CHARLOTTE, N.C. — John Fox had time for anyone who wanted an autograph on a recent outing at Quail Hollow Club. Playing in the Wells Fargo Tournament’s Pro-Am, the former Panthers, Broncos and Bears coach was as jovial as ever with his hoarse voice and rosey cheeks.
Fox played in a group with pro Jamie Loveluck, and the foursome shot 59 to place just outside the top-three (the winners shot 56). Fox bought a home at Quail Hollow, situated in south Charlotte, during his nine-year run as the coach of the Panthers.
Fox is one of only three coaches to reach the Super Bowl as an NFC and AFC champion, the others being Dan Reeves and Bill Parcells. But Fox’s last stint in the NFL was a disappointing three seasons with the Bears during which they never won more than six games in a season and couldn’t get out of the NFC North cellar. He was fired by the Bears in January and replaced by Matt Nagy, and in March it was announced that Fox would join ESPN as an in-studio analyst.
In the latest entry in The MMQB’s Exit Interview series, Fox talked to me about his new gig, retirement (?) from coaching, if there are any sour grapes about how things ended in Chicago and more after finishing his round.
Jonathan Jones: We’re in the middle of OTAs, and here you are. This is the first time since what, 1988, that you haven’t had to deal with those, right?
John Fox: Well, yeah, 1989. Same thing with the draft! [This year was] my first draft I hadn’t been a part of in 28 years in the NFL. It was different. I’m still fortunate enough to have a lot of the digital video stuff, both from college and the NFL, where I can still dive into it. I still follow the draft. I didn’t want to get involved with the draft because it’s too much catch-up. So I’m starting with ESPN on May 15.
Jones: So you stayed involved because of the job and not because you just couldn’t let it go, right?
Fox: Yeah, yeah exactly. I’m getting ready to talk about football so I didn’t want to not know about the draft class.
Jones: Where are you going to be living? Charlotte, Denver, Chicago?
Fox: Well, I have a house right over on [the 14th fairway].
Jones: Wait, I thought you had that up for sale?
Fox: We had it on the market because we weren’t really sure where we wanted to be. But now we’ve put our Lake Forest (Ill.) place on the market and took this one off it.
Jones: So you’ll be based in Charlotte?
Fox: We’re still in Lake Forest because my daughter is a senior in high school. She doesn’t graduate until June, and she’s going on to SMU. We’re riding that out and have that place on the market. If we get that sold soon enough, we come here and we have a place in Marco Island, Fla. And Bristol [where ESPN is located] is good because it’s close enough.
Jones: How often will you be up there?
Fox: I’m not sure what my fall schedule will be, but it’ll be more intense. I’m just going to kind of get my feet wet. I’m going to be in studio—not doing games. And what that entails yet, I don’t know.
Jones: I know you had that health scare in 2013 that led to open-heart surgery. Since then, how do you feel?
Fox: Well, it had nothing to do with lifestyle; it was something I was born with. I knew eventually I’d have to get it fixed, and they had monitored it a long time. I probably took it up too close to the window. I’m way healthier now than I was before that.
Jones: There aren’t many guys who have coached three different teams in the NFL.
Fox: No, and you know, what came to my attention was when a friend told me no one has ever done it without sitting out a year. I went bam-bam-bam. [Editor’s note: It appears it has happened twice before. Dan Reeves did it with the Broncos, Giants and Falcons with no break in between. So did Chuck Knox with the Rams, Bills and Seahawks.] It’s been kind of neat being off. I’ve enjoyed it. Obviously the competitor in you didn’t like how it ended. I think [the Bears will] be better. What that means, I don’t know, but I know they’re better and they’re in better shape with free agency as far as money to spend and even draft picks. So that’s a bitter pill, but I understand the game; I get how it works.
Jones: Are there any sour feelings? I saw the quote where you said you “inherited a mess.” I’m not sure how many people are going to argue that anyway, but you guys weren’t able to get out of fourth in the division.
Fox: Well, it was. When we got there, it wasn’t very competitive. They were getting blown out. And I think we were competitive. The record, look, you go 6–10, 3–13 and 5–11. I’ve been around this league for 28 years. I get it. But we also inherited the [30th-ranked] defense in the league and now they’re a top-10 defense.
Jones: And they have a quarterback now.
Fox: And he went through a rookie season with 12 starts. We got to where he was plus-seven in turnover ratio, and that doesn’t happen. I’m not sure it’s ever happened with a rookie quarterback.
Jones: Did you expect one more year there?
Fox: Not really. That’s what I’m saying, I get it. I’m not happy about it, but people seldom are.
Jones: It’s somewhat ironic that John Fox, who was never the nicest guy to media, is now going to join the media.
Fox: Well, it’s a different view. When you’re the face of a franchise you’re protecting a lot of people: players, coaches, management, ownership. Niceties aren’t part of that. Putting it blunt. That’s real. I don’t think I wasn’t nice to people.
Jones: Sure, I don’t mean that. You seem like a terrific guy, but in press conferences, there’s no doubt there are more open coaches in the league than John Fox.
Fox: I always felt less was better, less was more. That’s how I was raised.
Jones: Have you shut the door on going back to coaching in the NFL?
Fox: No, I don’t think you ever shut the door on anything. I’m pretty open-minded. This is a new adventure for me. I might love it and shut my own door. I honestly don’t know. It’s just too hard to predict.
Jones: Did you get any offers for consulting?
Fox: I’ve talked to a lot of different people and there are a lot of different directions you can go, whether it’s the management side or coaching side. Right now I’m kind of enjoying some time off.
Jones: You start in less than two weeks. How do you think you’re going to do?
Fox: I have no idea. I like talking football, and I think I know a lot of football. So I think I’ll do well.
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