In poker, chess and certain other endeavors, you don’t so much play the cards or the board, as play the man. In the NFL coaching fraternity, maybe it’s a little bit of both.
Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio was defensive coordinator under John Fox with the Denver Broncos and even took over as interim head coach when Fox underwent heart surgery in 2013. Also on the Denver staff were Ed Donatell (Bears defensive backs coach), Adam Gase (Bears offensive coordinator), Sam Garnes (Bears assistant DB coach), Jeff Rodgers (Bears special teams coordinator) and Jay Rodgers (Bears defensive line coach).
Staff overlaps are inevitable in a population sample the size as that of NFL coaches, but this?
Still, no one will admit to any advantages based on knowing the man, or men.
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“We had a good run together, most of the staff,” Del Rio said on Wednesday. “We know things about each other but I think it comes down to the players and what our players are prepared to execute on Sunday.”
Del Rio has been part of two staffs under Fox. Besides the one in Denver, Del Rio was Fox’s defensive coordinator in 2002 when Fox took over a woeful Carolina Panthers team that had gone 1-15 in 2001 and helped turn it around to a 7-9 mark their first year.
The Panthers won three games to open that season, proceeded to lose their next eight in a row, then finished with wins in four of their last five. Del Rio was hired the next year as Jacksonville Jaguars head coach but left with strong impressions from Fox that were reinforced during their time together in Denver.
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“Throughout it all, John was pretty steady and that’s what you need to be,” Del Rio said. “I always appreciated the environment he created for us as a staff. And the players appreciated it as well. He’s a good person, treats people right and it was always fun to come to work.”
Del Rio served as more than just Fox’s defensive coordinator. During the 2013 season, when Fox was recovering from heart surgery, it was Del Rio who stepped in as interim coach and kept the Broncos on course to a 13-3 season and trip to the Super Bowl.
“I thought he did a great job,” Fox said. “He was the logical guy, being a head coach before, and we had to make a decision on who would do that while I was recuperating. I go way back with Jack, been with him twice as far as an assistant and he did a great job in Jacksonville, so great to see he got another opportunity in Oakland.”