By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) The day after their disappointing 2014 season came to a close, the Chicago Bears’ brass vowed to approach the process of finding a new general manager and head coach with a sense of urgency. True to their words, the Bears have filled both roles just 18 days later.
On Friday, thew news we’d expected for several days broke: The Bears have hired John Fox to be the 15th coach in franchise history.
Just this past Sunday, Fox was coaching the AFC’s No. 2 seed in the divisional round of the playoffs. Yet he now finds himself tasked with restoring respectability to a once-proud franchise that has lost its way.
Fox’s hiring signals an overall change in philosophy at Halas Hall and demonstrates how strong consultant Ernie Accorsi’s voice was throughout this process. The last time the Bears hired a head coach with previous experience in that role was Paddy Driscoll back in 1956.
Fox, 59, has 13 years of experience as a head coach, spending nine years in Carolina and the last four in Denver. Over that time, Fox compiled a 119-89 (.572) regular-season record and an 8-7 mark in seven playoff appearances, and he’s one of only six coaches to lead two different teams to Super Bowl appearances. Fox’s 119 regular-season wins ranks him 29th all time and fourth among active coaches, trailing Bill Belichick (211), Tom Coughlin (164) and Jeff Fisher (162).
Surely, Fox’s availability came as a surprise. He led the Broncos to four straight AFC West titles and an AFC Championship in 2013. But given the power structure and overall expectations in Denver — an organization driven off the field by a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback (John Elway) and on the field by one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game (Peyton Manning) — something had to give.
That something was Fox’s title as Broncos’ head coach.
After spending nine seasons in New Orleans with Saints coach Sean Payton, new Bears general manager Ryan Pace witnessed firsthand just how essential it is to have a powerful figure in place as the team’s head coach. It was a theme of his introductory press conference last Friday.
“I’m looking for the best head coach that has the traits we’re looking for — that’s confidence, charisma, discipline, leadership, those types of things,” Pace said. “The best man for the job. So whether it’s a defensive coach, whether it’s 3-4 coach, a 4-3 coach, offense, it’s just the best man for the job.”
Under previous coach Marc Trestman, the Bears broke their mold of a defensive team and never found an identity. Pace wants to get back to the roots of what the Bears have become known for — running the ball and playing physical defense, which fits Fox’s style.
“To win in that environment you got to be able to run the ball, you got to be able to play tough defense,” Pace said. “When you think about the Chicago Bears identity over the years, it’s tough, physical defense, and we’re going to get back to that.”
Fox’s roots are on the defensive side of the ball. Before becoming the coach in Carolina, Fox was the Giants’ defensive coordinator — while Accorsi was the team’s general manager — and the team ranked in the top eight in points allowed three times, giving up an average of 18.7 points per game, the seventh-lowest total over that span.
Throughout his career, Fox has shown an ability to adapt to the available talent on his roster.
In Carolina, Fox’s defenses ranked in the top eight in five of the nine seasons and were consistently among the league’s best in rushing yards allowed.
In 2011, Fox’s first season in Denver, the Broncos led the league in rushing. In 2013, they set an NFL record with 5,444 net passing yards.
Fox inherits a difficult challenge in Chicago, a team that lacks leadership and young talent. Pace was emphatic that the two most important relationships in the building are the GM and head coach, as well as the head coach and quarterback.
With Fox, the bridge between both sides of the house is sturdier than it’s been in a while.
Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.