The Chicago Bears today announced the hiring of John Fox as the 15th head coach in franchise history. It was the first time the organization has hired a head coach with previous experience at the position.
Fox has spent the past 13 years as an NFL head coach, first with the Carolina Panthers from 2002-2010, then with the Denver Broncos from 2011-2014. As a head coach he’s earned two trips to the Super Bowl, one each with the Broncos (2013) and Panthers (2003), and a third as defensive coordinator of the New York Giants in 2001.
Fox has a 118-89 record in the regular season and an 8-7 record in the postseason. His .570 win percentage in the regular season is 12th highest amongst active NFL head coaches, while his 118 wins are second only to New England’s Bill Belichick.
This puts the Bears in uncharted territory, as they’ve always gone after the up-and-comer when choosing head coaches.
Yet for numerous reasons, Fox is the move the Bears had to make.
Pace Needs Support
Bears brass already went out on a limb this offseason, hiring Ryan Pace as general manager. At 37, Pace is the youngest GM in the NFL.
That’s not to say Pace isn’t qualified for the position. He very well could be the next big thing, an organizational leader that can consistently craft winning rosters, yet he himself is headed down a path of uncertainty.
Pace is undergoing processes with which he’s not familiar, and there will be many more to come. It would be a disservice to him to have a head coach going through his own growing pains.
In times of crisis, Pace can lean on a head coach who has 36 years experience at the NFL and collegiate levels. It’s safe to say, there’s very little Fox hasn’t already been through, which could prove invaluable to a GM whose toes are barely in the water.
The Lesson of Arians
In 2012, former GM Phil Emery had the opportunity to hire Bruce Arians, who was the reigning NFL Coach of the Year. Yet Emery passed on the sure thing and tried to hit a homerun with Marc Trestman.
In two seasons since, Arians has led the Arizona Cardinals to a 21-11 regular season record, bringing the franchise to the playoffs this year for the first time since 2009. Under Trestman, the Bears went 13-19 and missed the playoffs both seasons.
There’s no way the team could make the same mistake again.
Fox is an established head coach with a history of success. He’s a disciplined leader who will keep control of the locker room and demand accountability from his players. There are no unknowns with Fox, including his potential to bring NFL teams to the Super Bowl.That’s the type of stability the Bears need right now.
Emery and Trestman left the organization in shambles, yet that’s nothing new to Fox, who inherited a Panthers club in 2002 that went 1-15 the year previous. In his first season as head coach, Carolina went 7-9. In his second year, the Panthers went to the Super Bowl.
There’s enough talent in Chicago’s locker room for Fox to reach similar heights with the Bears.
Fixing What’s Broken
For most of his career, Fox has relied on a strong run game on offense. In three of the four years before Peyton Manning, rushing attacks under Fox ranked 3rd, 3rd and 1st in the NFL.
Under Trestman, the Bears were pass-first and put an inordinate amount of pressure on Cutler, who wilted. With Fox in charge, the offense should be much more balanced.
Additionally, Fox is a former defensive coach. There’s no chance he’ll allow the defense to become an embarrassment as it did under Trestman. Going forward, personnel focus in both free agency and the draft will surely be on the defensive side of the ball.
The Cutler Factor
There has been a lot of speculation as to Cutler’s future in Chicago. The reality is that his massive contract – he’s owed $15.5 million next season, with another $10 million that kicks in on the third day of the league year – is going to make it nearly impossible for the Bears to move him.
Most likely, Cutler will be under center next season. Yet there again is where Fox’s experience will be a big boost to the team.
The Panthers were a last-second field goal away from winning a Super Bowl with Jake Delhomme under center, while in 2011 Fox won the AFC West and a playoff game with Tim Tebow skipping balls all over the field.
Compared to Tebow, Cutler will be a walk in the park, particularly in a more-balanced offense.
More to Prove
Fox doubters cite his lack of a Super Bowl ring, which is fair. Yet he’s been to the Super Bowl three times since 2001, most recently in last year’s blowout loss to the Seahawks.
For the Bears, that’s actually a good thing, as he still has something to prove. Losing a Super Bowl leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth. Losing three in 15 years surely has Fox chomping at the bit to get that elusive victory, which leaves little doubt he’ll lay it all on the line during his tenure in the Windy City.
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.