Created: 01/14/2015 9:52 AM
By: By ARNIE STAPLETON
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — John Elway and John Fox embraced as they agreed to amicably part ways.
Hugs and handshakes might not have been necessary had the Denver Broncos gone out "kicking and screaming" more often under the 59-year-old coach who's now on the job market with a 49-22 record in Denver on his resume.
Nobody had a better regular-season record in any of the last three seasons than the Broncos did with Peyton Manning at quarterback. Yet, Denver lost two first-round playoff games as heavy favorites at home and suffered a 35-point thumping in last year's Super Bowl.
Elway said Tuesday he was disappointed the Broncos didn't display "more fire" against the underdog Colts, especially coming off a bye.
"At least in that last game, you want to feel like you go out kicking and screaming when you're right there," Elway said. "And I think two years in a row it didn't feel like we went out kicking and screaming."
Still, Elway thanked Fox and said the two remained friends.
"I like John Fox as a man very much. He is a very, very good man. He's got a tremendous heart, even the new one they fixed is still tremendous. And he's a guy that I will always have a personal relationship with," Elway said. "And that relationship will always remain that way. Because I — and we, as an organization — do owe John Fox a tremendous amount because of what he did accomplish the last four years."
What they won't owe Fox is his 2015 and '16 salaries if he lands one of the other head coaching jobs that are open.
Elway said he did not press Manning for a decision on his future when they met the day after Denver's 24-13 loss to Indianapolis in the AFC divisional playoffs. He said he told the soon-to-be 39-year-old QB to take a few weeks to make his decision and "just know how much we want you back, but you need to take the time and get away from this."
"I told him in four or five weeks — I'm going to stay in touch with him — we'll get back together and see where he is because the career that he's had, what he's done not only in the NFL but in the short time he's been here with the Denver Broncos, what he's meant to us is tremendous," Elway said. "So we'll continue to monitor that. But the bottom line is we want him back, and it's going to come down to what Peyton wants to do."
With or without Manning in 2015, the Broncos have a talent-laden team ready for another playoff run, maybe behind Brock Osweiler, who's served a three-year apprenticeship under Manning.
"I feel great about our football team," Elway said. "And so the next guy, what do I look for? I look for a guy that's very smart, that's competitive, that is aching to win world championships like I am."
Elway began compiling a list of candidates Tuesday. The Broncos sought permission to speak with Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, and Elway said Broncos coordinators Jack Del Rio and Adam Gase would get a look.
Gase was interviewing in Denver with the 49ers and Del Rio in Oakland with the Raiders. Both of them were having their second interviews with those teams.
Other possibilities are Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, the former coach of the Houston Texans who was Elway's longtime backup in Denver during their playing days together.
Elway described the parting with Fox as the culmination of a disagreement over what it takes to win the Super Bowl and stuck to a statement that has lived with him since he signed Manning: "There is no Plan B. Plan A is still the same — to win a world championship."
While coaching candidates will be eager to know the quarterback's plans, Manning will certainly want to know how much things will change under a new coaching staff in 2015.
Of equal importance to Manning is figuring out whether his late-season slide was primarily due to scheme, age or health — he played with a strained thigh on his plant leg for the final month — and also whether he believes Elway can bolster his protection in free agency and the draft.
The Broncos made four changes in their offensive line during the season. But pressure, especially up the middle, was a constant concern for Manning, who needs the time and space to step into his throws post-spinal fusion surgery as more of his thrust comes from his hips than his right arm.
After spending $60 million in guarantees to bolster Denver's defense last year, Elway said he'll address his O-line this offseason.
"Having been a quarterback, he knows that I'm going to try to take care of him and that offensive line," Elway said. "We always want to protect the quarterback. I think a change in scenery for those guys might help them also and we'll do what we can do this offseason and try to help that also."
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL
(Copyright 2015 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)