Coach John Fox is watching from afar as his Denver Broncos prepare for a key AFC West battle Sunday night against the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.
In his first press conference since undergoing aortic heart valve replacement on Nov. 4, Fox told reporters on a conference call from his Charlotte, N.C., home Tuesday that key concerns related to his return to the team include flying and altitude, an interesting thought considering Denver is, after all, the Mile High City.
"I think number one right now they're just trying to make sure that I'm OK to fly," Fox said when asked about conditions doctors are discussing in relation to his eventual return to work. "There are some certain things they've got to be concerned with, with altitude, those types of things. They're just trying to make sure -- I don't know all the technicalities. As soon as I'm able to fly and they feel good about me going through the rigors of flying, then I'll be heading back to Denver."
He showed he was in good humor when asked on what kind of plane he would fly, a question probably probing whether he would use owner Pat Bowlen's Citation X, the fastest civilian aircraft, best known for fetching quarterback Peyton Manning during free agency, or a commercial airline.
"It'll be something that hopefully goes in the air and stays in the air, " he said.
Fox made it clear he is taking his health and his recovery seriously.
"I'm sitting here relaxing, to be real honest with you," he said to open the call. "I'm just now getting around to seeing the San Diego game from Sunday," he added, referring to the Broncos' 28-20 win over the Chargers.
"It always appears a bit different on the coaches' copy for sure," he said after explaining that he did watch the game on live TV as well.
"I don't think I've missed a game in about 195 or so (games). It's been awhile. I've got to admit there were parts of it I had to quit watching, but all in all, much like a bye week, the unusual part obviously was that it was actually our team playing.
"It got probably a little bit tense (watching the game live). I knew that wasn't the best thing for me at that moment."
He was asked about when Manning got hit and grabbled his ankle.
"Yeah, I don't think that I want to get into specifics," implying that the details were not family-friendly.
Fox was asked if he would have had the surgery if he weren't an NFL coach, and his reply included relating his surprise that his heart condition wasn't known earlier in his athletic career.
"Sure, there is some pressure and stress involved in coaching, but I think (there are) a lot of people out there in Denver, in this country, really around the globe, that have very pressure-packed jobs," he said. "I think our military comes to mind maybe as one of those that I don't think coaching compares to. So it wasn't the pressure of coaching or any kind of thing.
"Basically I have what they call a bicuspid aortic valve, which uses two flaps inside that valve. Most everybody is born with three flaps. It's something I was born with. Some guys that are way more popular than me -- Robin Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger -- they had similar-type valves, and they don't last your whole life. So because (of that), there is not as much surface passing through every single pump in your heart.
"So I knew it was something that was ... progressively getting worse a year ago. They thought it would last another year. Obviously I didn't make it quite to that point. Then it's not something you fool with."
Although he had a procedure scheduled, the timetable was moved up when he had some lightheadedness while golfing during the team's bye week leading up to Nov. 3.
"I think actually it was something that should have probably been discovered sooner, from all the athletics I played as a youth growing up," Fox said. "Actually they discovered it probably a little less than 20 years ago, in 1997. It comes across as a murmur. They check out what's causing that sloshy sound of a murmur, and with me it was the bicuspid aortic valve."
Asked to explain the procedure, Fox sounded like a coach going over a game or a game plan.
"With heart surgery, they basically hit you with a truck pretty fast," he said. "So you have to heal. They open up the chest cavity, they perform surgery on your heart, they put you all back together. They have to monitor things. The scariest part was the four days I was in the hospital. You're in intensive care. It's all intensive care for heart surgery. It's not like you go from one to the next. That all went good.
"There is always some scary parts to it, and I'm past those. Right now it's a matter of just doing the right thing. I've got good docs, I've got a great team in charge of me and they're doing a terrific job. I'm feeling better every day."
Fox said he was staying in touch with the team but sounded as if he is not consumed by his football job and that the Broncos were in good hands.
"I've got a pretty good team of people there that I stay in touch with on a daily basis," he said. "That's obviously been helpful for me through the rehab thing, too -- it keeps me from getting bored to death. I feel great about the people there and that everything is in at this point.
"Obviously, we've made Jack (Del Rio) the interim coach because I know I have great confidence in him. He has great leadership on the football team. I have an outstanding staff even besides Jack, so I feel good about the hands that all the football decisions are in."
He added that he definitely expects to return at some point this season.
"Oh yeah, I don't think there is any question," he said. "There's always a question -- that's why I don't like putting timelines -- but my goal and dream is to be there obviously before the conclusion of this season."