When the Chicago Bears hired John Fox to be the 18th head coach in the team’s history, many fans and analysts alike praised the move. The Bears were just coming off of one of the worst seasons in recent memory, and had recently fired the Marc Trestman-Phil Emery duo that had seemingly set the team back a handful of years. Fox had led the Denver Broncos to four playoff appearances in his four seasons as the team’s head coach, including an appearance. It seemed like the perfect hire to set a dismantled team back on track.
Fast forward a few years, though, and the catastrophe that is Fox’s tenure as Chicago’s coach has arguably been worse than Trestman’s two seasons at the helm.
As of this writing, the Bears are 4-10 and are at the bottom of the NFC North. For the first time since the span of 1997 to 2000, they have reached double digits in the loss column for four consecutive seasons. Although they haven’t had an all-world roster by any means, they have had their fair share of talented players on the roster in that span. That’s where coaching comes into play.
In Fox’s first season, seven of the Bears’ 10 losses came by eight points or less. At the end of the year, many saw this as a positive to be taken out of the season. After all, the previous year had seen plenty more lopsided games. Considering the fact that Chicago didn’t have a whole lot of talent that fit their 3-4 defense right off the bat, it was encouraging to see them being competitive in so many games. Maybe, with another offseason to rebuild the defense, those narrow loses will start to turn into wins.
That didn’t happen.
The Bears did improve their defense in 2016, but those narrow losses remained exact that: narrow losses. Sure, they ended up having to start three different quarterbacks that year, but the results were overall disappointing.
Were the Bears able to turn things around the following year, at least?
Out of the 33 games that Fox has lost as the head coach, 20 of them have been by eight points or less. Once their roster reached a certain talent level, those losses fell less on the players and more on the coaching staff. As the losses continue to pile on, it’s clear that Fox’s time in Chicago is just about up. His inability to manage the clock, use certain players correctly, create a sense of discipline among other players, and his initial hesitance to start Mitchell Trubisky over an ice-cold Mike Glennon have all put the writing on the wall this season.
Using the ever-so-useful tool of hindsight, I decided to take a look back at the other head coaches that were hired in 2015 and see how Coach Fox stacks up against them.
Dan Quinn, Atlanta Falcons
Dan Quinn started off his tenure as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons off on a relatively good note, finishing with an 8-8 record. They got off to a 5-0 start, but a six-game losing streak put a serious blemish on their season. The Falcons bounced back the following year, finishing 11-5 and making an appearance in the Super Bowl. Matt Ryan put together an MVP season, and the offense was the highest-scoring unit in the league. They blew a 28-3 lead, sure, but to make it to the Super Bowl is a feat in itself. Although offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan left after the season, Atlanta’s 2017 season has been solid, as well: they are currently 8-5 and are right in the heart of the NFC Wild Card race. I think it’s safe to say who wins this one.
Todd Bowles, New York Jets
Todd Bowles took a 4-12 New York Jets team and turned them into a 10-6 team in just his first year. Although they barely missed out on the playoffs, he was able to turn them around in a major way in 2015. When 2016 came along, though, things started falling apart. Key veterans like Darrelle Revis and Brandon Marshall had down years, and the offense as a whole was very poor. New York entered the 2017 season with very little hope, and Bowles figured to be on the hot seat. However, he has been able to overachieve with a group of players that could have been the league’s worst team on paper. The Jets are currently 5-9, which is four or five more wins than I could have expected. Bowles hasn’t been phenomenal, but he has been decent enough to get the upper hand on Fox here.
Jack Del Rio, Oakland Raiders
Long-time Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio took the helm of an Oakland Raiders team who had not finished better than 8-8 since their Super Bowl XXXVII appearance in 2002. In addition to winning, he looked to bring stability to a franchise that had had seven full-time coaches in that span (eight, if you include interim head coach Tony Sparano). After a 7-9 outing in his first year, he brought Oakland to an impressive 12-4 season. They were eliminated in the Wild Card by the Houston Texans, but one could make the argument that they could have made it to at least the AFC Conference Championship had Derek Carr been healthy. The 2017 season hasn’t been nearly as impressive, though. Oakland’s weapons have had a tough time catching passes, and their defense has been below average at best. They are currently 6-8, which, as disappointing as it is, is still better than the Bears. Del Rio has overall done a much better job than Fox has.
Advantage: Del Rio
Jim Tomsula, San Francisco 49ers
The decision to make Jim Tomsula the 49ers’ head coach was a puzzling one from the beginning. Sure, he had been with the organization for eight years before he was named head coach, but they hired him directly out of the defensive line coach role. His only experience as a defensive coordinator came from 2004 to 2005, when he held the position for the NFL Europe’s Berlin Thunder. That inexperience in big coaching roles may have played into the fact that the 49ers finished 5-11 in his only year as their head coach. Their offense was the second-worst in the league, while their defense, which was the fifth-best the year before, plummeted into the bottom five. It’s safe to say that Foxy hasn’t done that bad of a job with the Bears.
Rex Ryan, Buffalo Bills
Rex Ryan was hired as the Bills’ head coach after six seasons in the position with the New York Jets. He took New York to the AFC Championship in his first two seasons, but a downward spiral in his last four led to his demise. Ryan’s tenure in Buffalo was a bit of a confusing one. He went 15-16 in his two seasons as the team’s head coach. He had the league’s best running attack in each of his years there, but one of the worst passing attacks in each, as well. Their defense was mediocre in 2015, as it was in 2016. Their run defense was one of the better units in 2016, but their pass defense in that same year was very poor. Unlike Fox, Ryan was able to keep his team in the playoff race, but he also lasted one less season and had failed to elevate a defense that was one of the league’s better groups before he arrived. I’m going to have to call a tie on this one.
Gary Kubiak, Denver Broncos
Shortly after the Broncos fired Fox, they hired Gary Kubiak, former Houston Texans head coach and Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator, to be their new head coach. Fox had been able to take Denver into the playoffs before, but he was never able to win a Super Bowl. Kubiak did so in his first year with the team. That alone gives him the advantage. Even without a serviceable quarterback and a couple of key defenders missing, he still managed to lead the Broncos to a 9-7 record the following year. He retired after just two years with the team, but he arguably did more in his two years than Fox did in his four.
Looking back at it, Fox was viewed as a better hire than most, if not all of the aforementioned candidates. However, most of these coaches were able to do one thing that he just didn’t: turn their team around. That inability to do so will likely cost Fox his job this January.