Some teams have higher expectations than others. When the 49ers of the 1980s failed to win a Super Bowl in any season, team owner Eddie DeBartolo, Jr. would threaten to fire Bill Walsh -- Bill Walsh! -- at the drop of a hat, and people in the organization would have to talk him out of it. Similarly, there's the recent tension between Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke in that same city, which led to the mutual decision for coach and team to part ways.
But the news breaking Monday that the Broncos and head coach John Fox had agreed to part ways came as a shock to most. According to the NFL Network, when the move was made public, some of Fox's assistants had just been told. And according to multiple reports, Denver doesn't have a succession plan in place -- this move came as a surprise to a lot of people from a logistical sense as much as anything.
Adding further to the weirdness of the situation? The Broncos signed Fox to a three-year contract extension in April.
"We are pleased to reach this agreement with John Fox, who has played a key role in the success and improvement of the Broncos during the last three seasons," team EVP John Elway said at the time. "While our team has made progress each year under Coach Fox, we both understand that there is still work to be done for us to reach our ultimate goal.
"Having continuity at the head coaching position is critical in building a championship team, and John Fox is an important part of our foundation as we move forward."
Well, maybe not so much. After Denver's 24-13 loss to the Colts in the divisional round on Sunday, Fox -- who had been rumored to be out the door if the Broncos failed to make it back to the Super Bowl -- said little about his own future.
"I’ve seen all kind of reports in the past, I’m sure I’ll see some moving forward," he said. "I don’t make those decisions, I don’t control that. My intentions are to be a Denver Bronco and have been since I got here. It’s not about me; it’s about this football team."
Yes, the Broncos failed to make it back to the Super Bowl, but Fox -- one of six coaches in NFL history to take two different teams to the league's biggest game -- will be very tough to replace, and it could factor into several offseason decisions -- most notably, whether Peyton Manning returns to the Mile High City.
"John Fox and I met for more than an hour on Monday afternoon to discuss the 2014 season and our goals for the future," Elway said in a statement on Monday afternoon. "During our open and candid conversation, it became clear that it was best for both the Denver Broncos and Coach Fox to move on and make this change. On behalf of the Broncos, I sincerely thank John for his many contributions during his four seasons as head coach. He helped establish a positive, winning culture for this team and deserves a lot of credit for the Broncos’ turnaround.
"While we have made significant progress under Coach Fox, there is still work to be done. 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. Our organization is fully dedicated to reaching [owner] Pat Bowlen’s high standards for his team as we begin the process of finding the next head coach to lead the Denver Broncos."
Tale of the Tape: 46-18 over four seasons in Denver; 3-3 in the postseason. Yes, Fox benefited from Manning's presence, but he was also a huge balm after the contentious and disastrous Josh McDaniels era, and he won a playoff game in 2011 with Tim Tebow at quarterback. He was a major part of the recent culture change throughout the organization, and whoever replaces him will have a very tall list of things to deal with.
What went wrong: The news is that Fox agreed to walk away as much as the Broncos wanted to move on, which seems to indicate that Fox wanted to explore other opportunities. Denver broke the bank in the offseason to bring in several defensive stars in a big push to do what the Seahawks prevented them from doing in Super Bowl XLVIII, and while the defense did improve dramatically, the organization could not prepare for the fact that Manning started to decline in a serious way in the second half of the season. Elway and everyone else up top wanted more than a division win; it was clearly Super Bowl or bust.
Roster outlook: Denver's defense is championship-ready in the short term; the real question marks are on the offensive side of the ball. Manning's status is the elephant in the room, but receivers Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker will be free agents in the new league year. Welker might be done, but Thomas is incredibly important to the offense. Tight end Julius Thomas, who redefined Denver's passing game earlier in the year when he was healthy, is also on the market.
Possible replacements: Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase has been courted by several teams, and is meeting with the 49ers Monday night, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. It's possible that Elway could put a full-court press on Gase and have him cancel that flight, and it's also possible that defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio -- who's set to have a second interview with the Raiders about their head coaching job -- could be in the mix. One also wonders if Mike Shanahan, who coached Elway to two Super Bowl wins, and Gary Kubiak, the former Texans head coach and current Ravens offensive coordinator, would be familiar names for Elway to review. The presence or absence of Manning obviously affects the attractiveness of the job, though moving on from Manning and rebuilding with a good team and a new quarterback might be appealing, as well.
As for Fox, he should be in very high demand for any open spot, and early indications have him trending towards Chicago.
"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 his own team-issued statement. "After this discussion, John and I mutually agreed that the timing was right for this decision. Although we came up short of our ultimate goal, I am proud of our team’s many accomplishments during these last four years. I truly appreciate all of the hard work put in by every player, coach and staff member within this organization.
"It was an honor to coach the Denver Broncos, a first-class franchise with great fans and a winning tradition. I am thankful to John, Mr. Bowlen and [team president] Joe Ellis for allowing me and my family to be part of this team and community.
"I am eager to continue my coaching career, and look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead."