's of all-time.
Now, Fox will take over a team that is coming off of a four-win season and is lacking a sense of direction. The Broncos are hoping Fox will be able to turn around the franchise as fast as he did with the Panthers. He's done it once and there's no reason he can't do it again.
Minus: In a Passing League Fox Prefers to Run
The NFL has evolved into a league in which you have to have a successful passing attack to win games. That has never been a staple of a Fox-led team nor will it ever be.
Fox believes in keeping the ball on the ground, playing good defense and winning the time-of-possession battle. It isn't an exciting brand of football, but it's a formula that has worked in the past. For Bronco fans, the hope is that Fox can get it to work again in the future.
With the way the league is evolving I wouldn't count on it, though. Fox is going to have adjust as a coach and become less reliant on the running game while taking the reigns off of the passing game.
Another thing to consider is that the Broncos' run game was one of the worst in the NFL last season whereas the passing game finished in the top 10.
Plus: Players Coach
Despite finishing suffering through a 2-14 season with the Panthers, his players never gave up on him and stuck by him through thick and thin. Fox is highly respected around the league largely because of how he treats his players.
Even though he doesn't look it, Fox is an energetic coach, who is always encouraging his players on the sidelines. And if a two-win team stuck by Fox, it seems like any team will.
It says something about a coach's character when his players consistently go to bat for him with praise.
All coaches are a little stubborn but in the case of Fox, he takes stubborn to a new level. One of Fox's downfalls with the Panthers was his inability to embrace the youth movement the franchise was going towards.
Fox has always been a coach who prefers to rely on veterans over younger players. But earlier this season it got to a ridiculous point. With Jimmy Clausen and Matt Moore both unavailable to injury, Fox chose to start Brian St. Pierre over Tony Pike.
St. Pierre hadn't even been with the Panthers for two weeks, yet Fox chose to start him over the younger Pike despite him being with the team throughout all of the offseason.
It's was a classic example of Fox's unwillingness to bend to the youth movement in Carolina.
Being loyal is always a good trait to have and Fox is the definition of loyal. There won't be any rash decisions from Fox or any quick hooks. If Fox chooses to go with Tim Tebow next season you can expect Tebow will be the quarterback unless he loses an arm or a leg during the season.
A classic example of how loyal Fox is, is Jake Delhomme. Delhomme quarterbacked the Panthers to their Super Bowl appearance and was the most successful QB Carolina ever had. But Delhomme fell apart in a playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals and it was clear that he wasn't the long-term answer.
Nevertheless, Carolina gave Delhomme a big extension which Fox clearly was in favor of. Delhomme was cut after the following season before the extension began. The move didn't work out for the Panthers and it's just another example of Fox being partial to veterans.
Minus: Tendency To Be Average
As was mentioned in the introduction Fox finished with only three winning seasons in his nine years with the Panthers. And his overall record with Carolina ended up being a modest 73-71.
So while Fox's tenure in Carolina is widely perceived to be a success, there definitely is a case to be made that it was largely a disappointment. In five of his nine seasons, Fox finished 7-9 or 8-8
Seasons like that won't get Fox very far in Denver, in fact it will land him on the hot seat in a hurry. With Elway now on board, there's going to be pressure for things to be turned around quickly. Average won't be good enough for one of the greatest QB's of all-time.
Plus: Strong Running Games
With Clausen leading the Panthers' offense for most of the season they still managed to finish 11th in the league in rushing. The run game has always been a staple of Fox's teams. Denver struggled to run the ball this past season, but that'll change in a hurry under Fox.
Fox has coached a number of good backs such as Stephen Davis, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Knowshon Moreno is a talented back, who was drafted with the 12th overall pick in the 2009 draft.
There's no question Moreno is excited about the hiring of Fox. Moreno will have the opportunity to prove his worth next season as he can expect to receive a career-high in rushing attempts.
Minus: Lack of Creativity
On a scale of one to 10 ranging on offensive creativity, Sean Payton would get a 10 and Fox would land at the bottom. Fox doesn't have a creative bone in his body, instead he relies on basic fundamental football.
He believes in the simple things and preaches that his team does the simple things better than other teams. Let's put it this way: Fox is old school. The most exciting plays that he will run from time to time consist of a wide receiver reverse or the occasional flea flicker.
Fox's inability to come up with innovative plays and think outside of the box is a reason the Panthers struggled this season. Steve Smith is one of the most explosive players in the NFL, yet he touched the football only 47 times—one of those touches was a rushing attempt; a number that should have been a lot higher considering how bad Carolina's offense was.
Denver's biggest mistake would be letting Fox hand pick his offensive coordinator. Fox has a great defensive mind and is a good communicator, but he lacks offensive creativity.
Plus: Smart and a Good Game Manager
When it comes to time management gaffes Andy Reid comes to mind. When it comes to poor challenges Wade Phillips rings a bell. Get where I'm going with this?
Fox is a smart coach, who doesn't make many stupid mistakes like mismanaging time outs or challenging a play that obviously shouldn't be. You would think that as a coach in the NFL that would be a given, especially with all the assistants and help the head coach has.
But that is hardly the case. Poor decisions are made every Sunday during the season that leave fans shaking their heads claiming that they could do a better job. With Fox, that doesn't happen and it's a positive that cannot go understated.
Minus: Struggles To Develop Offensive Players
It isn't all of Fox's fault on some big misses in the draft but he deserves a share of the blame. Dwayne Jarrett, Eric Shelton and recently Clausen are some players Fox didn't work well with. Once again, the blame can't all be bestowed on Fox's shoulders because he's not the only one who makes personnel decisions.
But under Fox, Carolina's never had a true No. 2 wide receiver despite numerous attempts at finding one. And the tight end position has never developed into a receiving threat with Fox running the show. In today's game, having a tight end who can be a threat in the passing game is vital to a successful offense.
Look at New England, New Orleans, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis for example; all of those teams are successful and all have a TE or multiple TE's who are threats in the passing game.
If Fox is going to be successful in Denver he's going to have to make some tweaks to his philosophy in order to keep up with the rest of the league.