By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — Not long after the dust settles on this disappointing 2016 Bears season and Halas Hall readies for a critical offseason, the Bears’ board of directors will meet and look ahead to a future they can only hope is bright.
First up on the agenda will be evaluating the carnage, which has reached nine losses to just two wins as November winds down. Blame starts with coach John Fox, the 61-year-old who came to Chicago with an accomplished record — 119-89 overall with two Super Bowl berths — but is now 8-19 in charge of the Bears.
Fox’s first impression as the Bears’ coach came by referencing that lone Lombardi Trophy that sits in the corridor of Halas Hall.
“I can’t make any promises other than I’m going to give it everything I’ve got,” Fox said. “That trophy out there looks a little lonely.”
Unfortunately for Fox and the franchise, futility has hit hard. Some 11,086 fans let their tickets go unused Sunday in the Bears’ 27-21 loss to the Titans at Soldier Field, and that was a generous number that will only grow in the season’s final three games. Even the biggest Bears fans have acknowledged how bad it’s gotten for this team.
Five weeks remain in this Bears season, and then comes the search for solutions.
“The results aren’t exactly what we want, I’m sure our fans don’t want, nobody wants,” Fox said Monday. “I know I don’t. But it’s still a process and hopefully we just keep developing the process, and then all of a sudden the outcome of results will start coming. We are, believe it or not, getting closer. We’re just not there yet.”
Individual progress will offer the Bears reason for hope moving forward, but collective wins count to two. Fox led the Panthers to a Super Bowl appearance in his second season with Carolina and won 13 games in Year 2 with the Broncos. He was chosen as Bears’ coach with that in mind.
Evaluations to Fox’s future will take place. An NFL Network report suggested “a full examination of the football operation from top to bottom” is already underway and that friction exists between Fox and the front office, making his future “shaky.” General manager Ryan Pace is considered to be safe. Meanwhile, as the Bears begin important discussions for what’s next, decisions of their past look worse every day with the benefit of hindsight.
Bruce Arians, a two-time NFL Coach of the Year, is recalled as the alternative neglected for Marc Trestman back in 2013. Trestman lasted just two years before being fired. And as the Bears continue to flounder, the board of directors may privately regret passing on two men in favor of Fox, who was hired in January 2015.
In his debut season in Miami, Adam Gase has his Dolphins at 7-4 and grasping a playoff spot after reeling off six straight wins. Like he did with Jay Cutler as the Bears’ offensive coordinator in 2015, Gase has helped Ryan Tannehill succeed by getting the ball out quickly. His offense has also found great success with 2015 fifth-round pick Jay Ajayi.
If not for second-year Raiders coach Jack Del Rio — whom Fox employed alongside Gase during Denver’s runs of success — Gase would be a top candidate for NFL Coach of the Year. While Fox’s Bears struggle, he’s enjoyed watching friends thrive, as much as he can.
“All those guys, you take pride in,” Fox said.
Gase was brought to Halas Hall for a head coaching interview during the first week of 2015, then a day later came Dan Quinn, who would later become head coach of the Falcons. In Atlanta, Quinn’s team is 7-4 this season and leading the NFC South.
Led by adviser Ernie Accorsi, the Bears first hired Pace, then 37, as general manager. He then assumed the lead role in the hiring of a head coach. Before even being introduced as general manager, Pace had already interviewed Todd Bowles, who’s 13-14 as the Jets’ head coach, then later Doug Marrone and Teryl Austin.
Eventually, Gase and Quinn emerged as the Bears’ top head-coaching targets until the Broncos fired Fox, as his relationship with John Elway required a divorce. When the veteran Fox became available, he was the preferred choice for the Bears’ management, combining with the young Pace and his front office.
Should the Bears make a coaching change at season’s end, their evaluations from the past must be considered. Fox’s record with the team can be somewhat excused by injuries, now with an astonishing 15 players on injury reserved. However, his relationship with the front office, reportedly rocky, must lead the conversation in the board room. Unlike when the 2014 season unraveled under Trestman, the Bears are still responding to their coaches.
For now, the Bears are a battered team fighting hard for each other. Matt Barkley, the team’s fourth-string quarterback, spoke with pride to his team’s effort in Sunday’s loss. Moral victories aren’t acceptable to a board of directors desperate to win again. Losses only hurt more as the coaches they passed on lead their own teams to success.
When this season comes to an end, the Bears will either hope they were right with Fox or try again for a third time in five offseasons.