The Denver Broncos have announced that defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio will serve as the team's interim head coach while John Fox undergoes and recovers from aortic valve replacement surgery. Del Rio, who joined Denver's staff in 2012, was the Jacksonville Jaguars' head coach from '03 through '11, amassing a 73-63 record. He has the most head coaching experience of anyone on Denver's current staff. Running backs coach Eric Studesville was the team's interim head coach for the final four games of the 2010 season after Josh McDaniels was fired.
Fox was taken to a hospital in Charlotte, N.C., on Saturday after he felt light-headed on a golf course. He was in town to see specialists on a pre-existing condition, and his doctors told him to get in touch with them if he felt any discomfort. At that time, it was decided to accelerate the surgical process. Fox will undergo the procedure on Monday or Tuesday, according to the Denver Post, and recovery will likely take several weeks, according to a statement released by the team.
"I think in a hard situation like this, you motivate yourself," receiver Eric Decker told the Post. "What [Coach Fox] meant to all of us in that building, there's going to be a lot of guys fired up to go about our business as professionals. We have good leadership among the coordinators and in the locker room as far as players. I'm not too concerned about the leap we have to make without him."
Del Rio has already dealt with his share of issues this year, from defensive end Von Miller's six-game suspension to the injuries that have kept cornerback Champ Bailey off the field and at less than his best when he has been able to play. The Broncos, who were on their bye week when Fox was hospitalized, have a 7-1 record. Their defense currently ranks 22nd against the pass and fourth against the run per Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted metrics. It's been Del Rio's job to hold it all together against offenses desperate to throw the ball and score in bunches in response to Denver's record-setting offense. Denver is tied for the NFL lead with 13 interceptions.
“The approach doesn’t really change in terms of trying to understand what they do and what we want to do and then teaching and coaching and preparing the guys that are going to play," Del Rio said the week before the Broncos' 39-33 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Oct. 20 when asked how he dealt with all the changes. "The difference is who’s going to do it and what their capabilities are and how they mesh together and all of that. It doesn’t matter who’s playing -- we’re still going to work the same kind of schedule and go through the same kind of grind, but obviously when you have your better players out there you expect to play even better. As far as defense, I feel like we've got a good group of guys. We’re going to be better as we go through the year. Some of the places where we’re not playing so well now right now I feel very confident we’ll continue to grow and play good defense as we go down the road here.”
The Broncos will face the San Diego Chargers on Nov. 10, and they have two games against the AFC-leading Kansas City Chiefs in the next month.
“I sincerely appreciate all of the support from friends, Denver Broncos fans and so many around the league today,” Fox said in a statement released over the weekend. “Although I am disappointed I must take some time away from the team to attend to this pre-existing health condition, I understand that it’s the right thing to do. I have great confidence in our coaches and players, who are fully committed to our goals." GALLERY: When NFL coaches were players