By Chris Emma—
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) – Ryan Pace, the Bears’ man of mystery trusted to turn around the franchise, will soon enough come down from his office at Halas Hall and answer to how it has all gone so wrong. The bold young general manager must explain how his vision turned into three horrible seasons.
Pace will likely be sitting alone at the podium, this time without coach John Fox speaking to his side. Expectations are that Fox will be fired at the conclusion of this season, which has reached 3-9 with four games remaining. Perhaps he could even be dismissed sooner, though the only person who has been made available to speak of Fox’s job status is Fox himself.
As Pace’s plan has soured more with each week – with the Bears now 12-32 since his arrival to the front office in January 2015 – he has remained behind the scenes. Pace is the one buying the groceries and Fox is left to explain why the milk was expired, the apples were rotten and the fish caused food poisoning.
“It’s been very positive from the standpoint of a working relationship,” Fox said when asked Monday of his rapport with Pace.
The presumption is that Pace will be back to serve his fourth season of a five-year deal granted to run the Bears’ front office. He was a surprising hire at the time, recommended to chairman George McCaskey and impressive during interviews. The Bears were thought to be leaning toward Chris Ballard – now the Colts’ general manager – but asked Pace to U-turn back from the airport and offered him the job. McCaskey believed he hit a home run.
When this lost season is all said and done, it will likely be Fox and his coaching staff taking the fall and packing up from Lake Forest while Pace and his front office circle the wagons and prepare for a crucial offseason of work.
The Bears’ lowly record since Fox and Pace took over is the fault of both – and many more at Halas Hall. The roster that Fox and his coaching staff were handed in 2015 was a work in progress then, and one could argue it has gotten even worse since.
Fox has his many faults as a head coach – see an ugly 15-14 loss to the 49ers on Sunday if you need evidence – but the Bears’ problems have Pace’s fingerprints marked all over too. Ultimately, there’s little case for Fox to make in saving his job. It’s hard to even argue him finishing out this season, especially after the Bears have looked progressively worse with each remaining game.
There’s merit to the case for Pace. In short time, Pace overhauled an aging roster in a crumbled locker room and brought the Bears a young group and some building blocks.
Pace found a perennial Pro Bowl running back in the fifth round in Jordan Howard and added the ideal backfield complement in Tarik Cohen in the fourth round this past April. He signed a star defensive lineman in Akiem Hicks, then gladly rewarded him with a long-term deal. Tight end Adam Shaheen and safety Eddie Jackson have flashed potential in their rookie seasons. Offensive lineman Cody Whitehair and defensive lineman Eddie Goldman are fixtures to their respective sides of the trenches.
But the fate of Pace and the Bears is ultimately tied to rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Pace couldn’t have any alternative, giving the 49ers a haul to move up one slot in April and select the raw, promising quarterback. Pace marched down to the media room and stood before his decision.
“If we want to be great, you just can’t sit on your hands,” Pace said after making the pick. “There are times when you’ve got to be aggressive, and when you have conviction on a guy, you can’t sit on your hands. I just don’t want to be average around here — I want to be great, and these are the moves you have to make.
“The most important position in all of sports is quarterback, and I don’t think you’re ever a great team until you address the position and you address it right. I think everybody should respect that. We’re addressing the quarterback position, we’re being aggressive with that position because it’s the most important position in sports.”
Whether Trubisky can become the franchise quarterback whom Pace believes is only part of the challenge in the front office. Pace must ensure the roster is good enough around Trubisky. That starts at wide receiver, where the seemingly lost career of Kevin White left the Bears with a major void. Defensively, more game-changing players are still needed.
Pace will likely get the opportunity to see through Trubisky’s growth as a young quarterback and the evolution of a young roster. After all, he was hired by McCaskey to build the Bears something sustainable through the draft. The understanding was that it would take time.
He should get the chance to hand-pick the Bears’ next head coach, with the growth of Trubisky as the top priority. Pace could look to names like Josh McDaniels, Frank Reich, John DeFilippo or Jim Bob Cooter, among others. With the faith of McCaskey and ownership, Pace will get the chance to strengthen his grasp on this franchise.
But before work can begin again in the Bears’ front office, Pace will be pressed to why this grand project has been a failure to this point. There are many more questions than answers.