December 9, 2015

Absence makes a coach’s heart grow fonder

I don’t know Broncos coach John Fox very well. We’ve exchanged a few texts, but that’s about it. If he’s anything like me, the next few days are going to be tough. Not because of anything to do with his recovery from heart surgery, but because no coach likes being away from his team for any reason.

Believe me, I know. I’ve been there.

In 2010, I took a leave of absence as Nuggets coach to go through radiation and chemotherapy treatment for head and neck cancer. I tried to stay with the team early on in my treatment, but it quickly became very fatiguing mentally and physically. My body and my heart were tearing me in different directions. Should I try a little harder to coach or should I try a little harder to get well? Should I reach out to the coaches while I was away? Should I try to stay close to the players? I didn’t have the right answers. My body was deteriorating, so I didn’t feel like I could be very much of an influence watching them practice, so I stayed away.

My situation was obviously severe and required a lengthy recovery. From what it sounds like, Coach Fox is probably going to be able to see his team and hang out with them much sooner than I did. In the meantime, watching his team play without him is going to be difficult. The head coach has more influence than anybody else on the staff, and it’s easy to get into a mental game of “What if?” What if I did this? What if I did that? I had trouble watching our team play because if they played poorly, I didn’t know how to help. I always thought they should be playing better than they were playing. And you definitely don’t want to criticize your assistant coaches because it’s a very difficult position for them to be put in.

It’s like having a substitute teacher. You can have the best substitute in the world and the students are always going to push the envelope to do something wrong or something not as committed as when the regular teacher is there. Just looking it as a fan, the Broncos seem to have very good leadership. Fox’s absence opens up the opportunity for Peyton Manning to be more in control, which from what I see, is a good thing. It could be a situation that the Broncos can rally behind and unify behind. I like the karma of the team with the way it’s played this year . They appear to be very serious and very focused. Something like this can actually make you more serious and more focused.

The hierarchy of a football coaching staff also might make it easier because the assignments are already delegated. There’s an offensive coordinator, a defensive coordinator, a special teams coordinator, etc. Everybody already knows their role and responsibility.

The best medicine, of course, is success. If the Broncos can continue to roll, it will do wonders for Coach Fox as he works toward making a triumphant return to the sideline. I wish him the very best in his recovery.

– Coach Karl