By Dan Bernstein —
670TheScore.com senior columnist
(670 The Score) It just never happened for John Fox or the Bears. Anything for which we waited through three seasons ultimately didn’t materialize, instead only dissipating in an endless and repetitive stream of injuries, penalties and too many losses.
There was a time when it all seemed to make sense, let’s not forget, with Fox representing the idea of solid and familiar coach’s-coach coachiness in the wake of the Marc Trestman disaster, his attractiveness based primarily on him looking the part of something other than quite that weird. We looked past the contentious departure from the Broncos amid tension with John Elway and half-listened to writers from Denver and Charlotte who described Fox as more of a tone-setter than gameday difference-maker, content to make a bet on reliability.
Newly minted Bears general manager Ryan Pace might have taken the job with another man in mind, but he soon came around to accepting Fox as the right fit, working to appreciate a need for an experienced old hand in the building and possibly choosing to keep his powder dry for another point down the road.
But Fox’s reputation as a two-year turnaround specialist has been undone here in Chicago, as any steps forward have been met with at least equal and opposite setbacks of every variety. Broken bones and torn ligaments have undermined development up and down the roster, free agency has had more misses than hits, the quarterback position has churned and the kicking game has been a clown car that caught fire in a ditch.
What really worked against Fox, however, has been his fearfulness at every level of his job. A trait that at one point appeared to be stoic, jut-jawed conservatism has been revealed over time to be a crippling self-paralysis that infected overall strategy and behavior in a league that has increasingly rewarded boldness and bigger thinking. His risk calculus has always calibrated down, trying in vain to assert more control over outcomes by keeping games safer and closer, only to make his team more likely to be victimized by his shortcomings.
It’s the irony of his tenure with the Bears — a head coach who did everything he could to play games tight, then compiling an 8-19 record in games decided by eight points or fewer, a .296 percentage that’s nearly identical to the .292 winning percentage of his overall 14-34 mark in Chicago. Fox schemed to create a slimmer margin for error, then kept ending up on the wrong side of it by trying to avoid all the things that he thought could go wrong while still stumbling upon others.
His down-and-distance decisions have always perplexed, while management of the game clock has been consistent only in its confusion and his inability to answer for it. Replay challenges were often reactive instead of active and usually underinformed by either the eyes on screens or knowledge of the rules.
Even Fox’s public face has been defined by fear, his opaque and disconnected double-talk meant to protect his valuable football secrets from all the perceived enemy spies that have surrounded him, reducing press conferences to exercises in absurdist theater. Admittedly just aping the habits of Bill Belichick, Fox has never seemed to realize how differently and disdainfully that comes off without the championships to earn it.
The time has finally come for enough of all of this already, a moment past due for the sunlight of new ideas to freshen a franchise stultified by the inertia of losing. Whoever is next in charge of the Bears will inherit a building frustration from both within and without and a mandate for immediately positive results. Pace will have his coach and his quarterback — and his own job on the line.
John Fox will trudge off with little to show for his presence, now just a forgettable part of more dubious history for a franchise out in the cold.