By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — Ultimately, a truth will soon be revealed in the working relationship between Bears coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
Philosophical differences between the two, as first reported by 670 The Score’s Mike Mulligan in the Chicago Tribune, have led to speculation that a change could be coming as soon as next week after the end of Chicago’s season.
Based on the praise from Fox, one can consider the potential loss of Fangio to be crushing.
“Vic does a tremendous job,” Fox said of Fangio. “Concept-wise, he does a good job. I think he teaches it to a variety of different levels of experienced players.”
Bears management could call Fox and Fangio together and help them reconcile differences for the greater good. Of course, first comes the team’s brass confirming whether it wants Fox back next season. Then it must evaluate the situation with Fangio.
Just as he did two weeks ago, then denying the reported rift, Fangio on Wednesday again stated that he plans to be back next season. Nothing has changed, he told reporters at Halas Hall.
Fox has said that he wants his entire coaching staff to return, though that statement will come into question next week. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains could be forced out, too, those reasons being performance-based.
Fangio’s defense has improved during his two seasons as the Bears’ defensive coordinator. This year’s unit ranks 12th in total defense, a respectable mark when considering the injuries. The last two weeks of porous performances certainly didn’t help, but Fox has nothing but praise for Fangio.
“Even with all that’s happened to us really in both years, I think we’ve shown steady improvement,” Fox said. “I know the last couple of weeks has not been outstanding. But some of that is who you play as well. But I think he’s a good teacher, and he brings good results.”
As for Fangio, the assessment was more measured.
“On an individual basis, some are doing well,” he said. “As a unit, we’re not there yet obviously. But I think the groundwork has been laid. There’s been some foundation laid. And we’ve gotten a lot of guys playing time. So I think on an individual basis there’s some brightness there.
“You guys know all the names, so hopefully we’re not looking to overhaul everything.”
Should Fox and the Bears elect to part ways with Fangio, they would then likely find themselves reassessing their defensive personnel, which was brought in to fit Fangio’s 3-4 scheme. They drafted Leonard Floyd to rush of the edge a year after signing Pernell McPhee to do the same. Defensive end Akiem Hicks is having a career year at the 5-technique of Fangio’s defense.
Fangio recently stated that the defense he inherited wasn’t built for the 3-4 and the personnel “(wasn’t) built for anything.” Progress has been made, though the numbers aren’t a true reflection. Health would’ve made a major difference for this unit. As it was, Fangio has been tasked with getting the best out of a makeshift group.
For all the credit Fox could offer to Fangio and the respect Fangio holds for Fox, the relationship between the two men which has come into question. They’re different from one another, as evidenced Wednesday.
When asked to describe the other’s personality, both Fox and Fangio fumbled.
“He’s more old school,” Fox said. “I think some people might say I’m a little bit more old school. Maybe it’s because we’re older. But I think our guys respect him. I think they respect his knowledge.
“The personality thing, I don’t really — I can’t delve into too much, because I think — he’s good in front of the room. I think guys enjoy him places he’s been, including here. So that’s all I look at.”
Said Fangio of Fox’s personality: “I don’t know. I’ve just gotten to know him better, him know me better, how he wants things done, etc. I don’t know that I have a magical answer there.”
Frustrations are only natural in a season of struggles. Both Fox and Fangio arrived in Chicago not far removed from Super Bowl appearances. Now, they’re trying to sort through a 3-12 campaign. It’s a process that reportedly has created a rift.
Clearly, there’s a mutual respect between Fox and Fangio. Fox has taken two teams to the Super Bowl, Fangio is regarded as one of the game’s top defensive minds. But this disconnect of personality is clear.
Whether it’s too strained for Fox and Fangio to coexist remains to be seen.