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Searching for John Fox’s replacement

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Bears fans are turning against their head coach, whose record here in three years is 9-25. Jack M Silverstein looks at NFL history to identify a potential replacement: Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin.

Arizona Cardinals v Chicago Bears Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

The term “hot seat” stems from use of the electric chair in executions, a practice started in the late 19th century in that doomed NFL city of Buffalo, NY. The convicted party is strapped to a chair with electric currents running through it. The first jolt stops the heart, causing unconsciousness. The rest of the electricity completes the kill.

One can imagine getting strapped into the chair and anticipating its cruel heat before any electricity has been summoned. Though the method of execution is now nearly extinct, the expression “hot seat” has life, as it were, in the world of coaching.

I suspect John Fox is feeling it now.

The Bears are 0-2, Mitch Trubisky is on the bench, six players are out for the season (not including Nick Kwiatkowski, who is probably done too), and Fox is now 9-25 in three years as Bears head coach.

Meanwhile, rumors persist of discord between Fox and GM Ryan Pace. And — teaser! — the WCG staff is gearing up for a full-court press of stories about Fox’s tenuous future with the team.

I for one am rooting for the guy, insofar as I’m rooting for the team’s success. But I’m definitely frustrated and I am not alone. The situation at quarterback is the heart of my frustration, as Fox’s answers about why Glennon is playing and, separately, why Trubisky is not sound like empty rhetoric.

For what end, I just don’t know.

Just as fans look ahead to the free agent market or the NFL draft for solutions to their deep, desperate problems, it’s time to take a look at possible coaching replacements. So I dove into the past 30 years of NFL history to look at the head coaches who have taken teams to a Super Bowl, going back to 1987.

All but three coaches who guided teams to Super Bowls in that time fit one of the following three categories. Coaches who won at least one Super Bowl are in CAPS:

Successful coordinator with first NFL head coaching job

  • Dan Quinn (2016 Falcons)
  • Ron Rivera (2015 Panthers)
  • JOHN HARBAUGH (2012 Ravens)
  • MIKE MCCARTHY (2010 Packers)
  • MIKE TOMLIN (2008 and 2010 Steelers)
  • SEAN PAYTON (2009 Saints)
  • Jim Caldwell (2009 Colts)
  • Ken Whisenhunt (2008 Cardinals)
  • Lovie Smith (2006 Bears)
  • BILL COWHER (1995 and 2005 Steelers)
  • Andy Reid (2004 Eagles)
  • John Fox (2003 Panthers)
  • Bill Callahan (2002 Raiders)
  • Mike Martz (2001 Rams)
  • BRIAN BILLICK (2000 Ravens)
  • Jim Fassel (2000 Giants)
  • Jeff Fisher (1999 Titans)
  • GEORGE SEIFERT (1989 and 1994 49ers)
  • MIKE HOLMGREN (1996 and 1997 Packers)
  • JOE GIBBS (1987 and 1991 Washington)
  • BILL PARCELLS (1990 Giants)
  • BILL WALSH (1988 49ers)
  • Dan Reeves (1987 and 1989 Broncos)

One-time NFL head coach who had not yet won a Super Bowl

  • BILL BELICHICK (2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2014, 2016 Patriots)
  • GARY KUBIAK (2015 Broncos)
  • John Fox (2013 Broncos)
  • TOM COUHGLIN (2007 and 2011 Giants)
  • TONY DUNGY (2006 Colts)
  • JON GRUDEN (2002 Buccaneers)
  • DICK VERMEIL (1999 Rams)
  • MIKE SHANAHAN (1997 and 1998 Broncos)
  • Marv Levy (1990, 1991, 1992, 1993 Bills)

College head coach in first NFL head coaching job

  • PETE CARROLL* (2013 and 2014 Seahawks) (Hold that thought.)
  • Jim Harbaugh (2012 49ers)
  • BARRY SWITZER (1995 Cowboys)
  • JIMMY JOHNSON (1992 and 1993 Cowboys)
  • Bobby Ross (1994 Chargers)
  • Sam Wyche (1988 Bengals)

That leaves just Mike Holmgren (Seattle edition) and Bill Parcells (New England edition) as Super Bowl-winning head coaches who then brought a 2nd team to a Super Bowl, and lost, and Dan Reeves (Atlanta edition) who was in his 3rd head coaching job.

Two notes here. You may have noticed that I put Pete Carroll in the list of college coaches in their first NFL head coaching job. Carroll coached both the Patriots and the Jets in the 1990s. But he was out of the NFL for ten seasons, and then had his greatest career success with USC. To me, his coaching identity reset.

The second note is on Bill Cowher, who became head coach of the Steelers in 1992 after three years as defensive coordinator of the Chiefs. Cowher was on the hot seat in the early 2000s after missing the playoffs three straight seasons, but he took the Steelers to back-to-back division championships in 2001 and 2002 to save his job, setting the stage for his Super Bowl victory after the 2005 season.

Again, to me, Cowher’s coaching identity reset in the early 2000s, meaning you could actually put him on both the coordinator list and the one-time NFL coach list.

So, what does this all mean?

This means I don’t want the Bears to hire a former Super Bowl-winning head coach, such as Gruden, Payton, Cowher, Billick, or Dungy. Nor do I want any head coach on his third head coaching job (Jeff Fisher, most notably).

You know who else is in his 3rd head coaching job after not winning a Super Bowl? You got it — John Fox!

Give me an NFL coordinator who hasn’t been a head coach, or someone with one previous NFL head coaching stop who feels like they have one or two tweaks they would have liked to make at the previous place (like Belichick winning the PR battles in New England that he lost in Cleveland, or Coughlin being not quite the super ballbuster in New York that he was in Jacksonville).

I don’t believe in the notion that any given team needs an “offensive guy” or a “defensive guy.” To succeed in the NFL, a coach must find success on both sides of the ball. Additionally, we’ve seen plenty of coordinators who become head coaches and then see their team succeed on the other side of the ball than the one they coached.

My favorite example is Brian Billick, who was OC for the record-breaking 1998 Vikings, took the Ravens job in 1999, and won a Super Bowl with a record-breaking defense and an offense that went five weeks without a touchdown.

This week, the WCG staff will have a list of possible coaches. And while there are a few guys I like, let me offer this one: Harold Goodwin, offensive coordinator of the Cardinals.

Goodwin has coached Arizona’s offense since 2013, with great success. He was one of four candidates this year for the Bills head coaching job, and he has coached in the NFL since 2004.

Where did he work then?

Your Chicago Bears! It’s a great story! We’ll love him!

Other than that, there are three actually important items about Goodwin that I find intriguing.

1. He has experience working in successful, first-year regimes.

  • 2004-2006: Chicago Bears, offensive line assistant under Lovie Smith (two postseasons, one Super Bowl)
  • 2007-2011: Pittsburgh Steelers, offensive line quality control under Mike Tomlin (four postseasons, two Super Bowls, one championship)
  • 2012: Indianapolis Colts, offensive line coach under Chuck Pagano (one postseason)
  • 2013-present: Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator under Bruce Arians (two postseasons, one NFC championship game appearance)

2. He has worked with three Pro Bowl quarterbacks

  • Ben Roethlisberger (2007 and 2011 with Goodwin)
  • Andrew Luck (2012)
  • Carson Palmer (2015)

Here’s what Palmer had to say about him in July of 2015 to the Cardinals website, on the eve of their most successful season together:

“He’s an ex-player, he’s just a normal guy, he’s not a guy who can just talk football. He has a lot of different interests, he’s young so he can assimilate with guys and have conversations with any of the guys in here. He’s the combination of a really good teacher and a guy who you can have a good conversation with about a movie or song or whatever. He’s not just football, football, football.”

3. He is a protege of woulda-shoulda-coulda Bears head coach Bruce Arians.

In 2016, Goodwin discussed with ESPN his pursuit of a head coaching position and Arians’ assistance in that pursuit. Under Arians, Goodwin has led gameplanning of the team’s blocking schemes and called plays in training camp and preseason.

From the story:

He’s learned the nuances and intricacies of Arians’ complex passing game, became more familiar with other areas of the offense, and focused on improving in areas he knows will help him be successful whenever he gets that call.

A successful head coach is more than just an Xs and Os man. He is a leader. From what I have read and what I have seen, Goodwin fits that bill.

“Good men are good men, good leaders are good leaders. That’s what head coaches are,” Goodwin told the Cardinals website in 2015. “One thing I respect about (Bruce Arians) and even Chuck Pagano, when they walked into the room, losing is not an option.”

That’s the kind of direct language fans want to hear. In the meantime, we’ll hope that Fox rights the ship here with our beloved Bears. I don’t anticipate a midseason firing, but you never know what will happen once they strap you in that seat. Perhaps a last-minute stay from the governor will come. But they’re shaving your head and one of your legs and counting the minutes to midnight.