Emma: Year 2 Brings Transition As Fox’s Bears Continue To Build

By Chris Emma–

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — Every so often during the long NFL offseason, John Fox ships south to Florida for a fishing trip.

Sanibel Island was a highlight of Fox’s summer trek. He spends endless hours on the boat, enjoying the comforts and peace of a quiet offseason. It’s one of his greatest passions.

Twenty months ago, when Fox was dismissed as coach by John Elway and the Broncos, he could have moved down to Florida for good and called it a career. Retreating to his birthplace of Virginia Beach or childhood home of San Diego would have been nice, too. There’s great fishing on the coasts.

But Fox’s competitive fire couldn’t allow him to call it a career — not at the age of 60 and with a Super Bowl championship still to chase. The Bears came calling.

“I can’t make any promises other than I’m going to give it everything I’ve got,” Fox said at his introductory press conference back in 2015. “That trophy out there looks a little lonely.”

Inside the spacious corridors of Halas Hall is that trophy, oh, that lonely trophy. The Bears have seen some championship-level teams come short of  a title, with only 1985 as a season to celebrate. How that era of Bears only one won is a tremendous tragedy in Chicago sports.

Fox, now 61, set his sights on that trophy during his first day in Lake Forest, making that the goal for his tenure. So began his next challenge.

During his stop in Carolina, Fox led the Panthers to the Super Bowl in his second season. In Denver, the Broncos were 13-3 in his encore campaign. The Bears were simply in a different organizational place when Fox took over in January 2015 for the fired Marc Trestman.

Year 2 for Fox and the Bears brings projected organizational growth. How that will translate to wins and losses remains to be seen. I tend to see this team floating around the .500 mark with the chance to contend. That’s giving the benefit of the doubt to health.

The Bears’ greatest organizational strength is their coaching staff. Fox put together a good one. As general manager Ryan Pace stocks the roster with players who fit for Fox, the coaching staff will do its best to bring football competence. One could argue for contention this season.

This 2016 season brings a transitional phase from bottom-dweller to something more. Fox has a reputation as a franchise-builder, and the foundation was set last season. It didn’t reveal in results, but the Bears realized the beginning of something.

“I felt what he brought last year, what we’re capable as a team,” Bears running back Jeremy Langford said.

Fox has been touted by players past and present for his ability to create a culture. The Bears feel they have that in place. How it evolves this season will determine the Bears’ ultimate direction.

Sunday in Houston brings the beginning of those results for Fox’s second season. The Bears face a steep test in the Texans, who boast two of the game’s top players in receiver DeAndre Hopkins and defensive end J.J. Watt.

Great challenges will meet the Bears in 2016 and beyond — namely, whether Pace’s scouting prowess can pay off in building Fox a winner. The coach is proven, but the jury’s out on the general manager.

Fox embraces every bit of what he’s up against. Building a team is one of his other great passions, and this season will be critical in the Bears’ growth.

For now, the boat remains docked as Fox continues his pursuit of Super Bowl glory.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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