By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — Rather suddenly, a serene Thursday morning along the North Shore was interrupted.READ MORE: State Reps LaShawn Ford And Fran Hurley To Host Crime Summit at University Of Illinois At Chicago
Not long after the Bears took to their practice field at Halas Hall, head equipment manager Tony Medlin sounded his air horn. The shriek brought the attention of the team. Bears coach John Fox had a surprise.
Before practice had even started, it was over, and summer time had commenced. Fox had canceled the final practice of minicamp and ended his 15th offseason early.
“They’ve earned it,” Fox said.
Players cheered upon learning the news. Fox huddled his team and preached the importance of a safe, smart six weeks away from football before the start of training camp, emphasizing the critical nature of staying in shape while staying out of trouble. Then, the Bears dissipated for their break.
Stunts like this from Fox never come as a surprise. He’s a players’ coach with a track record of success through team building. Fox believes in the importance of a creating a culture within his teams. That’s coming together with the Bears.
“It’s a brotherhood,” receiver Josh Bellamy said. “We’re starting to become more family-oriented with everybody.”
Added Bears defensive lineman Ego Ferguson: “I feel like we picked up fast this year.”
Inside linebacker Danny Trevathan was drafted in the sixth round by the Broncos during Fox’s second season in Denver, taken with a pick acquired in the trade that sent quarterback Tim Tebow to the Jets. As Trevathan got acclimated with the Broncos, Fox was there for guidance.
Throughout his career as a coach, Fox has often delegated duties to his assistants, allowing them to run their own meeting rooms. Fox oversees the operation while working to build those personal relationships.
Over time, Trevathan grew close with Fox. He still recalls when Fox left the team to undergo surgery on a heart valve in November 2013. Trevathan looked back on that time now as a leader for Fox’s Bears.
“That wasn’t good for me,” Trevathan said. “I really played for him then. Now, I’m playing for him here.”
During Fox’s first season, a Bears team that was largely overmatched in talent and undermanned in depth played with heart. That intensity revealed itself in several gutsy victories, including a comeback win in Kansas City and Thanksgiving rivalry win in Green Bay.READ MORE: Multiple Juveniles Arrested During Large Gathering, Fights Near Millennium Park
The Bears believe they’re a much better team this season compared to last, and they have the look of it too. Fox recently popped in the tape from his first OTAs with the Bears, then compared it to the present.
“It’s much more competitive, much more high speed,” Fox said. “This game’s about playing fast, and you have to practice it fast.
“I feel much better about where we are now than I did this time a year ago.”
Fox has that healthy culture growing at Halas Hall. His first year brought the Bears something to build upon. Now comes the second season.
During his second campaign with Carolina in 2003, Fox led the Panthers to Super Bowl XXXVIII. Nine years later, he led the Broncos to a 13-3 record in his second year in Denver.
The Bears brought Fox in to turn around a culture that had been lost under former coach Marc Trestman. That was the first step, a successful task in 2015. Now, Chicago can look toward bigger, better goals.
Fox has turned two teams around during his second season in charge and has the pieces in place to do it with the Bears, who went 6-10 in 2015.
“He’s put together some of the best teams I’ve ever seen,” Trevathan said. “Just like here, he’s doing a great job building this team and building a brotherhood. That’s what we’re looking for.”
Progress will ultimately be measured in wins and losses, but the Bears may be on their way to better results. At the least, there seems to be a culture conducive to winning at Halas Hall.
Fox sees a faster, stronger, better football team, and he also realizes that close-knit chemistry in place. He views those as equally important. Even the little aspects like canceling a practice in June help strengthen the team in Fox’s mind.
Never one to get too high or low, Fox wouldn’t tip his hand with this 2016 Bears team. But don’t be mistaken, he’s thrilled with the progress that’s been made and what could be ahead.
“We’re further along,” he said. “I’m pleased with where we’re at right now.”MORE NEWS: Kenosha Man Shot, Killed In North Chicago