John Fox was originally brought in as head coach to oversee a rebuild of the Chicago Bears. He was hailed as a no-nonsense character guy with quality experience.
A player’s coach, in essence.
Following an inaugural 6-10 2015 season where the Bears played above expectations, the pieces were coming together for another step in the Bears’ progression in 2016. Fox’s second season in Chicago was supposed to result in a playoff berth - as he enjoyed with the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers previously.
Yet somehow, the Bears have regressed. Regarding Fox, well, the results in conjunction with his own words speak for themselves.
In two seasons on the lakefront, the Chicago Bears have never been above .500 with head coach John Fox. Through 25 games, they are just a paltry 8-17.
When backup quarterback Brian Hoyer missed a wide open Alshon Jeffery in the end zone of the Bears’ 29-23 loss to the Indianapolis Colts back on October 9th, Fox made a cliche remark about seeing the game differently when not playing to a media contingent.
When starter, Jay Cutler, injured his thumb against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2, reporters believed Fox was trying to push Hoyer as the starter and extend Cutler’s absence, while keeping his intentions veiled. That Fox believed Hoyer gave the Bears a better chance to win was egregiously misguided.
Now, after a bye week, with approximately two weeks to prepare for an average Tampa Bay Buccaneers squad, the Bears played their worst game under Fox in a 36-10 loss.
Players and coaches can preach of confidence, but actions speak loudest. The team that appeared against the Buccaneers looked like it gave up on it’s coach. Injuries were Fox’s excuse, but the Bears were mostly healthy going into Tampa Bay.
Clearly, the coaching relationship in Chicago has begun to sour.
The Bears have already reportedly struck up methods to evaluate if a slight reboot is needed. Chicago ownership never fires anyone midseason, so Fox has at minimum, seven more games. But he’s done nothing to earn another year, and short of a miraculous run to the postseason - he’ll likely be gone.
In hindsight, general manager Pace played it too safe with the conservative Fox. But since he’s acquired talent relatively well, he’s earned an opportunity with a new head coach. And he needs to hit on this second chance or risk losing his own job.
Whomever the Bears hire, he will be the fourth head coach in the last five seasons - a sign of instability. He needs to be in Chicago long-term and turn them into a consistent contender, as the Bears have made the playoffs just five times in the last 24 seasons - likely 25 in January.
There are plenty ripe for the picking.
Kyle Shanahan will be the top priority for most. The 36-year-old Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator has revamped Atlanta’s attack, turning them into a death machine. The Falcons have the NFL’s number one offense in both yardage and scoring, and quarterback Matt Ryan is enjoying the best year of his career as an MVP frontrunner.
Its all in the hands of Shanahan’s diversified coaching, making Atlanta a legitimate contender in the NFC. He’s paid his dues in previous stops with the Washington Redskins, Cleveland Browns, and Houston Texans. He’s learned from his own mistakes and his dad’s - Mike Shanahan. And he’d also be a quality caretaker for a young quarterback, should Chicago choose to draft one in April.
Most believe its a matter of if not when in regards to Shanahan as a head coach. If the Bears don’t hire him, you can be sure he’ll be snatched up quickly.
A second chance
Its difficult seeing New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels leaving his lucrative gig. He’d be walking away from the NFL’s best coach and quarterback in Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, respectively. There are also questions about him as the unquestioned leader of a team given his struggles with the Denver Broncos in his first head coach opportunity.
And the track record of Patriots assistants on the Belichick coaching tree having success as head coaches in the NFL - much like the back-up quarterbacks - isn’t great. Names like Eric Mangini and Romeo Crennel come to mind.
Yet, McDaniels has been lauded for helping the Patriots win their fourth Super Bowl in 2014 and again be in consistent position for titles. McDaniels was only 33-years-old in Denver in 2009, so with time, maybe he’s learned from his past mistakes. If the Bears hired him, for blaring obvious reasons, Cutler would not be here.
A tug of war
When some fans think of Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, they think of an awful called pass that was intercepted on the goal line with Super Bowl XLIX hanging in the balance, while Marshawn Lynch stood idly in the backfield.
But it was the heat of the moment, and to shoehorn Bevell for it, would be ignoring all of the work he’s done in Seattle. He’s primarily responsible for quarterback Russell Wilson’s development as an elite player in the Seahawks’ prominence as a contender.
Should the Bears pursue Bevell, expect competition from the Green Bay Packers, with head coach Mike McCarthy also on the hot seat. Bevell attended the University of Wisconsin and was the Packers quarterbacks coach in 2000-2005, so there’s familiarity.
More potential Fox replacements:
Matt Patricia, defensive coordinator, New England Patriots: Patricia has spent his entire NFL career with New England as one of Belichick’s top assistants. Much like McDaniels, the only concern would be how he works away from Belichick. But Patricia has plenty of experience to mitigate those worries.
Teryl Austin, defensive coordinator, Detroit Lions: The Bears know Austin given his proximity in the NFC North. Austin was looking for a head coach opportunity last offseason, but didn’t have luck. As the Lions look like the current favorite in the North, none of that steam has worn off. Detroit’s 20th ranked defense has struggled, but that’s more due to a lack of talent than anything else.
David Shaw, head coach, Stanford University: Shaw was already coveted by a number of teams in January, but decided to stay in college. With Stanford struggling at 7-3 compared to previous standards, he just might jump ship now.
Shaw has maintained his team’s excellence since Jim Harbaugh left for the pros in 2011. Stanford has won three Pac-12 titles and two Rose Bowls in his stead. Shaw has NFL ties with the Baltimore Ravens and Oakland Raiders as an offensive assistant too, which is a background general managers can trust.
Nick Saban, head coach, University of Alabama: This is highly unlikely given the dynasty Saban has carved out in Tuscaloosa. He’s even said before he has no interest in leaving. Saban going back to the NFL would be like Belichick leaving New England for college, but you never know. With Alabama heavily favored for it’s fifth national title under Saban this year, a competitive itch for the professional level might come back.
He was disastrous in a Miami Dolphins stint in 2005, but the league was a different place. If Saban chose to return, decision makers would chomp at the bits to hire him.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron and Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.