Even after he came to Colorado for an interview, hardly anybody really expected the Denver Broncos to hire John Fox as their next head coach.
But that's exactly what the Broncos did Thursday, as the team's new brain trust headed by John Elway chose Fox over two other finalists, Houston assistant (and former Bronco player and assistant) Rick Dennison and Jacksonville offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.
In the end, it's fairly obvious that Fox's experience and previous success as an NFL head coach — he led Carolina to the playoffs as the NFC's No. 1 seed as recently as 2008 — had to make a difference. Yes, he also presided over the league's worst team this past season, as the Panthers slid all the way to 2-14. But it's not always just about the head coach, and certainly Carolina had its share of injuries as well as underachieving players.
Fox brings good defensive expertise to Denver, and he'll probably move quickly to retain Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, for two reasons. First, McCoy was Fox's offensive coordinator in Carolina from 2002 through 2008. Second, McCoy has been a candidate to replace Charlie Weis as offensive coordinator in Kansas City.
Don't be surprised, either, if Fox quickly tries to hire Dennison as assistant head coach/defensive coordinator, which would satisfy the need for linking the new staff to Denver's glory years.
Is it a good hire? In a recent End Zone column, I had nominated former Tampa Bay and Oakland head coach Jon Gruden for the job. That was based not only on Gruden having been a head coach, but also on having won the 2002 Super Bowl with the Buccaneers. Gruden never merited an interview, but reports have suggested that he might have wanted too much control. Fox, despite his Carolina tenure, clearly will not have a dominating presence over the Broncos franchise.
Fox also is 56, old enough to be authoritative, smart enough to have learned lessons from what hasn't worked for him in the past, but with plenty enough years ahead of him to warrant another shot as a head coach. He also won't be soft on anyone.
He'll be introduced Friday in Denver, and it'll be interesting to see how he presents himself.