Broncos coach has lots of experience against Saints
When the New Orleans Saints go against the Denver Broncos on Sunday night in Sports Authority Field, a familiar face will be patrolling the home team’s sideline.
For nearly a decade, from 2002-10, no one coached more games — or had more success — against the Saints than Broncos’ second-year coach John Fox when he was with the Carolina Panthers.
In his nine seasons with the Panthers, Fox crafted an 11-7 record against the Saints during their twice-yearly meetings as NFC South rivals until he was fired following the 2010 season.
Fox was 5-3 against former Saints coach Jim Haslett from 2002-05 and 6-4 against Sean Payton, one of his closest friends dating to their time together on the New York Giants’ staff. Fox was the defensive coordinator, while Payton ran the offense for Jim Fassel from 1999-2001.
Fox’s familiarity with the Saints and their personnel is one of the reasons interim coach Joe Vitt was concerned when discussing Sunday night’s matchup with the Broncos.
“John Fox knows us very well, and quite frankly, it’s a head coach that we’ve struggled with in our division,” Vitt said. “I think Carolina, when he was there, was the only team we were sub-.500 against.”
The 57-year-old Fox quickly downplayed the fact he knows the Saints well by countering that Vitt and his staff are aware of what he likes to do as a result of their previous encounters.
“There’s familiarity, but that works both ways,” Fox said on a conference call earlier this week. “I get asked a lot about division opponents, even the second time around playing them (each year).
“I think that can work in either camp. I know I have great respect for their organization and their team having competed against them a bunch. Like always, every week is a tough experience.”
Fox, however, has had the Saints’ number almost from the start.
Taking over a team that went 1-15 in 2001, he lost his first game against the Saints in 2002 before posting a 10-6 upset over the Saints in the season finale to keep Haslett’s team out of the playoffs.
The Panthers finished 7-9 that season and the following year won the division title with an 11-5 mark, reaching Super Bowl XXXVIII before falling to the New England Patriots.
The likable and well-respected Fox went on to win five NFC South titles and took the Panthers back to the NFC title game in 2005 before his contract wasn’t renewed after a 2-14 finish in 2010.
He wasn’t out of work long after being scooped up by Broncos owner Pat Bowlen. Fox, who won the AFC West title in his first year there, is 11-11 in his second season in Denver and 90-86 overall for his 11-year career.
“I have a lot of respect for John,” said Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. “He has a great personality, and he’s done a great job everywhere he’s been. I thought he did an outstanding job in Carolina; he got that team to the Super Bowl.
“He’s doing a great job now. I think he and (vice president of football operations) John Elway are working great together. I don’t know a lot about the ins-and-outs behind the scenes and all that, but John Fox is a good football coach. He’s proving it again.”
On Sunday night, he’ll see if he can prove it to the Saints again after not seeing them in 2011.
“I don’t know if fun is the right word,” Fox chuckled when asked if playing them again will be a treat. “You like competing against your friends and good football teams and players.
“Maybe in its simplest form, I guess, you could say that’s fun.”