The Denver Broncos and coach John Fox have mutually agreed to part ways.
"I had a productive visit with John Elway this afternoon in which we were both very honest about our time together and how to best move forward," Fox said in a statement Monday. "After this discussion, John and I mutually agreed that the timing was right for this decision."
The decision was made just hours after Fox had met with the Broncos players to cover the end-of-the-season business.
Following that meeting, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said Fox told the players that "he just appreciated everybody's efforts, he loved us and everybody just be smart in the offseason and make sure you take care of your body to be ready to come back ready to roll when OTAs start."
The move comes a day after the Broncos were eliminated from the playoffs by the Indianapolis Colts, and a year after the team's first appearance in a Super Bowl since Elway, now the team's general manager, retired as quarterback.
It was ultimately the team's playoff record -- 3-4, with two one-and-done exits, including Sunday's 23-14 home loss to the Colts -- that were difficult to digest for many with the team.
"While we have made significant progress under Coach Fox, there is still work to be done," Elway said in a statement. "I believe this change at the head coaching position will be in the best interest of our long-term goal, which from day one has been to win World Championships."
The Broncos told Fox's assistants that they are now free to look for other jobs, but Denver still holds their contractual rights.
The team plans to launch a wide search to find its next coach, and is interested in interviewing Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. A source also told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter that the Broncos will seek permission to interview Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who played and coached in Denver but has said he'd stay in Baltimore.
The separation ends Fox's four-year tenure with the Broncos that saw the coach miss part of last season as he recovered from a heart procedure. He led them to the AFC West title in each season.
Fox's departure could be the first step in an offseason of upheaval in Denver.
The team has 17 free agents, including star receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio is the favorite for the Oakland Raiders' coaching vacancy, according to ESPN Insider Adam Schefter and multiple reports, and offensive coordinator Adam Gase also has been linked to several job openings.
The Broncos came up short defensively Sunday despite making several upgrades -- including DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward -- to that side of the ball last offseason. Their performance along the offensive line also declined as the season wore on, which led to even more intense scrutiny of Fox and his coaching staff.
Quarterback Peyton Manning, who played in Sunday's loss with a torn quadriceps -- according to sources, also acknowledged uncertainty about his future, saying: "I'm disappointed, I kind of need to process this game."
Fox owns a 46-18 record with the Broncos, who went 12-4 this season. They were 13-3 in 2012 -- Manning's first season with the franchise -- but were upset in the divisional round by the eventual champion Ravens at home in double overtime. Despite reaching the Super Bowl last season for the first time in 15 years, Denver was blown out by 35 points by Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Fox was signed by the Broncos to a contract extension this past offseason, so the team will owe Fox at least two years' worth of salary unless he secures one of the current openings in the league.
"I am eager to continue my coaching career and look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead," Fox said in his statement.
A New York Jets official contacted Fox, a source told Schefter, but they insist no interview offer was extended for the team's vacant head-coaching position.
Prior to taking over the Broncos in 2011, Fox had served as the head coach of the Carolina Panthers and led that franchise to its only Super Bowl appearance in the 2003-04 season.