Impact of an Interim Head Coach Could Vary for the Denver Broncos

Christopher HansenNFL AnalystNovember 3, 2013

Denver Broncos head coach John Fox will miss a significant amount of time after aortic heart valve replacement surgery early next week, leaving the team needing to find a replacement in the interim.

Everyone is hoping that Fox can make a speedy recovery and return to the sidelines as soon as possible, but an interim head coach will have to take over many of his duties while he is away.

The team did not have an immediate announcement as to who the interim head coach would be, meaning none of the coaches were pre-selected for the position, as it wasn't in their contracts. The favorite for the job is defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, as he has extensive experience from being a head coach for nine years in Jacksonville, but there are at least a few other candidates for the job.

More important than who is selected is how it impacts the team. On game day, the head coach has final say over many key decisions. On a day-to-day basis, respected coordinators can filter a lot of what crosses the desk of the head coach so he can focus on motivating the team and leading the staff.

Considering all the circumstances, Del Rio may not be the best choice. Any coordinator already has his hands full, and Del Rio's group has struggled this season.

Interim Head Coaching Options
CoachTitleHead Coaching ExperienceCoordinator Experience
Jack Del RioDefensive Coordinator68-71>2 Years
Eric StudesvilleRunning Backs Coach1-3None
Adam GaseOffensive CoordinatorNone<1 Year
Greg KnappQuarterbacks CoachNone10 Years

The defense is still trying to cope without Champ Bailey and is adjusting to having Von Miller back from suspension, so it might be the smarter decision to let Del Rio get the defense on track and have him alleviate some of the issues a different interim head coach will have to deal with. Since the offense is still humming, it also makes sense to steal a coach from that side of the ball. 

When the Broncos fired Josh McDaniels in 2010, running backs coach Eric Studesville was named interim head coach for the final four games. Studesville may be the best blend between experience and minimal impact on the day-to-day coaching.

Fox retained Studesville when he was hired, suggesting that Studesville also has some support from Denver's front office. Naming Studesville the interim head coach would certainly impact the running backs, but no one is about to mistake the Broncos for a run-heavy team.

Unlike Del Rio, Studesville probably wouldn't use the interim position to get a permanent head coaching job. When Bruce Arians took over for Chuck Pagano last year under similar circumstances, he did so well that Arizona hired him as its head coach this offseason.

The Broncos certainly want to be successful, but it's hard to imagine, even without Fox, that they won't be.

Eric Studesville might be a better choice than Jack Del Rio.
Eric Studesville might be a better choice than Jack Del Rio.Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There's no doubt choosing an offensive coach would have a much smaller impact on the Broncos. Part of the reason offensive coordinator Adam Gase was hired to replace Mike McCoy was that he has the best training wheels in the world in the form of Peyton Manning.

Many in the past have called Manning the offensive coordinator, but that doesn't give the offensive coordinator enough credit in his role of helping Manning and getting the other 10 players on offense in position. Considering Gase's lack of experience even as a coordinator, it's unlikely the Broncos would turn to him to be the interim head coach.

To help Gase, the Broncos also hired Greg Knapp as their quarterbacks coach. Knapp had been an offensive coordinator for 10 of the last 12 years, and Manning might be the player with the least need for a position coach in the NFL. Knapp still has to develop Brock Osweiler, but the Broncos surely haven't wasted Knapp's experience.

In that way, Knapp might actually make sense as the interim head coach. Knapp would have the least negative impact on the team, and he's a veteran coach who wouldn't be over his head. Knapp isn't a candidate for any college or pro head coaching jobs, and it's highly unlikely that even a good job as an interim coach would put him on any short lists.

Recent Interim Head Coaches
Bruce AriansOffensive Coordinator9-3
Joe VittLinebackers Coach/Assistant HC5-5
Aaron KromerOffensive Line Coach2-4

Selecting an interim head coach can be important. The New Orleans Saints selected offensive line coach Aaron Kromer and linebackers coach Joe Vitt while Sean Payton served a one-year suspension, and the team went 7-9. The team was 5-5 under Vitt and 2-4 under Kromer. 

Arians was 9-3 as the interim head coach in Indianapolis, meaning head coach Chuck Pagano was 1-3. An interim head coach can galvanize a group or weaken the team, depending on the coach and situation.

The Broncos are lucky enough to have several options to choose from to be interim head coach, and Fox can stay heavily involved remotely. Even with a tougher second-half schedule, though, the Broncos are uniquely positioned to do well while Fox recovers.