Fox still uses lessons learned under Noll

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When John Fox was forced to miss a month of the Denver Broncos' 2013 season following surgery to replace a valve in his heart, people in all levels of the organization spoke of missing the energy Fox brings to work every day.

The team's head coach consistently makes it a point to touch base with everyone in the organization -- in the hallway, the cafeteria or even just a stroll across the parking lot. Fox has often said he believes a successful team "has a lot of people who have a part in that and feel like they have a part in that. We need everybody to get where we want to go, and that's everybody."

Fox has said that plenty of his approach in his current job was learned from the man who hired him for his first job in the NFL -- Chuck Noll.

Noll, a Hall of Famer with four Super Bowl wins as coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, died at his Pittsburgh-area home Friday night. He was 82.

In 1989, Noll hired an up-and-coming University of Pittsburgh defensive coordinator to be the Steelers' secondary coach -- a guy named John Fox. Fox has been in the NFL since, having led two teams into a Super Bowl -- the 2003 Carolina Panthers and the Broncos this past season.

"I had to get directions to Three Rivers Stadium," Fox said Monday after the Broncos' practice. " . . . I've got to admit I was nervous."

"I know what he meant to the city of Pittsburgh and I know what he meant to the Pittsburgh Steelers organization and what he meant to the Fox family as well," Fox added. "That was my first opportunity in pro football and can't think of a better guy to start my career with. The guy was constantly trying to acquire knowledge no matter what realm it was. He was a tremendous teacher and ... he'd coach anybody at any time."

Fox often recalls Noll's approach with people. If Noll met a person and asked about their job, he would learn all he could about that job on the chance he would meet the person again.

"Didn't matter what the job was," Fox said. "If it was a welder, a wine collector or accountant, he was always trying to find out more."

Beyond all of the details of football, Fox said, he also learned from Noll the value of being the calm within the storm, the necessity to teach, and the desire to continue to work the basics no matter how accomplished the players on the field might be.

In Fox's first season with the Steelers, the team lost its opener, at home, 51-0 to the Cleveland Browns, followed by a 41-10 loss at Cincinnati in Week 2. The Steelers fumbled six times in the loss to the Browns, losing five of them; the Bengals rolled up 520 yards of offense.

Fox said he often thinks about how Noll conducted himself in those two weeks with the team -- uncompromising in his expectations, but without panic or misplaced emotional distress. The Steelers went on to finish 9-7 and advanced to the playoffs, where they earned an opening-round win at Houston over the Oilers.

Fox applied that lesson when the Broncos opened the 2011 season -- his first with the team -- 1-4 before they put Tim Tebow in at quarterback. They re-tooled the offense in the bye week and dropped the read-option into the NFL's lap. They finished 8-8 and got an overtime win over the Steelers in the playoffs.

"That first year in the league we got whipped 50-something to nothing twice in a row and ended up fighting back and getting into the playoffs," Fox said. "His even-keeled approach, his technique orientation and his teaching ability ... Those are the kinds of things you always use and you always will."