Most people with an interest in the Superbowl know by now that the Panthers and the Broncos are the two teams John Fox coached in his career before coming to the Bears this past season. There are far more links between the three franchises than Fox's tenure in Carolina and Denver.
Fox was replaced by each of his two previous employers by the Superbowl coaches, Ron Rivera after the 2010 season in Carolina and Gary Kubiak this year. They are both in their first Superbowl as a head coach.
Both Kubiak and Rivera have played and coached as coordinators in the Superbowl. Rivera was on the Bears Superbowl XX Champions and was the defensive coordinator for the Bears 2006 NFC Champions. Kubiak's Superbowl appearances were as a backup Quarterback to John Elway in the 1980's (he and Rivera missed each other in the Superbowl by a year) and as the defensive coordinator under Mike Shanahan's back to back Superbowl winning teams following the 1997 and '98 seasons.
Fox's departure from Denver was largely due to lack of postseason success. His regular season record in Denver was 46-18, but only 3-4 in the postseason. Two of those four losses came in the divisional round with Manning.
Speaking to the Sun-Times, Elway commented at Superbowl Media Night why replacing Fox with Kubiak was the right move.
“This is why we made the decision. This was the idea to get better and get past the first round."
In Carolina, Fox's Panthers went 5-3 in the postseason. Included was an upset of the Bears at Soldier Field after the 2005 season. Current Raven Steve Smith destroyed the Bears with 12 catches for 218 yards and two touchdowns. Kubiak was Smith's offensive coordinator in Baltimore in 2014. After Fox was fired in Denver, Kubiak replaced him coming from Baltimore and Kubiak was replaced in Baltimore by Marc Trestman who Fox replaced.
Plenty of key players remain on both rosters from the Fox tenures. He also coached players in Denver and Carolina that had previously or would in the future play for the Bears.
Fox's Carolina Tenure
Fox's last starting Quarterback in Carolina was then rookie Jimmy Clausen. He inherited Clausen as Jay Cutler's backup with the Bears. The Bears subsequently released Clausen during the season. The Panthers 2-14 2010 season landed them the number one pick in the draft. They used that pick to get Cam Newton.
The only other player with any significance under Fox that is left in Carolina from Fox's tenure is five time pro-bowl center Ryan Kalil.
Fox's Denver Tenure
His influence in Denver is far greater. The Broncos advanced the to divisional round of the playoffs in Fox's first year with Tim Tebow at Quarterback. Denver signed Peyton Manning in the 2012 off-season. In the three years of the Fox, Manning the Broncos went 38-8. They won three divisional titles, two regular season conference titles and advanced to the Superbowl following the 2013 season.
The last two seasons former Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase ran the offense in Denver. In 2013, Manning the the Broncos offense broke a plethora NFL records. These included Manning setting the record for passing yards and touchdowns in the same season.
Ron Rivera Bears Connections
The Bears have a number of significant connections to the Panthers independent from Fox. Rivera played his entire nine year career with the Bears. He was a backup for most of that time, but started 44 of 48 games from 1988-90. He had an interception return for a touchdown in the 1985 championship season.
Rivera worked for WGN radio and the now defunct Sportschannel as a Bears and college football analyst from the 1993-96 seasons. Rivera joined the Bears coaching staff for the 1997 season as the defensive quality control coach. He spent two seasons in that role before leaving for Philadelphia to become the linebacker coach for five seasons.
Rivera returned to the Bears as defensive coordinator from 2004-06. The defense went from 21st in yards and 13th in points allowed in 2004 to second and first in 2005 and fifth and third in 2006. They also improved from 16th to sixth to first in takeaways in his three seasons leading the defense. He helped bring the Monsters back to the midway.
Rivera left following the 2006 season after the Bears advanced to their second Superbowl in franchise history. He lost out in a power struggle with former Bears Head Coach Lovie Smith.
The Bears would only have two comparable seasons defensively under Smith without Rivera in the six seasons after he left. Smith was fired following the 2012 season. Rivera was an assistant in San Diego for four seasons before taking over in Carolina for the 2011 season. After losing to Smith twice head to head against the Bears, the Panthers swept the season series in each of the last two seasons with Smith in Tampa.
Panthers-Bears Player Connections
Three former Bears players have played a role in the Panthers magical 2015 season. Tight End Greg Olsen spent the first four seasons of his career in Chicago. After Olsen spent one year under former Bears Offensive coordinator Mike Martz, he was shipped to Carolina following the 2010 season. Martz didn't utilize tight ends in his offense. Olsen has been second team all-pro each of the last two seasons.
Charles Tillman is one of the greatest Bears of all-time. He holds numerous Bears defensive records and ranks highly in NFL defensive records. Some consider him the greatest player in NFL history at forcing fumbles.
In Carolina Olsen has become a premiere target and the elite tight end the Bears saw when they drafted out of Miami in 31st in the 2007 NFL Draft. Olsen has 348 receptions for 4,311 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Jared Allen's tenure as a Bear was short lived. He last only 18 games in a Bears uniform. He was brought in to replace Julius Peppers. Allen didn't fit into new Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's 3-4 defense. He was traded to Carolina two games into this season. Allen recorded just 5.5 sacks and one interception in a Bears uniform. Allen had 15 tackles, 12 assists and two sacks as a situational pass rusher for the Panthers this season.
Peppers has 17.5 sacks and two interceptions in his two seasons in Green Bay. Both of the int's went for pick sixes. Peppers has 2.5 sacks against the Bears as a Packer. The irony is that Peppers joined the Bears after eight years in Carolina. He is the Panthers all-time leader with 81 sacks. He had 12 as a rookie on the Panthers first superbowl team in 2002.
Fox lead both the Panthers and Broncos to the Superbowl in his third season at each stop. He will have one more season to reshuffle the roster and keep the Bears improving if they are going to reach that goal in 2017.
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