For most folks who arrive to the Denver International Airport from cities both near and far, the first view of the main terminal comes as the escalator slowly climbs from the train platform below.
In January of 2011, John Fox emerged from the train that brought him from his gate to his waiting ride to the Denver Broncos’ complex. And as he stood on the escalator trying to spot those waiting for him, did he think he could see the future?
Could he see three consecutive division titles, an AFC Championship Game win and a Super Bowl trip?
Could he see Peyton Manning? A record-setting offense? And being on the sideline for one of the AFC favorites yet again in 2014?
“I don’t know if you have all of those specifics kinds of thoughts in that situation,’’ Fox said. “I remember I was excited for the opportunity and I had high expectations … so the answer to the question would be, yes. I thought it could be a special job. I want to have those expectations. I want to be around people with those expectations … I knew a lot about Denver, the Broncos, because I had competed here so often. But to get to know John (Elway), Mr. Bowlen, (team president) Joe Ellis … I was excited then and I’m excited now.’’
When the Broncos slightly interrupted opening day for the Colorado Rockies on Friday, it was with the revelation the Broncos had re-upped Fox. His contract/contract extension, however you wish to look at it, will now run through the 2016 season and effectively ties up the last remaining loose end in the team's front-office structure.
Essentially, the Broncos tore up the last year of Fox’s old deal -- 2014 -- and put a three-year deal together that puts his annual average pay north of $5 million mark. Not quite the $6 million he made in his last season in Carolina, but a solid bump from the $3 million/year average in his first deal with the Broncos.
But Fox has been what the Broncos hoped when, after a weather delay pushed his original interview with the team back a day, they kept him in town, scrubbed the plan to bring the “finalists’’ to replace Josh McDaniels back to Denver for a second interview, kept Fox in town and announced him as the team’s head coach.
At the time, John Elway was new on the job as the team’s football boss and had said he wanted an experienced hand in his first coaching hire. Preferably, he wanted someone with head-coaching experience, someone who knew defense or had a plan to hire somebody who did after the Broncos finished at, or near, the bottom of every major defensive category in 2010. Someone who brought some energy back into the organization.
Because, at the time, a team that has the league’s second longest sellout streak dating back to the start of the 1970 season, was trying to hold off the first hints of fan apathy.
“And John has been a big part of that transition from where we were in 2010,’’ Elway said. “When we sat down, it was clear he was the right fit for what we needed.’’
The new deal, however, shows the Broncos believe Fox is the right fit as they move forward as well. But the Broncos have made it clear they believe the job is different now than the one Fox accepted in January 2011.
That job required some optimism, plenty of people skills, energy and some stability. Fox provided all of that, Elway reeled in the players, including THE free agency signing of all time in Manning, and the Broncos have gone 8-8, 13-3 and 13-3 in three seasons with Fox on the sideline with three division titles.
But the job holds some different requirements now, including finding a way to go from back-to-back excruciating playoff disappointments to construct another Super Bowl chance.
It’s about being honest enough to say what did, and didn’t, work in preparations for the past two postseasons and that it’s no secret the Broncos players looked, and acted, far more distracted late in Super Bowl week than the Seattle Seahawks players did. It’s about making the most of Manning’s play, trying to find the right pass/run balance, and continue to fit him into a locker room where he is more than a decade senior than many of the players.
The Broncos bet Fox could do the first job and it has worked just fine. Now, they have bet he can do the second job as well.
Fox said this past weekend he’s ready and willing for all of that. For his part, he has secured what is far more difficult to achieve than perhaps even a Super Bowl win for an NFL head coach -- some stability. And in a world where plenty of coaching resumes simply look like ladders with one-year stops for rungs, Fox spent five years as a defensive coordinator with the New York Giants, nine years as Carolina Panthers head coach as he now heads into the fourth season in Denver.
“I was always very hopeful this would get done,’’ Fox said. “Even on a personal level, my daughter loves her school, my wife has made friends. We have kind of made roots. I was hopeful, optimistic. The human part of this is coaches have families, we all have families, fans, sportwriters. And on our end of it we all know what we signed up for and my family would understand what comes with that. But we’ve been blessed five years in New York as a coordinator, nine years in Carolina and then an extended stay here … think it’s fair to say the Fox family is happy.’’
Both Elway and team president Joe Ellis made it clear what the team’s stance was before the deal was done. That what’s happened is great, that Fox’s role in dragging the franchise out of the doldrums of 2009-2010 was important. But also that a double-overtime loss, at home, to lose a Super Bowl chance to go with this past February’s blowout loss in the title game was not OK.
Broncos owner Pat Bowlen used to make it a habit of publicly picking the Broncos to win the Super Bowl every season. He hired Elway because that’s the way Bowlen still thinks even though he doesn’t do many interviews these days.
And Elway and the Broncos made Fox a nice offer, gave him a nice raise and then slid those expectations across the table with the contract.
“I want that, you always think big,’’ Fox said. “Everybody talks about expectations, but everybody has expectations of themselves, we’re going to put the bar high, as high as it can be and all of our guys understand that. I’m excited to get back at it because at the end of the day I want to win too. It’s important to me.’’