ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — John Fox turned around a bumbling team before. The Denver Broncos are counting on him to do it again.
Fox was picked over four other candidates to replace Josh McDaniels, who was fired Dec. 6 amid the Broncos’ worst slide in four decades and the embarrassing Spygate II videotaping scandal.
The lost season led to a restructuring of the front office and the return of Hall of Famer John Elway as chief football executive. On Thursday, Elway hired Fox, the 55-year-old former Carolina Panthers coach.
Elway wrote on Twitter in announcing the hiring that Fox “is a dynamic and proven leader who will energize our entire organization.”
“I am very thankful to Pat Bowlen and John Elway for giving me the opportunity to coach a football team with such a proud tradition,” Fox said in a statement. “The Broncos have a culture of winning, and I am excited to continue that legacy. I can’t wait to get to work.”
And his task seems as high and steep as the biggest peaks in the Rocky Mountains.
The Broncos are coming off a franchise-worst 4-12 season, own the second overall pick in the draft and are is need of a major overhaul — much like the Panthers were when Fox arrived in 2002 following a 1-15 season.
He led them to a 7-9 mark in his first year before guiding them to the Super Bowl in his second season.
“I think the rebuild probably is going to require a little bit more on defense than offense but you know, I think I have a blueprint that we executed in Carolina and I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work here in Denver,” Fox said before his interview with the Broncos on Wednesday.
Fox went 78-74 including playoffs in nine seasons with the Panthers, who didn’t renew his contract following an NFL-worst 2-14 season in 2010. Fox led the Panthers to the 2004 Super Bowl.
Fox arrived in Denver on Wednesday to meet with Elway after his flight out of North Carolina was delayed three times by winter weather. He was the fifth and final candidate interviewed.
“Coach Fox is a great fit for us not only with his coaching ability but also with his personality,” Elway said in a statement. “He’s coached great defenses, turned teams around and been to Super Bowls. We couldn’t be more excited to have him lead our football team.”
Unlike McDaniels or Mike Shanahan before him, Fox’s experience is rooted in defense. He spent 13 years as a defensive assistant with the Steelers, Chargers, Raiders, Rams and Giants, including seven seasons as defensive coordinator, before taking over the Panthers, who owned the league’s worst defense.
In his first season in Carolina, the Panthers rose all the way to No. 2, the biggest turnaround since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
“It’s a good thing that he’s a defensive-minded coach; that will really help the defense,” linebacker Joe Mays told The Associated Press. “It’s also good that he’s a proven head coach, as well. I think it’s a good hire.”
“He’s had success in past, so why not here?” wide receiver Eric Decker said.
Prior to his stay in Carolina, Fox spent five seasons as the New York Giants’ defensive coordinator, and in 2000 they went to the Super Bowl by shutting down the high-scoring Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship.
Although fellow coaching candidates Eric Studesville, Perry Fewell and Dirk Koetter had interim head coaching experience and Rick Dennison has been with the Broncos for 24 years as a player and an assistant, none of them had the coaching credentials that Fox does.
His Carolina teams posted three 11-win seasons, won two NFC South titles and went 5-3 in the playoffs, appearing in two conference championships and losing to New England in the ’04 Super Bowl.
But they were inconsistent. Although his teams averaged nearly nine wins, they never posted consecutive winning seasons under Fox.
Still, Fox touted a top-of-the-pile resume that included a road map for leading the Broncos back to respectability after a five-year playoff drought.
“It’s not my first rodeo, so to speak,” Fox said. “So, I think I do have a blueprint to do it.”
General manager Brian Xanders has said the team’s top priority is fixing the last-place defense, which will be the focus of the draft, and Fox said he wouldn’t have a problem if the Broncos want to stick with the 3-4 defensive scheme they’ve employed since 2009 even though he mostly used a 4-3 look in Carolina.
Elway said last week when he was hired as the team’s new chief football executive that his new coach should be willing to work with rookie quarterback Tim Tebow. And Fox said he’s a big believer in the former Florida star who started Denver’s last three games.
“I know he’ll do whatever it takes to be a great player,” Fox said Wednesday. “He’s got a lot of the intangibles I look for and where that goes, it’s hard to predict. He’s in the development stage for sure, but I think he has the makings to be as good as he wants to be.”
Fox met with some members of the holdover staff on Thursday after agreeing to take over the Broncos, but no decisions were immediately made on whether any of them would stay in Denver.
Studesville went 1-3 after being promoted from running backs coach when McDaniels was fired and provided the foundering franchise with a much-needed breath of fresh air. He’d like to stay on if Fox will have him. However, he told The AP on Thursday that he didn’t know what his next move was.
“But I would like to tell the organization and fans that they are first class,” he said, “and I appreciated every second of it.”
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Denver contributed.