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Reading the Tea Leaves in John Fox’s Departure From Denver, by Bill Barnwell


Stashed in: Football, Jim Harbaugh, Grantland!

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Holy smokes this seems shortsighted of the Denver Broncos owners!

John Fox went from very employed to not especially employed in a matter of, oh, about 36 hours. The first rumblings I heard about Fox possibly being fired came out Sunday morning, when Jay Glazer reported that the Broncos were considering moving on from Fox if they lost to the Colts that afternoon. When the Broncos lost 24-13 in an uncharacteristically meek performance, the vultures circled. Postgame reports suggested the Broncos had never discussed firing Fox before Sunday’s loss, but after apparently discussing it for the first time Monday, they liked the idea enough to follow through.

Fox and the Broncos “mutually parted ways” Monday afternoon, which is the NFL’s spin on conscious uncoupling. Maybe Fox just happened to decide at the same time as the Broncos did that he would rather not be paid to be their head coach anymore. It seems more logical to treat that as a firing, and in that context, I have to admit it’s a pretty bizarre one. When Jim Harbaugh was fired/mutually parted ways with San Francisco, I mentioned that successful coaches like Harbaugh almost never leave teams this quickly. Fox is an even better example.

And the following year the Broncos won the Superbowl. 

Comparisons to Jim Harbaugh:

Fox and Harbaugh will get lumped in together, at least for now, because they fit a roughly similar profile. They both took over flailing franchises and delivered immediate, sustained success, combining to make seven playoffs in eight years without producing a single losing season. Their departures both seemed unlikely at the beginning of their final season and yet seemed to make a lot of sense by the end of the campaign. Reports suggest that both Fox and Harbaugh had seen their relationships with their respective general managers fray, although I doubt there are many coach-GM partnerships in the NFL lasting more than a season or two where those reports wouldn’t be true, especially among successful teams that come up narrowly short of winning a Super Bowl.

I suspect that most people would perceive Harbaugh to be the better coach because he didn’t have Peyton Manning, and I can’t say I disagree. I was admittedly a harsh critic of Fox’s in-game decision-making during the TYFNC days. He made one of the worst challenges I’ve ever seen in 2013, exhibited an irrational aversion to early two-point conversions after his Panthers lost to the Patriots in the Super Bowl in part because of a failed two-point try, and famously sat on the football after the Rahim Moore Hail Mary with Peyton freaking Manning, 31 seconds, two timeouts, and a big-legged kicker in the thin air of Denver. As a tactician, Fox was brutal.

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