- Associated Press - Monday, November 4, 2013

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — One of John Fox’s favorite sayings is “Next man up.”

Whenever a starter goes out, his replacement needs to step right in and keep things rolling.

This time, that next man up is defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who’s in charge of the Denver Broncos while their head coach recovers from heart surgery.

While Del Rio was running his first practice as the Broncos interim coach Monday, Fox was in the recovery room at Carolinas HeathCare System’s Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute in Charlotte, N.C., after having his aortic valve replaced in an operation he had hoped to delay until after the Super Bowl.

“We all wish him a speedy recovery. The best way that we could honor him is to go out and play great football,” Del Rio said after taking over a 7-1 team that’s the prohibitive Super Bowl favorite even though the Broncos trail the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs (9-0) in their own division.

Fox’s wife, Robin, issued a statement through the team that said Fox’s operation went well and he was being monitored in the hospital’s post-operative critical care unit.

“Along with his medical team, we will take great care of him so he can fully recover and get back to coaching the Broncos as soon as possible,” she said.

Del Rio, who spent nearly nine seasons as Jacksonville’s head coach before joining Fox’s staff last year, said he’s honored to serve as caretaker of Fox’s team.

“We’re on a mission to carry on and continue the things that Coach Fox has instilled and started with this football team,” Del Rio said. “This is Coach Fox’s team. I’m merely the person that’s able to keep it running right now while he’s healing.”

Players aren’t expecting any change with Del Rio in charge, either — OK, maybe a scowl here or a tongue-lashing there, but nothing substantively different.

“Nothing changes,” wide receiver Bubba Caldwell said. “It’s just a different co-pilot. It’s just a different guy saying the same words.”

Fox’s health scare is the latest blow to a team that’s faced one road block after another. Elvis Dumervil left via a fax foul-up. All-Pro linebacker Von Miller tried to game the NFL drug-testing system. Two team executives were suspended following drunken driving arrests. And Ryan Clady, Peyton Manning’s blindside protector, lasted just two games after signing a $57.5 million contract.

Still, the Broncos are averaging 43 points a game. So, it’s easy to see why Executive Vice President John Elway isn’t bemoaning his team’s run of misfortune.

“No, because I think we’ve got a good football team. For us to get where we want to go we’re going to have a bunch more bumps, too,” Elway said. “I think you learn from each bump. It makes you tougher. It makes us tougher as an organization. It makes us tough as a team and all that can do is help us. …

“I think the best thing is this is good for John Fox in the fact that he’s going to be able to get healthy and we’ll continue this thing on the tracks until he gets back.”

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