By Chris Emma—
(CBS) Twenty losses and just two seasons ago, Bears coach John Fox was hoisted toward the ceiling of the visiting locker room at Lambeau Field. The veteran Fox was lifted up by the men he had united.
The Bears had just pulled a stunning upset of the rival Packers on Thanksgiving night in 2015 in what was and remains the highlight of Fox’s tenure in Chicago. Last Thursday night, there was a vastly different scene in that same locker room, as Bears players hung their heads after a 35-14 loss to the Packers and spoke of the great disappointment from encountering more of the same.
Two years after the Bears celebrated with Fox, his job status is under scrutiny.
Monday brought news that the Bears will make 23-year-old rookie Mitchell Trubisky their starting quarterback, a move sparked by the struggles of veteran Mike Glennon and readiness of Trubisky, whom Chicago selected second overall in April’s draft to be their franchise quarterback. The Bears’ initial plan was to bring Trubisky along patiently, letting him develop as Glennon served as the starter in 2017.
Now, Trubisky will be playing sooner than expected, and we wonder where Fox fits into the future.
Fox was hired by the Bears in 2015, with the organization looking to undo the damage done by Marc Trestman. While general manager Ryan Pace did his work to restock a depth chart devoid of talent, Fox was asked to bring a veteran voice into a dysfunctional locker room. Thirty-six games in, the Bears are 10-26 and have twice been embarrassed in 2017 the way a team shouldn’t in Year 3. The results haven’t followed as hoped.
Whether the Bears keep listening to that voice is now only part of how Fox will be evaluated during his third season of a four-year deal. Not only must his team remain competitive, but growth must be revealed by Trubisky, who will be working with a short hand on offense thanks to a depleted group at receiver. The Bears maintain hope that his big arm, mobility and talent can do what Glennon couldn’t and open up a passing attack. Trubisky’s primary goal in leading the Bears’ offense will be to create a steady run-pass balance alongside Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen.
Ultimately, the results for Trubisky will speak for themselves. The Bears are better suited with him leading instead of Glennon – something that became clear through four games of struggles for the veteran. But the future, not 2017, is still what remains most important for the Bears.
With that in mind, Fox and his coaching staff must provide the platform on which Trubisky can grow. He has entrusted Dowell Loggains as offensive coordinator and Dave Ragone as quarterbacks coach – both young coaches in their 30s without much of a track record. Fox’s fate is tied to those two and Trubisky.
If Trubisky isn’t showing signs of steady growth during his rookie season, then a coaching change will almost certainly come this offseason. The Bears can look for a young offensive mind and build around their quarterback. Mike McCoy, a former Fox understudy, is an intriguing name, as is Jim Bob Cooter, who has helped transform Matthew Stafford in Detroit.
The Rams have already seen better play from Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall pick of 2016, after firing veteran coach Jeff Fisher and hiring 31-year-old Sean McVay, a respected offensive mind who was instrumental to Kirk Cousins’ success in Washington. The Bears could follow that blueprint to benefit Trubisky, their own quarterback prodigy.
Early on, it seemed Fox would be defined by how the Bears built forward from that triumphant victory in Green Bay. They’re 5-20 since, with progress glaringly lacking.
Two eras have now converged as Trubisky enters the fold in Year 3, and Fox’s fit as head coach is now something to consider.