Fox, Carroll not so different after all

Carr, who'd spend a lot of time with Carroll on football weekends, once landed a promotion by rattling off some of his motivational sayings during a job interview. "Do it better than it's ever been done before," was something Carroll liked to say.

Carr was present when Carroll had a "chin-off" with Jay Leno, and was there for Carroll's final news conference at USC. They walked out together, and talked about the great times they'd had. Carroll said he'd miss it.

"He thought the NFL was competing at the highest level," Carr says. "This is a guy whose whole philosophy is competing, and he wanted to get back to that level."

FOX'S ENERGY IS BACK TO ITS NORMAL LEVEL: FULL

Bob LaMonte, agent to numerous high-profile coaches, answers the phone on a recent weekday and says that this might be the first time someone has asked him something about Fox besides contract numbers. He has been Fox's agent for 16 years.

There was a moment, after the AFC Championship Game two weekends ago, that nobody saw. LaMonte met Fox in his private locker room. They shared a hug because Fox was going back to the Super Bowl for the first time in a decade.

"Thank God we're here," LaMonte said. "Thank God you're alive."

Fox couldn't have agreed more.

A couple of months ago, during the Broncos' bye week, he was lying on the ground at a golf course, unable to breathe because of a defective aortic valve. LaMonte had talked to him earlier in the week. They talk every week. He knew that Fox eventually was going to have to have the valve fixed; it just wasn't supposed to be so dire so soon.

LaMonte's phone rang before the news hit the wire, and Fox's wife Robin called shortly after that, saying he was in the hospital. In hindsight, LaMonte said, there were warning signs. For the past year or so, Fox wasn't completely himself. He was tired. All coaches are tired in-season, but this seemed different. He was moving at a slower speed.

After his surgery, LaMonte says, Fox is like "a newborn baby." His body is working perfectly, and he's energized, feels younger, and looks better. He's back to being the old John Fox.

"Can you imagine that he was lying on a golf course, near death, and then two months later he won the AFC Championship?" LaMonte says. "John is such a positive guy. That's why the players love him. He's very much a manager of people, a morale booster as a coach. He's got one of the most engaging personalities you'll ever find."

PETE CARROLL ISN'T SELFISH

Back in Ames, Randall will be watching Sunday, and so will his customers from The Salon. The shop does haircuts mostly, but doesn't do nails. Randall dealt with enough fungus in his days with athletes.

What else can he say about Fox and Carroll? That they were only at Iowa State for a season, six years apart. It seems hard now to imagine Carroll surviving in the wind-whipped Plains. But he fit in perfectly. He was like one of the players. Jim Williams, the only assistant to coach with both Fox and Carroll, says Carroll reminded him of a California surfer.

Some coaches, Williams says, have one eye on their current job and the other on their future job. But Carroll wasn't like that. He was going to do the best he could for the people signing his checks. Even then, he was beyond optimistic.

"If we were out working out in the rain," Williams says, "he'd say, 'That's great. The corn will grow and the grass will grow.' He did everything like it was the Fourth of July."

His memories of Fox are a little more fuzzy. He was a solid coach, Williams says. A good teacher. He had a good plan and worked well with others. And then, like Carroll, he was gone.

"I didn't know [Fox] as well," Williams says. "To imagine those two guys winding up opposing each other in the Super Bowl kind of blows your mind. What are the odds of that happening?"

ESPN Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold contributed to this story.

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