ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – After a 4-12 season in 2010, the Denver Broncos were in need of a lift.
They also needed a new head coach.
John Fox was the coach chosen to lead the franchise, and Monday he sat alongside Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway and General Manager Brian Xanders to discuss the 2011 season – a season that saw the Broncos claim the AFC West title and advance to the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
Elway attributed much of that success to the man who just completed his first year as the Broncos head coach.
“A lot of the credit goes to this guy sitting to my right, John Fox,” Elway said. “What we needed a lot after last year was we needed these guys to enjoy football again. We kind of called it a football rehab, and I think the mentality, the enthusiasm, the type of coach that John is really got the most of the guys that we have. To me, that’s really the true identity and quality of a great coach is to be able to draw that out of football players.”
From the day he met his team, Fox said he could sense the players’ eagerness to improve.
That was a strong starting point for a football team undergoing a change in leadership.
“Coming off a poor season, these guys are competitive, and they did want to get better. I know it’s tough on the fans and it was tough on the organization, but it’s really tough on players because you put in too much time and effort,” Fox said. “When I first got here, the staff — all of the assistant coaches and myself — thought we had a chance because guys were willing. That’s what you have to start with; they were willing to do whatever it takes to get better.”
The story of the Broncos' 2011 season begins with a 1-4 start and ends with the franchise’s first trip to the postseason since 2005.
They fought through the early season struggles and steadily improved. Wins followed and culminated with a division title.
“It took some time — the 1-4 start — to understand (the players’) version of what you had to do and our version of what you had to do and getting that communicated. Results on the field took some time,” Fox said. “It’s a tribute to the guys that we had in that locker room as well as the coaching staff.”
Under Fox, the Broncos displayed undeniable progress and a youthful roster showed glimpses of a bright future.
But the organization’s leadership is far from satisfied.
“We’re not there yet,” Fox said. “I think that was evident Saturday night. We’re going to do everything in our power to improve the football team.”
“We’re going to assess our team needs and get those squared away and evaluate the markets of the NFL Draft and the pro free agency — who is out there and who is available — and set a priority of how we are going to fix this football team,” Xanders said. “We’re not where we want to be. We have to perform better, and it’s something that we definitely have a plan for.”
“We made great strides this year,” Elway said. “I expect we’re going to have a great offseason this year and be able to become a better football team coming out of this offseason and going into training camp.”
Elway, Fox and Xanders will attack the offseason with the momentum the 2011 season has created for the franchise.
And they’ll do so with the support of a fan base rejuvenated by the team’s newfound success.
“The one thing that I’m proud of is the fact that the bandwagon is now full again,” Elway said. “That thing was pretty empty last year, and the fact that we’ve been able to engage with the fans is important to us. We have such great fans here.”
“Being able to create that excitement about the Denver Broncos again,” he added, “I think is probably our biggest accomplishment this year.”