NFL coordinators have varying levels of autonomy depending on the organization.
John Fox spent 23 years as a defensive coach before accepting his first head-coaching job in Carolina in 2002. Due to his background, most assume he’ll give offensive coordinator Adam Gase complete freedom do to as he pleases on game days.
“I hire coordinators to do exactly that,” Fox said during OTAs. “Whether it's Adam Gase or Jeff Rodgers in special teams or even [defensive coordinator] Vic Fangio, They're in charge of it. You give them the authority to do it.”
Yet Fox has also been adamant he’ll be integral in all three phases of the team.
“I'm involved because I'm the head coach. I manage the game, so I'm involved in the game plan, all that kind of stuff, and really in all three phases.”
Fox is relatively hands off during practice, allowing his staff control throughout most sessions. So despite his proclamations to the contrary, most have assumed all along that Fox would keep his nose out of the offense on game days.
That doesn’t appear to be the case.
“I look at a lot of film,” Fox said during his introductory press conference in January. “People talk about well, coach you're a defensive coach, well I can promise you I've seen more offense than any offensive coach known to man in 25 years. I know football, that's my job. I'm the head coach so I'm involved in everything.”
Coordinator Adam Gase affirmed today that Fox will have a lot of say in not only the weekly game plan on offense but also the play-calling, even down to the formations.
“Coach Fox will have a plan for us, what we’re going to do as a unit, and we’ll follow that plan,” Gase said when asked about personnel usage against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. “A lot of times these games, going into it, it's going to be a feel - what they're doing, how we're playing certain personnel groupings, what our tempo is – it's just kind of how the overall game plan of how coach Fox wants to play it. He might tell me, ‘two tight ends this series, or three tight ends, let's go 11 personnel with three wideouts.’ It's going to be series to series, so it's hard to predict how many plays a guy might play.”
If we’re to believe Gase, then Fox is going to have his fingerprints all over the offense on Sundays.
That can only be a good thing.
The Bears transitioned to a passing offense under former head coach Marc Trestman, after more than 90 years of being a run-first organization. While the returns were positive in 2013, the predictable passing attack and a lack of balance in the run game buried the offense last season.
In Gase’s first year as a coordinator in Denver, the Broncos finished 1st in the NFL in passing, which has created consternation among a fan base worried the next coming of Trestman, or even Mike Martz, currently resides in the Windy City.
The revelation that Fox will be overseeing the flow of offense on game days should quell those concerns.
In three of four seasons prior to inheriting Peyton Manning in 2012, Fox-led teams ranked in the top three in the NFL in rushing. He’s a coach who clearly understands the value of a sustained, consistent run game.
Last year, the Broncos went 1-2 from Weeks 9-11, with road losses to the New England Patriots and St. Louis Rams, who finished 6-10. In those two losses, C.J. Anderson rushed for 47 yards combined, while Manning threw for 827 yards.
Following the loss to the Rams, Denver’s offense shifted dramatically to a run-first attack. Anderson rushed for 167 and 168 yards the next two games, with the Broncos winning five of six down the stretch. In that six-game span, Manning threw for 300 or more yards just once, and fewer than 200 yards twice.
Fox spearheaded that change in philosophy, reigning in his young coordinator and reminding him the value of running the football.
Gase was interviewed for three different head-coaching vacancies this off-season. Fox waited patiently and refrained from signing an offensive coordinator for nearly two weeks. When Gase failed to land a head-coaching gig, Fox offered his former OC the same position in Chicago.
Fox bided his time because he knows Gase. He’s the one who promoted him from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator in 2013. He also knows that on game days, Gase won’t fight back and act independently of Fox’s wishes. In essence, Fox knows he has influence over coordinator and that Gase will bend to his will, because he’s done it before.
So while Gase may be sending the plays in to Cutler on game days, the likelihood of a Trestman-esque offense appears slim. For if Gase becomes enamored with his strong-armed quarterback and becomes too pass-happy, he’ll inevitably be shaken back to reality by an old-school head coach who understands the value of pounding the rock.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fifth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.