DENVER - Here's an underappreciated aspect of following the Broncos around:

Small talk with John Fox.

Fox, the head coach, is a Hall of Famer at small talk. In the NFL offseason, topics tend to vary from the better golf courses he's played lately to the fishiest fishing holes he's found on the Carolina coast.

"They've got some good redfishing over there," Fox said, making small talk, as players hustled through drills during a June practice.

Call me a simpleton. But when a man identifies a place by its fishing opportunities, I can relate to that man.

Fox might be the most relate-able millionaire in Colorado. His Broncos open training camp at Dove Valley on Thursday.

Unless you wear a striped shirt and carry a yellow flag, Fox comes across as utterly human. His just-a-guy demeanor fits in on the Front Range, in his third season with the Broncos, just as comfortably as it did in the South, in nine seasons with the Panthers.

Fox would make a great neighbor.

"Good luck with your barbecue. Do they actually serve you barbecue?" Fox asked at the team's annual media cookout Wednesday. "I thought I was the barbecue."

Here's the rub: Fox isn't coaching the Broncos because he's a great neighbor.

He's coaching them because the Broncos are expected to play in the Super Bowl, and the front office believes Fox is the right coach to guide them there.

"I've been to a lot of horse races where I've seen a lot of favorites not win, so you have to take care of things between those lines," he said. "Everybody in that building understands that."

Fox is the 14th coach of the Broncos. No one has a better winning percentage (22-13, .629).

Since Pat Bowlen became majority owner in 1984, the Broncos have won 276 games in the regular season. Only the 49ers have won more (283).

And I think, at least in my lifetime, no Broncos coach has entered a season with more pressure to reach the Super Bowl than Fox.

That's unsettling to write because Fox is the kind of coach - the kind of dude - you'd like to see coaching the Broncos for a long, long time.

It was sort of this way for Fox in Carolina, too. His first two seasons were outstanding and followed a time in franchise history that wasn't so outstanding.

When Fox arrived at Carolina, the Panthers had lost 15 straight games. Fox promptly met with the players on the roster and told them they were "soft."

That's small talk with a purpose.

His first season, they went 7-9, a figure that doesn't look so hot now but was downright remarkable after 15 straight losses. His next season, Carolina reached the Super Bowl.

Fox remained popular in Carolina for longer than most coaches remain popular in one city. Near the end, the label of being too conservative followed him like an ornery shadow.

Fox still owns a home in Carolina, on the golf course at Quail Hollow, and he returned there to play in a pro-am golf tournament this offseason.

He carried a Broncos bag, wore a Broncos shirt, and fans roared his name. They still dig him there. It's hard not to.

"Coach Fox, you know he's always going to have your back," veteran Champ Bailey said.

Carolina has had only four winning records in 18 seasons. Fox coached three of them.

Denver has had 25 seasons with a .500 record or better since John Elway came in 1983.

So there won't be an extended honeymoon in Colorado, not like there was in Carolina. The honeymoon here ended about when Peyton Manning took a knee on a frigid night in January.

On Wednesday, the first time he's met with media since the Von Miller bombshell, Fox divulged little of substance about how the Broncos will handle the star linebacker as he awaits an appeal for reportedly violating the NFL drug code.

Until the appeal is heard by the NFL, Miller will continue to practice with the first-team defense, Fox said. That's about all he said.

I can already tell you what Fox will say if Miller is suspended for four games:

"Next man up."

For a man so keen on small talk, there's more Belichick in a Fox news conference than you might suspect. In that setting, Fox tries to be boring and says plenty without saying anything.

"I'm not going to get into things that I address or don't address with the team," Fox said in a thick media scrum.

Fox is very good at being boring.

He's better at being himself. He's better at small talk.


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