"I can tell you I'm really excited about the new opportunity ... I'm not comparing but one of the most appealing things about this job is I’ve been in places like this before ..."
That is what now former Bears head coach John Fox understandably said when originally hired in January 2015. This was a fresh opportunity at success for him, because he was familiar and Chicago had seen his type. He had flamed out with his second coaching opportunity with the Denver Broncos, so the Bears were supposed to be a solid rebound. An organization looking to rebuild in taking on a coach who had been there and done that.
What not many had considered - especially Halas Hall higher ups and the now legendary consultant Ernie Accorsi - was that the NFL game had passed him by. The NFL of the mid 2010's was not the same as his popgun, old school league of the early aughts. He no longer fit in the puzzle of the modern league, the edges on his piece bent and worn out.
As the Bears would see, sometimes the best lessons are learned the hard way, and over three endless years.
Actions always speak louder than words in the NFL. Leading by example and focusing on the task at hand instead of being vociferously outspoken do a football team more justice. Motivation and results go hand in hand, and believing in a culture comes with experience but more importantly, tangible success.
Which is what makes it so fitting that Fox accomplished nothing on both ends of that spectrum. By winning 14 games in his three seasons with Chicago, Fox had only failure to point to. By carrying over his classic demeanor of offering nothing of substance when at any time put on the spot publicly - an aspect of his coaching career that he believed had always served him well so as to not offer opponents an imaginary competitive advantage - Fox displayed the best emblem of the unsurprisingly disappointing Bears team he coached.
That is to say that Fox did everything in a shallow fashion, not just avoiding speaking for the sake of a noteworthy quote. He made a coaching career off of illusory success after all. The way he carried himself, the way he coached personified his Bears, as it eventually did with his previous Carolina and Denver teams: punchless and uninspired.
Though, if you believe that almost-wins matter, Fox was an unparalleled marvel.
Of Fox's 34 losses as Bears head coach, 20 came by eight points or less. From the other blowout perspective, Chicago lost eight games by 20 points in what should always be seen as unprecedented and thoroughly inept to happen in a mere three years. Bad teams, and poorly coached ones at that, are those who continually find a way to lose, instead of finish. And, who lose by multiple scores more often than not: the greatest contending barometer in the NFL.
For Fox, at least early, it was instead seen as putting the Bears back on the right track. An interesting and unearned excuse through and through.
This isn't said in hindsight. It was always difficult to understand why the Bears elected to hire Fox as the man to lead them out of the fire Marc Trestman and Phil Emery created. If Chicago was seeking stability in a coach who had done it before, they could've done better than Fox. Making the playoffs three times in nine seasons with the Panthers, or letting Peyton Manning dominate with the Broncos was an easy mirage to see through, nor was that that impressive of a mark to build on for a turnaround. Stability for the sake of stability was the most asinine, lazy, settling concept an organization that has had no idea how to be consistently relevant could've zeroed in on. Transforming the locker room culture is what most competent coaches - especially more creative, modern candidates - could've accomplished.
A hearty congratulations to the Bears on changing that culture. The players now all like each other. They have nothing to show for it on the field.
The NFL is a boom or bust league: you either take calculated risks or you get left behind in the dust. All too often, the Bears fit the latter description, because they prefer safety and reputation over dealing with consequence of moves that could, for once, have them live up to the high esteem organizational standard they hold themselves to in a perpetual state of delusion. But hey, if the Bears wanted stability with Fox, their wishes came true: they've stabilized as a bottom-five NFL team.
Fox, in that respect, was a match made in heaven for these Bears, a charter franchise that ludicrously fancies itself among the NFL elite simply because of championships won in a much less competitive league. Both are stuck in the past, refusing to venture out of their comfort zone for fear of embarrassment or showing a loss of class. Both could use a rude awakening to jump into the 21st century, although the Bears are likely the only one who will receive the opportunity to make up for past mistakes yet again.
Still, for a franchise that hasn't made the postseason in seven years and who now has Chicago's longest professional sports championship drought, Fox was perfect for the last three years. He was the leader to cement them as the afterthought they've been for decades.
Fox has long represented what's wrong with the modern NFL and why so many teams - including Chicago - struggle to be competitive. Why they never leave the launch pad of a rebuild and the doldrums of the bottom of the standings. He's a relic of an NFL game that needs to be forgotten, buried, with the key thrown away at sea. Somehow he receives infinite chances.
Coaches such as Fox are those with core philosophies that refuse to adapt to what makes current contending organizations successful: aggressiveness, offensive and defensive diversity, and constantly working to improve on the fly. He is the living embodiment of a lack of imagination as modern NFL geniuses coach circles around him before he can even realize what's happened. So teams like the Bears are then gradually dragged down into his state of mediocrity.
If the perennially downtrodden - such as not only the Bears but Browns, Bengals, and many more - would embrace what makes others contenders, they wouldn't find themselves in this weighted muck of irrelevance they're associated with. The NFL is so often called a copycat league as winning models are effortless "stolen" year after year. Yet, for whatever reason, you have organizations continually dipping back into the well of guys like Fox, ignoring that other older NFL teams such as the Steelers and Packers have learned to refashion instead.
Instead of getting with the times, the Bears are left to nauseatingly pick up the perplexing pieces again and again and again and again, in the wake of failed coaches who obviously never were the proper fit.
Moving forward is easy when you fire a head coach. You admit your hiring error and promise a fan base a fresh ideal. The situation is going to change this time. The vetting process on candidates will be done correctly and on this occasion, the man to lead the team back to the mountaintop will be unearthed. Now the winning and fun begins.
Incompetent organizations like the Bears go through this selling cycle periodically as hope without the benefit of the doubt is all can they muster up. Fox should've never been hired in 2015, even the Bears will now say that, albeit never publicly. How they learn from their errors here - as they have never before - will ultimately determine whether they're having this same tired conservation several years from now.
Perhaps for once, the Bears will finally put themselves out there. They'll finally find a coach whose words prove essential. And more importantly, whose actions of merit will speak for themselves to actually match the class this organization mistakenly holds itself in.
Fox leaves the Bears with a whimper. He was never going to take the Bears to the promised land. It's now on them to clean up his sporadic mess quickly and efficiently that only they enabled in the first place.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron, and contributor to The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.