The Denver Fallout
Every season we see a surprise coaching departure in the NFL. This year, we saw two. On Monday, Denver parted ways with John Fox, who now joins the unemployed but wealthy Doug Marrone, who left Buffalo on his own with a $4 million golden parachute. Regarding Fox, who figures a coach who makes the playoff four times in four years and averages 12 wins a season will get whacked?
"Whacked" is too strong a term. If GM John Elway had loved Fox, Fox would be back for year five—and back to try to convince Peyton Manning to take one more run at a ring with a strong veteran roster in 2015. But this was a good “by mutual consent” split. Fox wanted out. Elway didn’t mind letting him go.
"The timing was right," said one person familiar with the parting after a 70-minute meeting between the two men Monday afternoon, not even 24 hours after the 24-13 debacle that was the end to the 2014 season. “For both guys, I think the timing was right.”
Three other things about what happened in Denver:
1. With Peyton Manning on board, Elway believed that two first-round home playoff losses and a 35-point Super Bowl loss over three seasons was underachievement.
2. Fox will be a candidate to coach the Chicago Bears. I talked to 37-year-old GM Ryan Pace the other day, and the former director of player personnel for the Saints was unflinching in one feeling about what he wanted in his head coach: The coach should be a strong leader able to communicate a inspired message to his team—the way Pace witnessed Sean Payton control the meeting room when he stood in front of the players in New Orleans.
3. I always believe a coach doesn’t get the kind of ultimate wanderlust that Fox got without the feeling in the market that he’ll have a landing spot if he’s amenable to leaving. Fox is one of the smartest guys I’ve met in the coaching business. He knows he had a very good (not perfect) gig in Denver, with a good playoff shot in 2015 and two years left on his contract. Without a good chance to coach elsewhere, he wouldn’t have agreed to leave.
So, let’s figure out where we stand on all these coaching searches now.
In Chicago, Fox goes to the head of the class. The Bears also have interest in Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. The Bears want a coach who can take a veteran team and turn it around fast and compete with Green Bay (especially) and Detroit.
In New York, the Jets are making a late run at Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. For a while, Quinn was the leader in their clubhouse, but something happened. I don't know what. Could Quinn have told them no? Or could Quinn have another place lined up? Such as …
In Atlanta, I heard Sunday it was down to Quinn or Bowles. Ryan, I am told, was a strong candidate, but didn’t have the universal internal support that Arthur Blank wanted in a coach. Blank likes clean off-field guys, and maybe some of Rex’s bawdiness turned off the organization.
In San Francisco, Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase, Niners defensive line coach Jim Tomsula or Niners defensive coordinator Vic Fangio seem most likely. Not sure if Gase’s tenuous position with the Broncos now changes things at all, but I was told the other day that San Francisco wanted Colin Kaepernick fixed, above all, preferably by someone who will keep intact a strong defensive staff led by Fangio.
In Oakland, I keep hearing Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio over incumbent interim coach Tony Sparano. That hasn’t changed.
In Denver, GM John Elway certainly has a list that he activated on Monday, after Fox left his office and the two men divorced. We’ll see who is on it. I believe Elway wants to look outside the organization, get some new blood and new ideas in the building. That does not bode well for Gase and for Peyton Manning, who likes continuity and who Elway would like to return if Manning is healthy enough to play in 2015. My guess is that Elway will be patient, and if he has a chance to interview Quinn, he will work hard to convince him that Denver is the place to be.
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