It's easy to disparage John Fox, and minimize what he accomplished in his time as the head coach of the Denver Broncos. But fans forget, when Fox took the reins, the franchise was bogged down in the deepest apathetic state in their history.
John Elway, who had just recently been hired as the V.P. of Football Operations, made the Fox hire one of his first major decisions. Honestly, Fox's steady hand and friendly manner was what the Broncos needed, after the megalomaniacal Josh McDaniels regime had broken the will and spirit of the team.
Fox won four straight division titles and advanced at least to the Divisional Round of the playoffs in each of his seasons as head coach. But eventually, his approach as a "player's coach" became ineffectual and failed to resonate with his team. Accountability seemed to be lacking, as did arguably the most important attribute of a successful professional football team: intensity.
In a recent mailbag, Denver Broncos independent analyst Andrew Mason pointed out what the biggest difference has been between the Fox coaching staff and Gary Kubiak's new administration, based on what he's seen at organized team activities: energy and intensity.
During the first OTA, you could hear the voices of two coaches in particular from 60 yards away: Linebackers Coach Reggie Herring and Defensive Line Coach Bill Kollar. Both intensely exhorting their players. Special Teams Coordinator Joe DeCamillis also has a vocal, intense style and does well getting his point across, which was evident during the voluntary veteran minicamp of late April, when players running his drills sprinted from station to station to open the first practice, instantly sending a message of the renewed emphasis on special teams this year.
John Elway was disappointed in the manner in which the Broncos lost their playoff game this past January, going down with a whimper, rather than "kicking and screaming". The talk that the Broncos didn't want to travel to Foxboro to take on the New England Patriots, had they defeated Indianapolis, was another sad symptom of Fox's inability to cultivate accountability and intensity, to say nothing of failing to inspire his team.
Someone once said that if you believe you can accomplish something, you're right. Conversely, if you don't believe you can accomplish it, you're also right. According to former Texans and Broncos tight end Joel Dreessen, Kubiak might not be a chest-thumping rah rah guy, but he knows how to rally his troops and inspire them to believe in themselves.
The intensity goes all the way to the top. Kubiak isn't as vocal in practice as some of his assistants, but he's known among players for the speeches he gives to the team in meetings. As former Broncos and Texans tight end Joel Dreessen said in January:
"In Saturday night meetings, everybody was on the edge of their seat waiting for [Kubiak] to talk. Everyone in the room has chills under their arms -- I'm talking about coaches and players alike. He gave very inspirational talks. But it's not a whole lot of rah-rah stuff. It's genuine confidence-building talks that he'd give us. Basically we'd all leave those team meetings on Saturday night ready to run through a wall for the guy."
What mystified and frustrated Broncos fans, was how talented the roster was from top to bottom and yet, John Fox could never quite get them over the hump. In the face of intense physicality from the opposition, the Broncos, under Fox, would wilt. See Super Bowl XLVIII, 2015 Divisional Round playoff loss, Week 11 vs. the St. Louis Rams, etc.
Pete Carroll might be one of the best coaches in the NFL because of his abilities to scheme and teach. But what truly sets him apart, above most of his NFL brethren, is his ability to tap into the mental and emotional side of his players and inspire them to reach beyond their bounds. Elway's hope is that Kubiak will be able to not only maximize the talent of the roster with his brand of coaching, but figure out how to bolster the team's collective mindset and inspire them to actually believe in themselves.
Based on what we're seeing and hearing out of Dove Valley, so far so good.