The Chicago Bears are still searching for a head coach and an attractive candidate just became available. John Fox and the Denver Broncos parted ways yesterday, instantly making him one of the most experienced head coaches on the market.
It has been reported there is mutual interest between the Bears and Fox, although no interviews have been scheduled.
Is Fox the right head coach to lead the team into the future?
Veteran Head Coach
Fox held two posts as an NFL defensive coordinator – with the Los Angeles Raiders from 1994-1995, and the New York Giants from 1997-2001 – before he was hired as head coach of the Carolina Panthers in 2002, a post he held until 2010.
In nine years with the Panthers, he amassed a 73-71 record in the regular season, and a 5-3 record in the postseason. In his second year at the helm, Fox led Carolina to Super Bowl XXXVIII, a 32-29 loss to the New England Patriots on a last-second field goal.
The Panthers nearly made it to the Super Bowl two years later but lost to the Seattle Seahawks in the 2005 NFC Championship Game. Fox led Carolina to a third postseason berth in 2008 but were blown out in the NFC Divisional Game by the Arizona Cardinals.
After a 2-14 season in 2010, the Panthers did not re-sign Fox, who was immediately hired as head coach of the Denver Broncos.
During four years in the Mile High City, Fox had an impressive 46-18 regular-season record, finishing first in the AFC West each year. Last year, he earned his second trip to the Super Bowl, a 43-8 shellacking at the hands of the Seahawks.
In 13 years as an NFL head coach Fox has a 119-89 record (57 percent) in the regular season and an 8-7 record (54 percent) in the postseason.
Fox’s first NFL gig came as defensive backs coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers under legendary head coach Chuck Knoll from 1989-1991. He held the same role for the San Diego Chargers under Bobby Ross from 1992-1993, before taking over as DC in Los Angeles under Art Shell in 1994.
Here are Fox’s rankings in seven years as an NFL defensive coordinator:
For seven seasons, Fox’s defenses averaged 12th overall, 12th in scoring and 10th in rushing. If the Bears were able to meet those averages, he’d immediately have the team on the right path defensively.
This year, Denver’s defense ranked 3rd overall and 2nd against the run, with the ninth most sacks (41) and eighth fewest rushing touchdowns allowed (8).
Under Fox, the focus in the Windy City would again be on defense, which fits the franchise like a glove.
Investment in Run Game
Since becoming a head coach in 2002, here are the yearly rushing ranks, on offense, under Fox:
|Avg. Since 2007||10|
Former Bears head coach Marc Trestman relied on a one-dimensional offense that often ignored the run game. Under Fox, that won’t be the case.
Since 2007, his rushing attacks have ranked 10th best in the NFL, finishing in the Top 3 three times, while leading the league in 2011.
Obviously, Fox does not call plays on offense but it’s obvious from his large body of work the value he places in running the ball. In Chicago, a city hit hard by severe weather late in each season, the ability to pound the rock on the ground is crucial.
“Let’s face the facts – the weather here, I’m experiencing it right now, it can be brutal,” GM Ryan Pace said last week. “To win in that environment you’ve got to be able to run the ball.”
The Bears have a solid pair of running backs in Matt Forte and Ka’Deem Carey, and you can imagine Fox would use them in the same manner he did Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams in Carolina. Deploying a run-first strategy utilizes two of the team’s best offensive weapons, while not forcing the quarterback to win every game.
If Jay Cutler is retained, there’s no doubt Fox would have the common sense to take the ball out of his turnover-prone quarterback’s hands and lean on the run game.
Outside of Mike Shanahan, there are no other legitimate head-coach candidates on the market with more experience than Fox.
Pace is just 37 and, as we outlined previously, a seasoned head coach would go a long way in easing the new GM’s transition. There’s very little Fox hasn’t seen or experienced in his two decades in the NFL, which would be very valuable to a first-time general manager.
John Fox has a very solid resume, yet there are reasons for concern.
First, as a defensive coordinator, his passing defenses were mediocre, averaging just 16th best in the league. That’s concerning for a coach who spent the previous 15 years as a defensive backs coach. It’s troubling when a coach struggles in his specialty area.
Second, Fox had a winning record in just three of his 10 seasons before Peyton Manning. Without Manning, he has a .507 win percentage in the regular season.
Third, Fox and Manning went one-and-done in the playoffs in two of their three years together, while last year’s Super Bowl loss was one of the most one-sided affairs in recent history.
If Fox can’t get it done at home with Manning and the NFL’s third-ranked defense, how can he be expected to win a Super Bowl in Chicago with Cutler and company?
As Good as it Gets
He isn’t perfect by any means but, with Gary Kubiak off the table, Fox becomes the most desirable head-coach candidate for the Bears.
The team has interviewed four other candidates – Cardinals DC Todd Bowles, Broncos OC Adam Gase, Seahawks DC Dan Quinn and Lions DC Teryl Austin – yet none have any previous head-coaching experience. In fact, none of the four have more than two year’s experience as an NFL coordinator.
With that cast, the Bears would be looking to hit a homerun, in the same way former GM Phil Emery did when he hired Marc Trestman.
Considering their relatively short NFL coaching careers, and the inherent risk in hiring an inexperienced head coach, the team’s 37-year-old GM would be best paired with a veteran like Fox.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.