By Dan Bernstein —
CBSChicago.com senior columnist

(670 The Score) It began Sunday morning with an NFL Network report that the Bears had begun exploring potential candidates for replacing head coach John Fox, as either they or other teams involved in executive-level conversations indicated that some kind of process was indeed underway.

While team president Ted Phillips had been making calls to determine the contractual eligibility of possible hires currently employed elsewhere in the league, any coaching call would be made by general manager Ryan Pace, sources told 670 The Score, with Phillips only a part of negotiations after Pace’s choice was determined.

For the Bears to now be known as part of the market is significant, because there would seem to be no going back from here, the proverbial bell rung that can’t be un-rung. It doesn’t matter if the initial news came from the Bears or another franchise to which they have spoken, because those talks occur in today’s environment with the presumption of them becoming public.

So it appears that Fox is coaching out the string of this last week and Pace is both solid enough in his position and well down a road toward whatever is next, about to decide on the coach who makes or breaks him along with his high-risk/high-reward draft day trade and selection of Mitchell Trubisky.

Now the Bears can be included in the back-channel swirls that see possible head coaches assembling shadow staffs, securing soft commitments based on various permutations that depend on the timing of job openings, Rooney Rule interview compliance and which teams exit the playoffs when. It was important to not get behind other teams that have made their existing or upcoming openings already more clear.

The fact that Pace hasn’t already launched Fox in favor of an interim promotion from below indicates that no current staff member is likely in play to supplant him. There may be nothing to be gained, then, in sending Fox to pasture before season’s end.

All that’s clear at this point is that the Bears are working on something, and they made sure that we know it.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s “Bernstein and Goff Show” in afternoon drive. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein and read more of his columns here.