Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Super Bowl coaches take advantage of second chances

Of all the comebacks, his was the biggest. Of all the second chances, his was the most dramatic.

After all, John Fox came back from the brink of dying.

He was in trouble. Fox knew that much. He was light-headed, and the back of his throat burned as if there were candles inside. His lips had turned purple. There on the 14th hole of Quail Hollow, he sank to his knees.

Fox gasped for each breath as if it were his last. Looking back, each might have been. He struggled to maintain consciousness because, as he said, if he passed out, who knew if he was coming back?

"When I was on my knees on the golf course, I remember praying to God," Fox said later. " 'You get me out of this, and I'll get it fixed.' That's how scary it was. It was like being smothered. I couldn't breathe."

You want to talk about saving the day? You want to talk about pulling one out of the fire?

That's what Fox did that day 11 weeks ago. There is no fresh-set-of-downs metaphor here. There is no saving the day in sudden death overtime. This was the real deal. Fox was in trouble.

After all, he had put off having a procedure to fix his problem with a heart aorta for so long. In those moments, Fox thought about that, too. Doctors had discovered that he was missing an aorta back in 1997, when Fox was an assistant coach with the New York Giants. And Fox put it off. This year, doctors finally told him it was time to have it fixed. And Fox put it off until after the Super Bowl.

"A dumb medical move," as he would later sum it up.

Two days after his collapse, Fox had surgery to correct his condition. It took him a month to recover, but since then, Fox has embraced his job with the passion of a man who almost lost it. Certainly, it is the finest comeback by a Super Bowl coach since Dan Reeves came back a few weeks following quadruple bypass surgery.

"Basically, I wasn't getting any oxygen," Fox said. "It wasn't a heart attack. That was misreported. It's really called aortic stenosis, which means you're kind of smothering. Luckily, I was able to get the blood flow perked up a little bit so I did get oxygen, and I was blessed to be around a couple of good friends and some good docs."

Most coaches who reach the Super Bowl can appreciate the journey. But Fox appreciates it better than most. After almost losing it all, how can he not?

Fox is 58, after all, a time when a man notices how green the grass is, and not just the stuff in the end zone. There is nothing like a near-death experience to heighten the senses, to sharpen the viewpoint.

Oh, Fox will tell you he doesn't think about his collapse very often. He pronounces himself healthy again.

"I really don't think about it that much now," Fox said. "The first four days, I thought about it a little bit, because it was like being hit by a truck."

For Fox, it was a stern lesson about heeding medical advice.

The thing is, however, a lot of coaches rely on second chances to get to the Super Bowl. No, not the near-death type. The football type.

Consider: Tom Coughlin was on his second NFL head coaching job when he won his Super Bowls. So was Bill Belichick. Jon Gruden. Dick Vermeil.

There is something about coaching that can lead a man to learn as he goes along. Oh, and there is something about it that demands a coach couples with the proper quarterback, too.

Take, for instance, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who wasn't thought of particularly highly when he coached the Patriots and Jets. He was considered soft, and some of his tactics — team bowling, a basketball court — were the butt of jokes. The Jets fired him after one season … to hire Rich Kotite.

Now? Now Carroll looks like one of the smartest kids on the block.

"I found out over time I saw things a little differently than other guys," Carroll said. "Through the years, the biggest change was after I was fired at New England. I sat out one season, and in that time, I had a chance to sit back and kick into a real competitive mode.

"I had schools that I called and they didn't want anything to do with me."

In the end, USC did. And Carroll reinvented himself as a successful college coach. Once he jumped to the Seahawks, he seemed more grounded.

Fox is that way, too. Once, he led the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl. But his welcome wore thin, and eventually, he was fired.

In Denver, with Peyton Manning, he has been much smarter.

Sometimes, it happens with a second chance. That's true if it happens on a football field.

Sometimes, it's true if it happens on a golf course, too.

Gary Shelton can be reached at [email protected]

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