Broncos coach ‘proven’ this time

Say hello to the anti-Josh.

Two years ago, the Denver Broncos took the risky route and hired a 32-year-old named Josh McDaniels, who was all about youthful possibility. We all know how that one turned out. It wasn’t the worst head-coach hire in NFL history, but it was close.

Thursday, the Broncos took the safe route and hired 55-year-old John Fox, a gray-headed NFL journeyman. This is a wise, if not overwhelming, first move by team guru John Elway as he seeks to rescue the Broncos from the humiliations of the McDaniels era.

“He’s a dynamic and proven leader,” Elway said via Twitter. Notice the key word in Elway’s description. That word is “proven.”

Yes, Fox was fired New Year’s Eve by the Carolina Panthers after a 2-14 finish that was, against all odds, even worse than the Broncos’ campaign. But he directed the Carolina Panthers to two NFC title games and one Super Bowl during nine seasons, and he finished 12-4 as recently as 2008.

He’s not the mega-celebrity — Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden — many fans hoped for, but he owns the skills to revive the Broncos. And we all know how much the Broncos need reviving. Fox walks in the door at the lowest point in Broncos history.

Still, there’s hope. I was talking with Colorado Springs resident Forrest Gregg last month about the state of the Broncos. Gregg won six NFL titles as an offensive lineman for the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys, and Vince Lombardi called him the best player he ever coached.

Gregg understands what it takes to win in the NFL, and he believes the Broncos can return to the top, or at least near the top. He said Colorado fans and owner Pat Bowlen expect to win and expectations are crucial to lifting a team. In many NFL destinations, Gregg said, the fans and the owner hope to win, but don’t truly expect excellence.

So, the expectations are there. Now, the task of restoring life to a ravaged roster begins.

You can expect Fox to install an aggressive defense, which emphasizes hassling the passer. Patience will be required as Fox places his stamp on the Broncos’ defense, which surrendered 462 points in 2010, including 59 to the ever-mangy Oakland Raiders.

You can expect Fox to wisely handle clashes with players and assistant coaches. He’s been around a long time, and he won’t hit the eject button whenever someone disagrees with him.

This is in stark contrast to McDaniels, who banished quarterback Jay Cutler, running back Peyton Hillis and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan during his brief reign. McDaniels was not prepared for the complex responsibilities of directing an entire team.

Fox is prepared. He’s a mature leader who expertly summarized himself as he prepared for his interview with Elway.

“It’s not my first rodeo,” he said.

Fox is not about possibility. He’s already taken a team to the Super Bowl. He lifted a franchise from the bottom to near the top of the NFL.

This is a coach who has proven himself.

Unlike that last guy.