While he doesn't have that aura surrounding him among fans and media, he does in league circles, where he is widely respected and dearly loved. It isn't as if he is derided in the general public—he's just not thought of very much, if at all.
He's an afterthought not only among top coaches but on his own team.
Think about it: Who's responsible for the Broncos' success? If you ask the Broncos, Fox is at the top of that list. If you ask anyone else, quarterback Peyton Manning, president John Elway, owner Pat Bowlen, wide receiver Wes Welker and just about everyone including the waterboy is slotted above the head coach. Again, it's not as if anyone has any issues with him; it's just that no one seems to believe he does much of anything of note.
|Active NFL Head Coaches in Order of Total Wins|
|Name||Current Team||Wins||Winning Percentage|
|Bill Belichick||New England Patriots||199||.655|
|Tom Coughlin||New York Giants||158||.549|
|Jeff Fisher||St. Louis Rams||156||.532|
|Andy Reid||Kansas City Chiefs||141||.590|
|John Fox||Denver Broncos||107||.557|
|Pro Football Reference|
In a land of NFL coaches of all shapes, sizes, attitudes and personalities, Fox is about as vanilla as they come. He doesn't have the motivational bestseller as his Super Bowl counterpart, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, does. He's not bombastic like New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan or San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. He's neither embroiled in near-constant controversy nor famed for his loquaciousness or public displays of just about anything.
He's just John Fox, and he's just a coach who is heading to his second Super Bowl as a head coach and his third overall. He helped re-engineer this Broncos team in the post-Josh McDaniels era just as much as anyone, and his blueprints all are over it.
Is he a perfect coach? No, no one is.
He's had his blunders—most notably an ultraconservative approach that has taught Broncos fans never to expect their team to "go for it" in any realistic sense of the phrase. It isn't just that he doesn't roll the dice. I don't think he knows where the dice are, because he's in home in bed.
That approach has worked for the Broncos this season because they have rarely been in pressure-packed games. With one of the best, most balanced and most complete offenses in NFL history and a defense that has overplayed its talent level all season long, they have simply dominated. It's not difficult to eschew going for two when the team is consistently up multiple touchdowns.
What Fox may lack in terms of chutzpah he makes up for in pouring his heart out for his team—maybe even more than he should. This season, he had to undergo emergency heart surgery for a condition he knew he had to take care of, but (like most NFL head coaches) he didn't think was more important than football. The Washington Post's Kent Babb explains:
Fox, the 58-year-old coach in his third season with the Broncos, learned during that weekend in early November that he needed emergency open-heart surgery to replace his aortic valve. Fox had planned to address the issue after the season, but his doctor told him the procedure couldn’t wait. A normal valve is the width of a quarter; Fox said this week that his valve had collapsed and was the size of a pinhead.
If anyone ever questions Fox's commitment to the Broncos, just go ahead and read them that paragraph. Or print this column out over-and-over on a ream of paper so you can drop it on their head.
That's crazy commitment and laser focus from Fox. He's a coach who is willing to run through a wall for his team, and the Broncos have responded in kind.
Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio led the team during Fox's absence, but there was never any hint that this was anything other than Fox's team. Team captains stepped up, Manning stepped up, and the players did what came naturally after months of Fox's leadership—what had to be done.
When we talk about coaches, often we naturally divide them into X's-and-O's geniuses and motivational maestros. Sure, the best coaches are a healthy dose of both, but many are known for either one or the other.
It's no surprise to note that Fox isn't known for any out-of-the-ordinary schemes. He doesn't get credit for innovating any wild ideas on either side of the ball. He does get a ton of credit—and rightfully so—in how he communicates with and prepares his players.
CBS Sports' Pat Kirwin, a former coach, discussed the attitude of the two Super Bowl coaches in this way:
The next thing about these two coaches is their age. Pete Carroll was born in 1951 and is a very young 62-year-old coach who relates to his players and there is little to no age gap when it comes to communication. The same could be said for John Fox, who turns 59 in a week. I have been with both coaches many times and it is hard to believe they aren't in their early 40s the way they operate.
It comes very natural for both men to talk with young players in a way that young people can relate to but by no means are they push-overs when it comes to making a tough decision about a player. John Fox's dad was an original Navy Seal, so need I say more about how he was raised?
Fox's defense, like the perception of the Denver coach, is vanilla. It's a 4-3 in an NFL landscape of attacking 3-4 defenses. The Broncos don't really blitz too often (especially without Von Miller), and they don't send their cornerbacks up to press and jam at the line. It's mostly a zone-coverage scheme that mixes between Cover 2 and Cover 3 with some disguises worked in here and there.
Like Fox's play-calling, it's conservative. Some coaches would say too conservative. It works though, and it works despite all the injuries that the Broncos had this season. It doesn't revolve around one or two players; it revolves around every single player showing up ready to play.
Fox makes sure every one of his charges knows what he has to do.
According to The Denver Post, Fox's interview with the Broncos lasted 11 hours. The next morning, the Broncos' brain trust knew they had their guy. It wasn't because he promised them something they hadn't seen before, but because his knowledge and history stood head and shoulders above everyone else.
Now, in what has been Fox's toughest season yet—at least on a personal level—but with the greatest collection of players he's ever worked with, he is going once more to the Super Bowl with aspirations of coming home a champion. Maybe then, he will start to hear his name alongside those of his peers at the top of the game.
This isn't just Manning's Super Bowl, and it isn't because Elway came in to save the team. No, this is further proof that Fox is one of the best head coaches around.