Bernstein: The Obfuscating Start Of The John Fox Era

By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago.com senior columnist

(CBS) Bears coach John Fox was asked in March how long it would take to shape a loser into a winner, seeing how much work needed to be done.

When last seen at that time, the offense was a discombobulated hash of telegraphed screen passes and check-down flips to an overworked tailback. The defense was setting all-time franchise records for futility, again. Then everybody got fired.

Enter Fox, a guy who says he dislikes providing timetables regarding injuries because they give critics too much opportunity to hold him to such assessments. Yet that didn’t stop him from answering that key question with a bit of predictive bravado.

“I am kind of a guy that would rather understate and overproduce,” he said. “I think it will be sooner than later.”

Those statements conflict with each other, despite being uttered consecutively.

First, just the act of saying the former serves to nullify its meaning, because anybody who actually operates that way couldn’t possibly benefit by making it known. Telling the world how he calibrates his public statements reduces the idea to nothing more than a coach-speak humblebrag, only to be factored appropriately into our understanding of what he says later. We can adjust for his comments, then, assuming he’s trying to understate. Second, to follow that kind of self-congratulation directly with such clearly expressed optimism was curious, to say the least, because that sentence immediately undermined the veracity of the previous one.

No matter, it’s likely that things looked different to him at the owners’ meetings months ago than they do now. Performance provides its own evidence, independent of words and imposed secrecy. Blocks and tackles are made or they are not. Passes are defended or completed.

Ball don’t understate.

Fox’s team is ravaged by injury. His wide receivers are gone, replaced by ciphers. The Bears are woefully thin at defensive tackle, raw and confused in the defensive backfield. The offensive line is already in flux due primarily to apparent incompetence at both tackle positions.

The most recent first-round pick could miss the entire season, and of the three before that, only one of them can play. Years of bad drafting can only be remedied by years of good drafting, with no way to begin to judge fairly the new general manager’s first crop. So if this is what Fox’s idea of “sooner” looks like, one can only imagine the sheer horror of “later.”

When he was hired, Fox described himself as “brutally honest,” which is clearly so far from the case that it’s an irony in and of itself. He proudly admits to obfuscation over player injuries, something that has become his stage for theatrical Stengel-ese. And as noted, he opened his Bears career by acknowledging that he will purposely undersell his team when asked about it.

Let’s take the optimistic view, then, that this is all part of the brilliant Fox plan, that his entire tenure to this point has been a long-form understatement to set up the kind of overproduction that will make believers of us all, that he started working his magic in OTAs to spring these new-look Bears on the doubters.

The off-field news regarding Ray McDonald and Jeremiah Ratliff, the multiple and nebulous injury diagnoses, all the undeveloped or under-developed talent and their struggles to compete properly in exhibitions are just enough to keep expectations low for the big payoff.

Or perhaps his time horizon is next season. Or 2017.

“Sooner than later.”

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s “Boers and Bernstein Show” in afternoon drive. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein and read more of his columns here.

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