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Elway cites Fox's 'football wisdom' in hiring new Broncos coach

John Fox turned around a bumbling team before. The Denver Broncos are counting on him to do it again.

Fox was picked over four other candidates to replace Josh McDaniels, who was fired Dec. 6 amid the Broncos' worst slide in four decades and an embarrassing videotaping scandal.

The lost season led to a restructuring of the front office and the return of Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway as chief football executive. On Thursday, Elway signed Fox, the 55-year-old former Carolina Panthers coach to a four-year contract.

"For what this building needed, John Fox was the perfect fit for us," Elway said Thursday night outside Broncos headquarters before zipping off in his Bentley.

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"The one thing I saw in John he had great football wisdom," Elway added. "And I think that comes with the experience that he has. But not only does he have it on the defensive side, but overall his football wisdom is what won us over."

Elway broke the news of Fox's hiring on Twitter in keeping with the organization's new emphasis on transparency as it tries to reconnect with a disenchanted fan base. Fox will be formally introduced as coach Friday in a 2 p.m. ET news conference.

Fox told Broncos TV that he felt a chemistry with the team's front office from the beginning of the process.

"Their vibe and my vibe just meshed. It was the same experience I had early on when I tried to get my first head-coaching job in Carolina," Fox said. "That's always the thing. It's not just trying to get a head job; it's trying to get the right one. You want to match philosophically with what they want to get done, and I think all through background, to offense to defense, how to restructure the roster, all those things, everything just fit."

And his task seems as high and steep as the biggest peaks in the Rocky Mountains.

The Broncos are coming off a franchise-worst 4-12 season, own the second overall pick in the draft and are in need of a major overhaul -- much like the Panthers were when Fox arrived in 2002 following a 1-15 season.

Fox led the Panthers to a 7-9 mark in his first year before guiding them to the Super Bowl in his second season.

"I think the rebuild probably is going to require a little bit more on defense than offense, but you know, I think I have a blueprint that we executed in Carolina, and I don't see any reason why it wouldn't work here in Denver," Fox said before his interview with the Broncos on Wednesday.

Fox went 78-74 including playoffs in nine seasons with the Panthers, who didn't renew his contract following an NFL-worst 2-14 season in 2010.

Fox arrived in Denver on Wednesday to meet with Elway after his flight out of North Carolina was delayed three times by winter weather. Fox was the fifth and final candidate interviewed, and his sit-down lasted 90 minutes longer than the others'.

Broncos general manager Brian Xanders said the interview lasted 5½ hours, followed by a dinner with him, Elway and Fox that lasted just as long at Elway's Steakhouse.

"The more he talked, the more football wisdom came out in terms of different situations," Xanders told The Associated Press. "Running the defense, the offense, the nine years of head-coach experience came out in his answers. And then his personality, his energy and positive outlook fit the Broncos model."

In the Broncos' new organizational structure, Elway oversees Xanders, who's in charge of roster-building, and Fox, who's in charge of the team.

"We spent some time at dinner, a long dinner after the interview, and the more we talked, the more matched up we felt," Xanders said. "We fit in with each other."

Broncos president Joe Ellis told The AP that he couldn't pick one thing he liked most about Fox.

"Everything. Energy. Enthusiasm. Wisdom. Tremendous connections throughout the league," Ellis said. "He did a great presentation on his whole scheme, his whole plan. He's turned it around before, when he was in Carolina. Great reputation as a head coach. I just think all of his experience. And then you look at where his real background was throughout football: on the defensive side.

"I think we were really pleased that John Elway made a special emphasis to get consistent and good on defense, and John Fox is going to help us do that."

A one-time assistant under Chuck Noll, Fox spent 13 years as a defensive coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Rams and New York Giants, including seven seasons as coordinator, before taking over the Panthers, who owned the league's worst defense.

In his first season in Carolina, the Panthers rose all the way to No. 2 in defense, the biggest turnaround since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

"It's a good thing that he's a defensive-minded coach; that will really help the defense," linebacker Joe Mays said. "It's also good that he's a proven head coach, as well. I think it's a good hire."

"He's had success in the past," wide receiver Eric Decker said, "so why not here?"

Although Broncos running backs coach Eric Studesville and New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell had interim head-coaching experience, Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter had college head-coaching experience and Houston Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison spent 24 years with the Broncos as a player and an assistant, none of them had the credentials of Fox.

Fox's Carolina teams posted three 11-win seasons, won two NFC South titles and went 5-3 in the playoffs, appearing in two conference championship games and losing to the New England Patriots in the '04 Super Bowl.

But the Panthers were inconsistent. Although his teams averaged nearly nine wins, they never posted consecutive winning seasons under Fox.

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Still, Fox touted a top-of-the-pile resume that included a road map for leading the Broncos back to respectability after a five-year playoff drought.

"It's not my first rodeo, so to speak," Fox said Wednesday. "So, I think I do have a blueprint to do it."

The team's top priority is fixing the last-place defense, which will be the focus of the draft, and Fox said he wouldn't have a problem if the Broncos want to stick with the 3-4 defensive scheme they have employed since 2009 even though he mostly used a 4-3 look in Carolina.

Xanders said the scheme won't be decided until a defensive coordinator is hired.

That hire might be former Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons coach Jim Mora, a league source told NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora. Before becoming a head coach, Mora was the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers from 1999 to 2003. He's now an NFL Network analyst.

La Canfora also reported, via a league source, that Washington Redskins special teams coach Danny Smith is a candidate to take the same job with the Broncos.

Fox asked the Redskins for permission to interview Smith last year, when the coach was seeking a new special teams coordinator in Carolina. The Redskins blocked the request, according to sources, but Smith declined to sign an extension with Washington and in essence will be a coaching free agent.

Fox also has strong ties to Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy since the two worked together in Carolina.

McCoy already has one year working with Tim Tebow, and it would be logical for Fox to keep some of the offensive staff because the quarterback's development is so vital to the Broncos.

Elway said last week when he was hired as the team's new chief football executive that his new coach should be willing to work with the rookie quarterback. And Fox said he's a big believer in the former University of Florida star, who started in Denver's last three games.

"I know he'll do whatever it takes to be a great player," Fox said Wednesday. "He's got a lot of the intangibles I look for, and where that goes, it's hard to predict. He's in the development stage for sure, but I think he has the makings to be as good as he wants to be."

Tebow didn't stop to speak with reporters on his way out of Dove Valley on Thursday, but he later tweeted: "Welcome to Denver Coach Fox! Can't wait to get to work with you!!!"

Fox met with some members of the holdover staff Thursday after agreeing to take over the Broncos, but there was no announcements on if any of them would stay.

"There's been no decisions in that area yet," Fox said.

Studesville went 1-3 after being promoted from running backs coach when McDaniels was fired and provided the foundering franchise with a much-needed breath of fresh air. Studesville would like to stay on if Fox will have him. However, he told The AP on Thursday that he didn't know what his next move was.

"But I would like to tell the organization and fans that they are first class," Studesville said, "and I appreciated every second of it."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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