By Chris Emma—
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) – Upon his arrival at Halas Hall, there was great mutual respect shared between John Fox and the Bears organization.
Fox knew well that the Bears were a heritage franchise and proud of the tradition of decades of football in Chicago. He soon found what the team means to the city, its fans and the keeper of that legacy, the McCaskey family.
With the blessing of ownership, Fox was brought in to lead the Bears back to an elite level. At his introductory press conference, he pointed out that the one Super Bowl trophy that resides at Halas Hall looked lonely.
The Bears are still waiting for results, with Fox 12-31 during his three-year tenure as the team’s head coach.
Change seems all but certain at the end of this season, with Fox and the Bears still seeking any semblance of success. The Bears have managed consecutive wins just three times in nearly three seasons. With positive proof still lacking through 43 games, all Fox has are words to make a case.
“I don’t do this as a job,” Fox said. “I do it as a profession. I don’t really worry about job security and time and all of that. It’s obvious we’re in a performance-based business. I get that part. I’ll just try to control what I can do.
“You work really hard to do this. It’s only fun when you win. We don’t get into all the little things that other people get into. It’s a bottom-line business and I think we all understand that.”
Fox didn’t make the excuse of a second straight season of compounding injuries to key players. Asked if his team – one from which more was expected – has underachieved in a pivotal season, Fox pointed to the record as a reality.
“We are what we are,” he replied. “We have five games remaining. What that final record is, that will be our season record. Right now, we’re 3-8.”
Monday brought a different tone from Fox than a day earlier, when he told reporters after a 31-3 loss to the Eagles that he doesn’t “give a rip” about job security. How did general manager Ryan Pace perceive that comment? What did chairman George McCaskey think of that defiance?
There has been a belief throughout Chicago that the Bears won’t fire a coach in season, but that could be more myth than reality. The only bit of evidence from George’s time as chairman came in 2014 as he allowed the end of Marc Trestman’s tenure to become more volatile than it ever should have. Perhaps there were lessons learned from that debacle. Comments from Fox that indicate he doesn’t care about his job security figure to only add to the case for an early dismissal.
Fox began his Monday by saying on WBBM Newsradio 780 that coaching the Bears is “the hardest job I’ve obviously had in my career and one I’m heck-bent on getting changed around.”
What makes him believe that change can be accomplished with only five games remaining?
“We’ve made a lot of changes,” Fox said in return. “You start looking at our football team from when we arrived to now, you see, basically, almost an entirely new football team. This year, making the endeavor at the quarterback position. I just see how they work. I’ve been through a few of these buildings. I think guys are working to get better. Now, we just have to prove it.”
Of course, the effort has rarely been an issue for the Bears until Sunday’s awful loss to the Eagles in Philadelphia, where it was called into question. More showings like that could send Fox packing before Black Monday.
The issue in Fox’s tenure has been losing the close contests. The Bears are 8-18 in games decided by one score since 2015. This season, they’re 2-5 in one-score games, including a mark of 0-3 during their divisional home games. Flip the script on a few of those, and there would be some hope left, but that’s not the case.
Instead, the Bears returned to Halas Hall on Monday a 3-8 football team airing out frustrations. In the afternoon, an apparent argument was audible from the media room adjacent to team meeting rooms. While the players involved and the nature of the heated dialogue were unclear, the disappointment was certain.
“You can feel the frustration within the team, but I feel like that’s natural as a competitor,” veteran running back Benny Cunningham said. “When you’re in a business that is basically wins and losses, this is what it boils down to at the end of the year. You don’t get the wins you want or you lose tight games, whatever it is, just naturally being a competitor, it’s going to hurt.
“Eventually, you’re going to get frustrated if you care about it. You’re going to get sad, you’re going to be emotional, because you put so much into this game.”
Any clear sign that Fox is losing the team would give Bears management no choice but to make a change. He was hired to clean up the messy locker room left behind by Trestman, and five weeks is more than enough time to destroy team chemistry. If the Bears were to part ways in season with Fox, longtime NFL defensive coordinator Vic Fangio could finally be granted the opportunity he has desired as a head coach. Even on a brief interim basis, that could provide an evaluation for how he would handle the job.
The 59-year-old Fangio has never gotten the chance as a head coach, in part because of fears his straight-shooting approach wouldn’t fit the position. He certainly deserves an interview if the Bears are looking for a new head coach.
As for Fox, there are five games left to fight for that on-field change he still views possible. Fox is 62 and deep into his fourth decade of coaching, and Chicago could be his last stop before calling it a career. Fox is an avid fisherman with family and interests away from football. There have to be times in which boating off Marco Island sounds better than coaching a struggling team.
Fox and his Bears have to prove they do give a rip, or they’ll afford management no choice but change.