NFLN survey/popular coach: Broncos

NEW YORK -- When it comes to head coach John Fox, the Denver Broncos know what it's like to have him around, for back-to-back 13-3 seasons and three consecutive playoff appearances. And after a four-week leave of absence this past season for open-heart surgery, they know what it's like to not have him around.

"And I think you always want to appreciate people and what's happening around you, because nothing is ever a given in this game," Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said. "But when [Fox] had to stay away after his surgery, I think everybody kind of understood what he means to the team. Everybody knew before, but it just makes you really aware of that energy."

Fox missed four games after having his aortic valve replaced in early November. The Broncos, from executive vice president of football operations to interim head coach Jack Del Rio to the players, all said their goal was to keep things moving in the right direction toward the playoffs until Fox returned.

Del Rio called it "minding the store until coach got back." The Broncos went 3-1 in Fox's absence and have gone 5-1, including two playoff wins, since his return to earn a spot in Super Bowl XLVIII.

"You know, with John ... being gone, where Jack stepped in and did a tremendous job, but that came down from the leadership of this team, and they were able to keep an even keel and keep it business as usual until John came back," Elway said. "... But we all missed John's energy and we all had to do a little more to replace that."

And when more than 320 players were surveyed by ESPN.com's NFL Nation reporters this season, they were asked: "Which head coach would you most like to play for?" League-wide, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll got the nod with 22.5 percent of the vote, with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin second with 13.8 percent and Fox third at 7.8 percent. And 29 different head coaches got at least one vote.

Among the 10 Broncos surveyed, Fox got the majority of the votes -- six -- with the other four saying they already enjoy playing for Fox and that if they had to go somewhere else, that's how they would vote. Three of those players selected Carroll for the question, with one vote for Boulder, Colo., native Chuck Pagano.