ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Denver Broncos coach John Fox returned to work Monday from what he called “the longest bye week in history.”

“Really, the hardest part was watching the team play and not being there,” Fox said upon his return just four weeks after undergoing open-heart surgery in North Carolina.

Fox had hoped to put off aortic valve replacement surgery until after the Super Bowl but fell ill while golfing with friends near his offseason home in Charlotte on Nov. 2 during the Broncos’ bye. He underwent surgery 48 hours later.

Fox missed the toughest stretch of the season. During his absence, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio guided the Denver Broncos (10-2) into first place in the AFC West by winning three of four games.

They won at San Diego and swept Kansas City, and in Del Rio’s words, came “within an eyelash” of going 4-0. They lost 34-31 in overtime at New England two weeks ago.

Fox has no restrictions, but it’s likely that he’ll coach from the booth and not the sideline against Tennessee next weekend.

VIDEO: Entire News Conference: John Fox Returns To Coach The Broncos

Executive Vice President John Elway presented Del Rio with a game ball after Denver’s 35-28 win at Kansas City on Sunday.

“It was special to have John Elway recognize the things I did,” Del Rio said, “but I basically want to say that is just a representation of what we all did. It wasn’t about me; it was a collective effort of all the players, coaches, trainers, equipment guys that had to pull together in Coach Fox’s absence. So now we get to welcome him back and hand him over a team that has taken care of business and is on top of the division right now.”

Although Fox officially returned to work Monday, he’s been in daily contact with Del Rio and in regular contact with captains such as quarterback Peyton Manning for the last three weeks. He kept track of the team on his iPad playbook, watching cut-ups of games and practices and helping formulate game plans.

“Other than that I was in another state, (it was) much the same as what I would have done in my office at Dove Valley,” Fox said of his involvement as he recovered from surgery.

Fox and his wife, Robin, flew home on team owner Pat Bowlen’s jet on Wednesday and at Del Rio’s suggestion he visited with the team on Thanksgiving morning. He also Skyped with his team during a team meeting a couple of weeks ago.

Fox seemed like his old self Monday during an unusually long chat with reporters. Despite a slightly scratchy voice at times, he seemed more energetic than he had been before his surgery and the color in his face seemed better, too.

“As my surgeon said, I had a valve that was the size of a pinhead and now it’s the size of a 50-cent piece. I feel tremendous,” he said. “Obviously, the doctors feel good about me getting back to work. I actually would have preferred to be back sooner, but there was a pretty hard deadline of four weeks post-surgery and I honored that and here I am.”

By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)\


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