Yet after the Broncos bowed out to the Indianapolis Colts 24-13 at home in the AFC Divisional round this year, Fox and the franchise parted ways.
“We parted ways mutually,” Fox said in January. “I’ve got a lot of great friends there. It was a great four-year run. We hugged and moved on. It happens in football.”
Bears GM Ryan Pace, himself hired just a week before, swooped in for Fox, a 13-year NFL head coach who has taken two different teams to the Super Bowl. It’s a substantial shift in philosophy from former GM Phil Emery, who hired a CFL coach with no previous head-coaching experience.
Fox has an impressive resume and was very successful in Denver. So why was Broncos GM John Elway so eager to part ways with an established head coach who has a history of success?
For answers, we spoke with Ched Jensen of MileHighHuddle.com, who covered Fox for four years in Denver.
“Fox wasn't only fired because the Broncos lost to the Colts. It was HOW they lost that game,” Jensen said. “There was no fire. There was no fight. Once the tide turned in favor of the Colts, the Broncos dropped their eyes to the ground in woe-is-me fashion. Fox failed to rally the troops and turn the ship around.
“It's like John Elway said. He was keenly disappointed that the Broncos failed to go down ‘kicking and screaming.’ At the end of the day, that failure falls on Fox's shoulders. Fox's remarkable success was made possible by Elway's signing of Peyton Manning and the free agent acquisitions and draft choices, also made by Elway.
“Fox's one season without Manning in Denver led to a division title--true. But they finished 8-8 and backed into the playoffs, after losing their last three games. Fox's 2011 Broncos could have had a better record, had Fox showed the gumption to start Tebow from the beginning over Kyle Orton, but he favors the veterans, who ‘give us the best chance to win.’”
Obviously, Fox’s stint in Denver didn’t turn out the way many had hoped. Yet in Chicago, he has a clean slate. What should Bears fans expect from the team’s new head coach?
“John Fox is a defensive-minded player's coach. His strongest attribute is his ability to forge lasting, close relationships with his players. Fox also heavily favors tenured veterans, often to his own downfall. He's ultra-conservative, which clashed with Peyton Manning's aggressive pedal-to-the-medal attitude in Denver.
“Fox is a steady hand and will immediately improve the culture and locker room chemistry. He's great with the media but doesn't share many insights. Overall, the Bears could have done worse.”
The Bears’ lack of discipline under former head coach Marc Trestman was startling during his two years in the Windy City. Is it fair to say that won’t be the case under Fox?
“That's fair to say, although toward the end of Fox's tenure in Denver, he seemed to lose control of the locker room some. By the end, there wasn't much individual player accountability and that deficiency ultimately cost the Broncos on the field when all the chips were down. I think the pressure of the Super Bowl or Bust expectations ultimately took its toll on Fox. In a fresh environment, I expect him to recover.”
Pressure in Chicago will be comparable but the bar was set so low by the previous regime, Fox’s grace period will be lengthy.
Under Lovie Smith, Bears practices were like flowing down a lazy river, while Trestman’s sessions were like being thrown into the wave pool. How does Fox handle practices?
“OTAs, like most NFL teams, are rather laid back. When the team gets to hitting in training camp, Fox's practice sessions can be quite intense. In-season, he's not opposed to resting his veterans, which has caused some controversy in Denver.”
The Bears traded Brandon Marshall to the Jets this week. Marshall has a long history of off-field problems, of which you’re fully aware from his time in Denver, and continually stuck his foot in his mouth last season. Does it surprise you Fox was so quick to rid the team of a talent like Marshall?
“Not at all. Although Marshall seems to have matured significantly since his rash days in Denver, Fox is used to running a tight ship, with all boots in line. If he doubted his ability to control Marshall and his antics, it doesn't surprise me that Fox put him on the block.”
Fox brought with him numerous coaches from his staff in Denver, including offensive coordinator Adam Gase. Some believe Gase, whose only experience as an NFL OC came the last two seasons, was a product of Peyton Manning.
Does Gase deserve more credit for what the Broncos’ accomplished the last two years or was that truly Manning’s offense?
“Adam Gase deserves all of the credit in the world for the last two offensively prolific seasons in Denver. Manning and the Broncos obliterated every record in the book in 2013, due to Gase's football mind. They had the exact same players, with the exception of Julius Thomas, in 2012 under Mike McCoy, and they still produced at a high level, but Gase's influence and control catapulted them into the stratosphere.”
Chad Jensen is the Publisher and Lead Analyst for MileHighHuddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fifth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.