The Bears fired coach John Fox on Monday, a little less than three years after he stated at his introductory news conference his plan to “understate, overproduce.”
Yet, after the Bears’ loss Sunday in Minnesota, dropping them to 5-11 this season and 14-34 in three years under Fox, the infamously tight-lipped coach was only able to make good on half of his goal. His .292 winning percentage was the second-lowest in the charter franchise’s history, better than only Abe Gibron (.274).
Fox’s three-year tenure concluded with a winless record in the division in 2017 for the first time in more than four decades and overall marks of 3-15 against the NFC North and 7-17 at Soldier Field – two areas in which general manager Ryan Pace indicated the Bears must excel.
Fox faced many obstacles, perhaps none greater than injuries: The Bears placed 16 players (nine starters) on season-ending injured reserve in 2017, one year after leading the league in starters’ snaps lost because of injuries. That included Fox’s first two first-rounders – receiver Kevin White and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd – starting a combined 27 of a possible 80 games.
Fox, the 16-year coaching veteran with a defensive background and a reputation for assembling strong staffs, struggled to replace Adam Gase, his offensive coordinator in Year 1 who left to take the Dolphins’ head coaching job in 2016.
In two seasons under Dowell Loggains, the Bears finished 15th and 30th in total offense and 28th and 29th in points, respectively. That after Gase coaxed perhaps Jay Cutler’s finest campaign in Fox’s first season, when the Bears improved from 5-11 to 6-10 in 2015 – the high point of the regime.
Loggains failed to consistently maximize his few playmakers and build weekly game plans that emphasized the team’s clear strength and the conservative Fox’s preferred mode of offense – a powerful ground game.
After releasing Cutler last spring, Pace made two bold moves at quarterback that ultimately played a major hand in Fox’s fate – signing Mike Glennon to a three-year, $45 million deal, including $19 million guaranteed, six weeks before trading up one spot to draft Mitch Trubisky second overall reportedly without Fox’s knowledge.
The plan to roll with Glennon as the 16-game starter was aborted after four games, and Trubisky’s development has been uneven, magnifying the need for an experienced offensive staff adept at grooming the young potential franchise quarterback.
In addition to Trubisky, who was expected to redshirt after starting only 13 games in college, Pace in April drafted a pair of small-school players – running back Tarik Cohen from tiny North Carolina A&T and D-II Ashland tight end Adam Shaheen – plus Alabama safety Eddie Jackson, who was coming off an October 2016 broken leg.
It became immediately apparent Pace and Fox were operating on different timelines – Pace seemingly with the luxury of drafting developmental players, with Fox in must-win mode and requiring immediate draft reinforcements to bolster a 3-13 roster.
Never considered a strong in-game coach, Fox seemed to lose the fan base through his ultraconservatism, in addition to his unwillingness to divulge even the most benign information to the media. An increasing number of no-shows at Soldier Field in 2017 illustrated the waning support, including a conservative estimate of more than 17,000 unused tickets for the Bears’ Christmas Eve win over the 0-14 Browns.
Pace will lead the search for Fox’s replacement and the franchise’s 16th head coach, starting immediately. After consultant Ernie Accorsi was thought to have forced a rookie GM’s hand in the Fox hiring, Pace will have the unfettered power to hire his top candidate – whose top qualification likely will be an ability to maximize Trubisky and rebuild an inept offense to help out a competitive defense.