ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Broncos don’t know when John Fox once again will roam the halls of the team’s complex, stopping at most every door along the way, making everyone with an office or cubicle feel as if he or she is an important piece of the football puzzle.
Fox learned that routine from Hall of Famer Chuck Noll when Fox entered the league as Noll’s secondary coach in 1989.
“Chuck could talk about anything with anybody,” Fox has said. “He was always curious about people, and I think everybody with those teams felt like they had an important job in the big picture. Everybody was invested.”
As Fox recovers from Monday’s open-heart surgery to replace his aortic valve, the Broncos say the job of filling in for Fox is not only the day-to-day football duties but also Fox’s presence in the building. That will fall to everyone in some way. Many hands will be needed to make light work.
“I think we’re all just wanting to take care of business and wanting to carry on and make Coach proud,” said interim head coach Jack Del Rio.
“I talked to the staff [Monday], as well as the players, and said that, when you look at John Fox and what his strengths are -- his strengths are his enthusiasm and his energy he brings to the building each day, as well as the practice field,” said John Elway, the Broncos' executive vice president of football operations. “You can never replace that because the fact is he’s one of the most energetic guys there is and the fact that everybody -- not only the staff and players, but everybody -- we all have to try to make up for that loss of not having John and his energy and his enthusiasm around.”
Elway said Fox’s doctors will determine when Fox can return to the job as well as how much Fox can do at that point. The Broncos have set no timetable on it, but it is expected to be several weeks, and maybe the remainder of the regular season. Dr. Eric Skipper, medical director of adult cardiac surgery at Carolinas HealthCare Systems Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute, where Fox underwent surgery, said the recovery time from the procedure could run as long as eight to 10 weeks after an initial hospital stay of five to seven days.
Skipper, who was not on Fox’s surgical team, said that a job’s parameters determine the return, that “it really all depends on when you’re released to do heavy lifting. So, depending on your job, you can re-enter the workforce at varying intervals.”
Elway has simply said that the Broncos will do whatever is best for Fox moving forward, that “we’re not only looking at this season but looking at what’s best for John for the rest of his life.”
Overall, a recovery time of eight to 10 weeks would put the Broncos through their final eight games of the regular season. They arrived at their bye week at 7-1, trailing only the 9-0 Chiefs in the AFC West race, but with two games against the Chiefs in the next four weeks. So, whatever becomes of Denver's regular-season finish and its postseason seeding likely will be done without Fox along for much, or all, of it.
Which is why the Broncos, from the executive offices into the locker room, say it’s on everyone to “keep this train on the tracks,” as Elway put it.
“As leaders, we know that we have huge responsibility with the team and we have to keep the guys in line,” said safety David Bruton, a special-teams captain. “Our team is very mature; our guys know that we’re on a mission, and, just as leaders, we’re going to keep pushing that along.”
“As a head coach, you make sure everybody’s in sync, everybody’s in tune and you make sure that everybody’s handling their business,” safety Rahim Moore said. “And that’s his job. So, when he’s not here, we still have to think that he’s here and still keep that same mindset. So, that’s going to make everybody else work harder. It’s going to bring our team even closer.”
It will be also be the kind of test the Broncos need to pass if they are to reach the on-field goals they have set for themselves. After last season’s playoff loss to the Ravens, Elway talked about a team that needed “to learn how to win” in the postseason, how to deal with the small margin for error that comes with playoff football. And whether it be the transgressions of front-office executives arrested for DUI or Von Miller’s six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy or Miller and Julius Thomas missing court dates, the Broncos haven’t always handled their day-to-day business in recent months.
Interim head coach Jack Del Rio ran his first practice Monday, and, for the players, it all looked as if Fox were running the show. And that’s been Del Rio’s message, as well, that the systems are in place, the playbooks are in hand, that now it’s just about showing up for work. Elway, too -- although offering that nothing is more important than Fox’s long-term health in the equation -- indicated that, from a team perspective, if the Broncos are truly title worthy, they will show it in the coming weeks during Fox’s recovery.
“For us to get where we want to go, we’re going to have a bunch more bumps, too,” Elway said. “I think you learn from each bump. It makes you tougher -- it makes us tougher as an organization. It makes us tough as a team, and all that can do is help us because there is going to be plenty more adversity as we go ahead, and all it does is teach us how to be resilient about it and learn from it and get tougher from it.”
“Coach Fox instilled how he wants us to prepare, how he wants us to practice, how he wants to play,” defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. “It’s getting echoed through the coaching staff and the leaders on the team. We just want to go out there and win, make his process a little bit easier.”