“Kicking and screaming” was never John Fox’s way

Jan 14, 2013; Englewood, CO, USA; Denver Broncos head coach John Fox (left) and executive vice president of football operations John Elway (right) during the press conference following the loss in the AFC divisional round playoff game at the teams training facility. Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

“It’s just running, throwing, catching and tackling, boys. It’s not that complicated.”

If that’s not a direct quote from John Fox during his four-year stay in Denver, it has to be pretty close.

It’s the summary of the old ball coach’s football philosophy. From playing it, to coaching it, maybe he even applied it to his personal life. Things don’t have to be so complicated. Relax and just let things play out.

That mentality has led Foxy’s Chicago Bears to a disastrous 0-3 start that included their starting quarterback and top wide receiver getting injured and culminated in a pitiful effort (can you even call it an effort?) against the Seattle Seahawks in which the Bears punted on all 10 possessions in the game. The most noteworthy of these was a fourth-and-one late in the third quarter with the Bears down by 20. It was the first time since before 2010 that a team had been in that situation and not elected to go for it. It was a team that willfully allowed itself to get beat 26-0 rather than take the chance of giving up one backbreaking big play. It was the kind of game that made you wonder how much of a “thing” tanking truly is in the NFL. And truth be told, I suspect it’s where John Fox is most comfortable.

Setting aside that Chicago is almost certainly Fox’s retirement plan (coach the team for one year under strict instructions to get them as close to the No. 1 pick as possible, get fired and get paid for two more years while easing into retirement), the old coach can probably look back now and realize that he and Elway were never going to work out. He might have ridden Kyle Orton another few years and Elway’s handpicked apprentice another few after that, but he and Elway’s views were never truly going to align.

Fox may be a great guy, and he certainly knows his way around a football field enough to warrant a 14-year head coaching career, but “kicking and screaming” he is not. When patience ran out after the Super Bowl drubbing at the hands of the Seahawks and Elway was forced to ask the coach how exactly he would avoid the same fate a year later, it became apparent that Fox didn’t believe manufacturing championships was how it was done.

To Fox, you build a team, coach them up, keep them healthy and in good spirits and try to put them in a position to play their best football late. Elway won’t accept that kind of perceived level of outside control for long, so it’s no wonder Fox’s office was seemingly already clean by the time the team played their divisional round playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Watching Denver this year, the two teams could not be more different. The offensive juggernaut under the tutelage of Fox and Adam Gase is gone, replaced by a scrappy group executing an assortment of unique game plans under Kubiak and Manning, while Wade Philips’ overtly aggressive defense runs rampant over oppositions, a comically stark contrast to the ultra-conservative Jack Del Rio specials we became accustomed to from 2012 – ’14.

There’s an enjoyment to the games that was missing in the John Fox era. While many of the faces remain the same, you no longer get the feeling that you’re only rooting for a team of hired guns hell bent on winning a Super Bowl, regardless of how they do it.

The Broncos under Kubiak feel more like a team and less like an impersonal group of mercenaries simply wearing orange and blue laundry. I realize that at least part of that is simply a more positive perception of the team’s prospects under Kubiak this season, but perception matters. Perception can separate a “kicking and screaming” team from one just going through the motions. Perception has the Broncos locker room feeling good, despite deep and troubling offensive issues.

After watching the Bears, and listening to John Fox speak in the wake of their 26-0 loss to the Seahawks, perhaps he could use a lesson in perceptions himself.

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