They call John Fox a player's coach. He is admired and loved by all who have played for him. But what does that mean, a "player's coach"? It is a phrase that get's thrown around a lot, especially when referring to Fox. When most guys refer to their coach in that way, what they're trying to say is that the coach is essentially one of the guys.
It's not about exercising authority, although the head coach certainly has it. It's not about dominating personnel, as some coaches are wont to do. It's not about instilling fear in the players.
It's about being a teacher. It's about creating rapport with the players, even friendships. That is how one could characterize a player's coach.
Since Fox came to Denver, it seems that in most of the Broncos big games, the team stumbles. Whether it's a lack of preparation, focus, sloppy play, lack of execution, or mental errors, the team simply doesn't come through when the chips go down, in the big games.
You can go back and watch Super Bowl XLVIII, or the 2012 Divisional Playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens for clear evidence of this. But Fox's shortcomings seem to come to light most keenly vs Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.
As the head coach in Denver, Fox is technically 0-3 vs the Patriots in the regular season, even though the Broncos lost on the road last year, Fox was recovering from his heart surgery and Jack Del Rio was the interim head coach for that loss. He's 1-1 in the post-season, for a 1-4 overall record. During the Fox regime, however, the Broncos are 1-5 vs the Patriots. Watching the Broncos performance yesterday, they were flat and unprepared.
The Patriots, in comparison, were laser-focused and physical. Granted, one team was on the road, in an hostile environment and one was at home, with the crowd at their backs. But the difference between how the Patriots performed and how the Broncos failed, arguably comes down to coaching.
At a talent level, the Broncos are clearly superior to the Patriots, especially on defense. So how was the Patriots defense able to stymie Peyton Manning and the offense, all game long, but the Broncos defense was taken to the woodshed by Tom Brady? Coaching. Preparation.
Once the Broncos slipped and made a mistake, it was like the domino effect and it began to snowball into something terrible to behold. They couldn't get out of their own way. Under Fox and Manning, I've only seen the Broncos overcome that level of collective faux pas once.
In week 6 of the 2012 season, on the road, the Broncos were down 24-0 to the San Diego Chargers, going into halftime. The Broncos gave the ball away three times in the first half and the Chargers capitalized.
However, inexplicably, the Broncos stormed back to score 35 unanswered second half points and won the game handily. That day, the team found a way to overcome their foibles. It was a launching pad that marked the beginning of a dominant run through the AFC, culminating in the Broncos winning the 1-seed. Alas, they squandered their home-field advantage by losing to the Ravens in the Divisional Round.
When the mistakes pile up and the going gets tough, it's the coaches job to dam the leak. Going into halftime yesterday, down 20, the Broncos coaches had the chance to make adjustments and turn the ship around.
Unfortunately, they failed. Miserably. Well-coached teams perform at their best in the most important games. The Broncos seem to take the opposite approach and meltdown, often performing at their worst, when it matters the most.
“We didn’t play our best. Far from our best -- maybe our worst."
Indeed. Last night's poor performance, in all three phases, wouldn't be as alarming, if it wasn't another thread in a pattern stretching back to 2011, when John Elway, the new Vice President of Football Operations, made his first decision the hiring of John Fox. Fox was fresh off a 2-14 season with the Carolina Panthers, which created some concern in the fanbase. Was he really the coach to turn around the franchise?
Following the disarray and apathy that was left behind in the wake of the Josh McDaniels regime, Elway felt like the Broncos needed a steady hand and coach who could connect on a personal level with the players.
And he did. Fox is excellent, in that regard. And it shows in how his players feel about him. Fox stabilized the franchise and brought winning football back to Denver. He has guided the Broncos to a 34-16 regular season record and 3-3 playoff record. Of course, the big blemish is his Super Bowl loss, but he guided the team through the AFC playoff gauntlet.
Fox got lucky when Peyton Manning, who did not play well yesterday, decided to come to Denver, following his release from the Indianapolis Colts. Under Fox the Broncos have won. They win the games they're supposed to win but lose the games that feature a larger scope and stiffer competition.
"We’re capable of better, we can execute better. We can prepare better. That’s typically what happens with mistakes, first of all you admit it, then you fix them, and then you do everything you can not to let 'em happen again ... Obviously it was a disappointing performance by all of us. That’s the way I addressed it, I think everybody takes it to heart, we go in there and figure it out." - John Fox
In three consecutive seasons, Fox has been unable to get it done on the road at Gillette Stadium. Belichick has his number.
Moving forward, Manning has two and a half years left on his contract with the Broncos. The window is closing. As the failures continue to pile up and the team continues to fall short in the biggest games, Broncos Country is left wondering if Fox truly has what it takes to coach this team over the hump and bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Denver. Elway trusts in Fox. Broncos Country will continue to trust in Elway.