By Chris Emma

By Chris Emma–

MINNEAPOLIS (670 The Score) — Before the Bears left the visiting locker room after a 23-10 loss to the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium and prepared to travel home Sunday, coach John Fox had a message for his team.

His Bears had just finished the 2017 season with a 5-11 record, but that didn’t change the way he felt about this group. Lauded as a players’ coach, Fox told the Bears he was proud of their efforts and work and that he would be there for them.

“He’s been great for all of us,” rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said of Fox.

Whether it was Fox’s final message to his Bears remains to be seen, though it’s widely expected he will be fired by the end of Monday, if not sooner. Players like Trubisky weren’t willing to speculate on Fox’s fate, which seems all but sealed after he went 14-34 in three seasons in Chicago.

What was clear in the aftermath of the season finale was how Fox is respected by his players. He was hired to unite a dysfunctional locker room after Marc Trestman’s tenure brought havoc. At the least, Fox was revered by his players.

“It’s hard to put into words,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said of Fox. “Coach Fox is so relatable. He’s been doing this for so long. He can just talk to you in a way that’s motivating while keeping you accountable. He’s just one of my favorite coaches that I’ve ever had as far as helping you grow as a person and a player.”

The loss Sunday dropped the Bears to 3-15 in NFC North games under Fox. Like so many before, they struggled to move the football, failed to force a turnover and came up short. The Bears’ final sequence on offense brought seven plays inside the Vikings’ 12-yard line but zero points. Their final play on offense was a fourth-and-goal shovel pass stuffed a yard short.

The Bears have spent three years coming up short with Fox. They’ve gone 9-19 in one-score games in that span and lost nine divisional games by eight points or fewer.

With their season over – and change likely on the way – the Bears reflected on what has gone wrong the last few years, and they didn’t believe it was the coach.

“Coach Fox is one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around,” receiver Josh Bellamy said. “He’s a fighter. He never lays down. That’s what you want in a coach. When you change coaches, I feel like it’s not the coach; it’s the players that change the culture, not the coach. You might go get another coach and go 0-17. You never know.

“I feel like it’s not the coach, it’s the players that have to change the culture. So, I feel like, hey, you never know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Who knows what’s going to happen?”

Fresh off defeat, the Bears didn’t know what would happen – or, for the matter, who would make the call. General manager Ryan Pace is presumed to be safe, though change can’t be ruled out in the front office. Chairman George McCaskey, representing his mother, team matriarch Virginia McCaskey, will be the one to oversee changes at Halas Hall.

The Bears didn’t have a scheduled time for the year-end press conference immediately after the game. Fox did speak once more to the media in a brief appearance at the podium, issuing an opening statement then declining to take two questions about his job status with the Bears.

“The league makes me be here to talk about this game and that’s what we’ll keep it to,” Fox replied to the first inquiry.

“Again, I will repeat what I just said if you need me to.”

With that, Fox walked out under an “EXIT” sign and past a clock with all zeroes.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670 The Score 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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