Being the guy who does Horse Tracks every day means I pretty much read every bit of Broncos-related news on the planet, along with a high assortment of other NFL news. Once piece this week really irked me; it came from NFL.com and was another one of those Top 10 lists. This one was about the Top 10 coaches in the NFL today.
The funny thing is, I mostly agree with the list until I came to Mike Shanahan's name near the bottom of the list. I could have respected his placement had John Fox not been left completely off it.
Why the sudden criticism of Shanahan?
It's easy to let my fanboy mentality to take over as a Broncos fan and instantly fawn all over Shanahan and his two Super Bowl wins as head coach of the Broncos in the late 1990's. However, I've always felt there were two Mike Shanahan's. One with Gary Kubiak quietly helping Shanny make the right calls and the other is Mike Shanahan the dictatorial overlord. Just look at the difference between the two:
|Gary Kubiak Era||114||62||.648||8-5|
|Lonesome Shanny Era||24||24||.500||0-0|
As you can see, once Kubiak left Mike Shanahan took three short seasons to get fired. The story doesn't end there either. His record with the Washington Redskins is 6-10, 5-11, then 10-6. So his mediocre rise warrants his placement into the top 10 NFL coaches in the league? Puhlease!
Is John Fox worthy?
Yes. I intend to show a few key reasons why John Fox is the better football coach. The first is comparing two teams coached by Fox and Shanny at different times. The teams were eerily similar, but with totally different outcomes. One is the 2005 Denver Broncos, with a stout defense and a below average quarterback. They got a run during the season to a 13-3 record, then got obliterated in the AFC Championship game by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The other was the 2002 Carolina Panthers who equally had a stout defense and a below average quarterback. John Fox coached that average team into the Super Bowl and nearly took down the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots.
Want reason number two? Try Tim Tebow. In three seasons with Jay Cutler, Shanny coached his team into late season collapses. John Fox decided to start Tebow in spite of the fact he was woefully unpredictable and inefficient. The result was the most magical season in Denver Broncos history. The team was mediocre, yet they limped into the playoffs and shocked the 12-4 Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card round.
I'm not done yet. The third reason is Peyton Manning. To take an offense that was essentially a run-only offense centered around the option and turn it into a high octane well-oiled machine that it became is simply amazing. I fully expected it to take at least a year for things to start to gel, but as the 13-3 record shows, it took all of four and half games.
Why is Fox underrated?
It has to do with play calling tendencies. As a student of the game, he understands percentages and risk taking. It frustrates the fans who like risk takers (but only when it works out) and complain whenever the coach of their team is too conservative. I get that way too and did get that way at the end of regulation against the Baltimore Ravens.
That said, looking at the entire body of work of both head coaches and I'd pick John Fox over Mike Shanahan every day of the week. Foxy took a team with terrible owners to the playoffs three times before having the rug pulled out from under him by the ownership.
He then came to the Denver Broncos and amassed a .656 winning percentage in two seasons with two consecutive playoff appearances under two very different offenses.
Perhaps what is missing is simply a ring. The best shot at a Super Bowl trophy for the Denver Broncos in 15 years is next season, so I suppose we'll just have to wait and see if John Fox will suddenly become "one of the best coaches in the league today". Personally, I think he already is and nothing pleases me more than to know he is guiding this football team into the 2013 season.