Coaching cat John Fox lands on feet again
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Coaching cat John Fox lands on feet again

Chicago Bears' new head coach with Super Bowl resume is never out of work long

Once again, John Fox’s time in the unemployment line didn't last long.

Click here for my 2002 Fox story: Fox as Carolina's new head coach in 2002

Shortly after his nine-year run as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach – including one Super Bowl – came to an end with the 2010 season, he soon landed on his feet with the Denver Broncos.

And now, after four straight AFC West titles and one Super Bowl trip with the Broncos, he’s quickly donning the coveted golden whistle that only head coaches wear draped around their neck. The historic Chicago Bears of George Halas didn’t wait long to name him their new coach.

Chicago general manager Ryan Pace, upon introducing Fox at Halas Hall, revealed that he was on the phone with him within hours of the Broncos’ inexplicably letting go one of six coaches to lead two NFL franchises to a Super Bowl.

I’m wondering if the memory of Denver general manager/vice-president John Elway is slipping. Does he now think in a management role winning a Super Bowl is as easy as plugging in new pieces? He should painfully recall as a quarterback he was 0-3 in Super Bowls – losing badly all three times to the New York Giants (39-20) in the 1986 season, Washington (42-10) in the 1987 season and the San Francisco 49ers (55-10) in the 1990 season.

Maybe he thinks the change in coaches from Dan Reeves, with whom he didn’t get along, to Mike Shanahan was the reason he finally lifted the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The Broncos beat the Green Bay Packers (31-24) in the 1998 season and the Atlanta Falcons (34-19) in the 1999 season.

Shanahan’s role is not to be understated, but one reason for his success was he found Terrell Davis as a sixth-round running back and rode him like Secretariat (which by the way, is what Pro Football Hall of Fame coach George Allen called Davis when he coached him at Long Beach State before Allen’s sudden death and Davis transferred to Georgia).

Davis carried 30 times for 157 yards and three touchdowns in the Green Bay Super Bowl win to get the monkey off Elway’s back. The title catapulted the Broncos to back-to-back world championships. Elway never previously had such a productive running game to take the pressure of the passing game – golden arm or not.

Don't forget that with the Green Bay game still in doubt, Davis went to the locker room with a migraine headache. The Broncos looked to Davis to return and save the day – not for some magic from the coach.

Something else Elway may be forgetting about the three Super Bowls he lost under Reeves and two he won under Shanahan is the latter had a future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback under center.

At Carolina, Fox took over a team coming off a 1-15 season and in two years guided the Panthers to their first Super Bowl in the 2003 season with Jake Del Homme as his quarterback. The Panthers lost 32-29 loss to the New England Patriots.

At Denver, he took over a 4-12 Broncos team that missed the playoffs five years in a row and had them in the playoffs his first season in 2011 with Tim Tebow his quarterback.

Then he guided the Broncos back to the Super Bowl with future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning throwing passes. The way the Broncos played earlier in the 2014 season, they might have returned if not for the aging Manning breaking down in the past month and a half of the season.

Fox has a long track record of demonstrating he can get the best out of his players. He also stood up to manipulative Oakland Raiders owners Al Davis -- and what better reason is there to admire him than that? -- unlike the long succession of Raiders coaches that followed John Madden (1969-78) and Tom Flores (1979-87).

With one game remaining in the 1996 exhibition season, Fox suddenly resigned as the Raiders' defensive coordinator. How damaging was that to his reputation? He was soon hired to finish the year as a "consultant" with the St. Louis Rams.

It reminds of the story former NFL player and Raiders assistant coach Martin Bayless once told me about the late Davis and defensive lineman La' Roi Glover. Davis drafted Glover as a 1996 fifth-round draft pick out of San Diego State and then released him.

Glover was picked up by the New Orleans Saints in 1997 and enjoyed success; by 2005 he came back to haunt Davis while playing for the Dallas Cowboys in his sixth Pro Bowl season. Bayless said Davis watched film with the coaches of Raiders' loss to the Cowboys and muttered about Glover playing all day in the Oakland backfield. Bayless said it was pointless to remind the then-aging Davis he was the one who cut Glover a decade earlier.

Fox's hometown San Diego Chargers also didn't pay attention. Fox had a history in San Diego as assistant under Bobby Ross in 1992 and 1993, but the Chargers overlooked him when there was an opening in 1997 and they foolishly hired Kevin Gilbride. He lasted less than two seasons. Since 1997, Fox has been to two Super Bowls and the Chargers none.

I’ll predict Fox and the Bears play in a Super Bowl before Elway’s Broncos.


John Fox has never been out of work long once Pro Football Hall of Famer Sid Gillman gave his him first paid coaching job in 1979 as a small San Diego college, U.S. International University. Fox, who grew up in the San Diego suburb of Chula Vista, played at Castle Park High, Southwestern College and San Diego State. He launched his coaching career as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, San Diego State.

  • 1978 San Diego State, graduate assistant
  • 1979 USIU, assistant coach
  • 1980 Boise State, assistant coach
  • 1981 Long Beach State, assistant coach
  • 1982 Utah, secondary coach
  • 1983 Kansas, secondary coach
  • 1984 Iowa State, secondary coach
  • 1985 L.A. Express (USFL), secondary coach
  • 1986-88 Pitt, defensive coordinator
  • 1989-91 Pittsburgh Steelers, secondary coach
  • 1992-93 Chargers, secondary coach
  • 1994-95 Oakland Raiders, defensive coordinator
  • 1996 St. Louis Rams, consultant
  • 1997-2001 New York Giants, defensive coordinator
  • 2002-2010 Carolina Panthers, head coach
  • 2011-2014 Denver Broncos, head coach
  • 2015 Chicago Bears, head coach


Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan is an award-winning sportswriter and the author of "Raye of Light". Tom has also written for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Voice of San Diego,,, and Gameday Central. He has won multiple first-place awards from the San Diego Press Club and first place from the Copley News Service Ring of Truth Awards. The National Football Foundation/San Diego Chapter presented him its Distinguished American Award in 2003 and USA Track and Field’s San Diego Chapter its President’s Award in 2000.

Raye of Light: Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the integration of college football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans

By Tom Shanahan; Foreword by Tony Dungy; August Publications

Purchase Raye of Light from Barnes and Noble, or from August Publishing.

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