At 59, John Fox is the Bears’ oldest head coach since George Halas retired at 72 after the 1967 season and the oldest head coach the Bears have hired since long-time assistant Paddy Driscoll was promoted at 60 in 1956.
Fox, the former Broncos coach whom the Bears hired Friday, is the sixth-oldest head coach in the NFL. He turns 60 on Feb. 8.
But age isn’t really the issue with the enthusiastic and energetic Fox. When Broncos general manager John Elway lauded Fox’s “exuberance … energy” Tuesday after mutually parting ways, he also acknowledged that “he never lost that.”
Still, Fox’s age only came into play in 2013, when he missed four games after undergoing open-heart surgery for aortic stenosis. Expected to miss several weeks, he returned in a month and led the Broncos to the Super Bowl.
Fox was golfing in Charlotte, N.C. during the Broncos’ bye week last Nov. 2, when he began struggling to breathe and fell to his knees.
“It was a little bit scary for a minute. It was like getting hit by a truck,” Fox said at last year’s Super Bowl. “Basically I wasn’t getting any oxygen. It wasn’t a heart attack. It was more like suffocating more than anything else. 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.”
Two days later, Fox had the surgery to replace the aortic valve. The Broncos were 7-1 at the time.
“It was something I was born with — a bicuspid aortic valve,” Fox explained. “It was something I monitored — actually they found it here when I was working with the Giants [in 1997, as defensive coordinator] in one of our annual physicals.
“But it was one of those things where it was going to have to get fixed at some point. If it hadn’t happened kind of an emergency type of way … I’d be looking at having that [after Super Bowl XLVIII).
“I was very blessed, had a great team of doctors; I was in a familiar surrounding with docs and hospitals that I knew and trusted.”
Fox returned to work on Dec. 2 — exactly four weeks after the surgery. The Broncos went 3-1 under interim coach Jack Del Rio.
“I thought it was pretty much like any injury of a player,” Fox said. “I was going to be [out] four to five weeks; I made it back a little early, worked hard to get back. Really once that started, I never really gave it a second thought. I had a plan and we executed the plan, and just like I tell players, sometimes setbacks are setups for better things to come.”
At a Super Bowl week press conference last year with counterpart Pete Carroll — the forever-young Seahawks coach who sets the standard for energetic 60-somethings — Fox said his open-heart surgery was “like a sprained ankle,” which drew a memorable response from Carroll.
“What a stud,” Carroll said with typical excitement. “He’s comparing an open-heart surgery and being on his back to an ankle sprain. Congratulations on that. That’s really amazing. C’mon, John. That’s awesome.”