Jeff Legwold | ESPN.com
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — With Denver Broncos coach John Fox set to take a leave of absence to recover from surgery to replace a valve in his heart, the team has named defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio as its interim head coach.
It was a move many inside the organization expected given Del Rio’s experience. He was the Jacksonville Jaguars’ head coach for nine seasons until he was fired with five games remaining in the 2011 season.
Del Rio was 69-73 with Jacksonville and led the Jaguars to the playoffs twice as a wild-card team. He is expected to maintain play-calling duties with the defense while he is interim coach.
Fox, 58, will undergo aortic valve replacement surgery early this week at a hospital in Charlotte, N.C. On Saturday, Fox became dizzy while playing golf near his offseason home in the Charlotte area and was taken to a hospital, where tests revealed he couldn’t wait any longer to have the surgery.
“I sincerely appreciate all of the support from friends, Denver Broncos fans and so many around the league today,” Fox said in a statement released by the team Saturday night. “Although I am disappointed I must take some time away from the team to attend to this pre-existing health condition, I understand that it’s the right thing to do. I have great confidence in our coaches and players, who are fully committed to our goals.
“I look forward to returning to coaching as soon as possible.”
Del Rio, 50, joined Fox’s staff for the 2012 season after Dennis Allen had departed to become the Oakland Raiders‘ coach. Del Rio helped push the Broncos to the No. 4 scoring defense last season, the No. 2 defense in terms of yards allowed per game.
Even with the win over the Washington Redskins just before the bye, when they surrendered just 266 total yards, the 7-1 Broncos have not fared as well defensively this season. Hurt by a pile of injuries, they’ve surrendered four 300-yard passing games to opposing quarterbacks, including a 506-yard, five-touchdown day by the Dallas Cowboys‘ Tony Romo.
However, Broncos defensive players say they like Del Rio’s no-nonsense, straightforward approach as well as that he had a long career as a player. Del Rio played 11 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints. He also has used so many personnel groupings that the prospect of playing time has kept players engaged.
“We’ve shown them, if you give us something that helps us win, we’ll find a spot for you,” Del Rio has said. “But they have to do their part, too. They’ve got to come to work, be a good teammate, be prepared and know their responsibilities.”
Offensive coordinator Adam Gase and special-teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers will continue to oversee those units, and the Broncos could move one additional coach to the sideline on game day in Fox’s absence.
ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter contributed to this report.
- Covered Broncos for nine years for Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News
- Previously covered Steelers, Bills and Titans
- Member of Pro Football Hall of Fame Board
of Selectors since 1999