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Reconciling the John Fox era with the Broncos

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Super Bowl XLVIII - Seattle Seahawks v Denver Broncos

On Saturday night, CBS Sports Network re-aired the 2010 Wild Card matchup between the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers, remembered simply as “Tebow’s playoff win.” It struck me as I saw then-coach John Fox roaming the sidelines that in the years following his dismissal, Broncos Country hasn’t really processed this coach’s tenure with the team. Here was a coach that presided over what can arguably be regarded as a golden era of Denver Broncos football, and yet gets little to no credit and, perhaps rightfully, shoulders most of the blame for Denver’s shortcomings while he was with the Broncos.

Objectively, if you were to look at what John Fox did with Denver from 2011-2014, you’d put him right at the top of the list of historically great coaches with the franchise. His 46-18 record puts his .719 win percentage higher than Mike Shanahan (.616), Dan Reeves (.601), Red Miller (.645), and even Gary Kubiak (.656). Unfortunately for John Fox, win percentage doesn’t tell the whole story.

Broncos fans remember John Fox not for the wins, but the losses. Most notably the playoff losses. For whatever accolades Fox is due for his work with Tim Tebow, he’s owed ten-fold the criticism for what he was incapable of doing with Peyton Manning.

While we can’t fault him for Rahim Moore’s whiff that allowed the Baltimore RavensJacoby Jones to claw them back into the AFC Divisional Playoff in 2012, it was Fox’s tail-between-the-legs response to the missed-tip/interception that everyone remembers. “We’ll take ‘em to overtime,” he said. There was no full-throated response. No counter-punch. He was so shocked by what happened, he couldn’t recover in that most important moment. His inaction, inability to go out “kicking and screaming,” likely cost Denver a Super Bowl berth and probable victory.

The following year, 2013, was the offensively the greatest season any team in the NFL has ever had, still to this day. Under John Fox’s stewardship Peyton Manning and others rewrote the record books and finished the season 13-3 and no real competition on the away to Super Bowl XLVIII. Maybe it was the ease in which they had dispatched their opponents in the regular season and the playoffs, or maybe it was ego knowing that this Broncos team was historically special, but for whatever reason the reality was that the Denver Broncos were in no way prepared to play the Seattle Seahawks. Later players would joke that preparations involved opening the New York practice facilities’ doors to let the cold in. Crowd noise wasn’t even considered to be a factor. Denver was creamed in classic Broncos Super Bowl fashion 43-8 in a game that few of us will ever forget. Way to remind the NFL that Super Bowl embarrassment is an unfortunate cornerstone of Denver Broncos fandom.

I don’t fault John Fox for the shortcomings of the 2014 season. If there’s any criticism due, it’s that he didn’t do enough to keep then-defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio focused on the season at hand. Del Rio had one foot out the door to begin his failed endeavor with the Oakland Raiders and his apathy frustrated Denver right into a playoff loss at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts.

On January 12th, just one day removed from the loss at Indy, John Fox’s tenure with the Denver Broncos came to an end.

So where does that leave John Fox in the annals of Denver Broncos history? As I sat down to write this, I thought this article might end up painting him as a tragic figure that deserves more respect than he’s received considering all the success the teams he coached had. However, as I’ve gotten into the meat of the beef Broncos Country has with Fox, I just can’t go there. Yes, we had the Tebow miracle year, a terrific 2012, historic 2013 season, and a respectable 2014, but what fans also got out of the John Fox era were some of the worst open-wound trauma-losses since the Super Bowls of the 1980’s and the conclusion to the 1996 and 2005 post-seasons.

Maybe one day John Fox will get his due as one Denver’s finest coaches. With that stellar win percentage and reign over a golden era of Broncos football, he probably deserves more credit than he gets. However, it’s those moments where he came up short that sting so bad that Broncos Country, still, is reluctant to embrace him as a true pillar of Broncos history.

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