After reclamation projects in Carolina and Denver, John Fox is rebuilding again—this time in Chicago, where the Bears seized the opportunity to add the suddenly-unemployed Fox as their new head coach.
On the surface it may seem an odd marriage between the Bears’ new 37-year-old general manager, Ryan Pace, and the 59-year-old Fox. But the two made a connection when Fox interviewed for the job.
“He’s intelligent, guys want to play hard for him, discipline,” Pace told ChicagoFootball.com. “But then there’s specific things with our personalities. Hey, I want to have high energy, let’s have fun, let’s win games, let’s be positive. Hey, I love that about John Fox.”
In Fox the Bears are reversing field after two seasons of offensive-minded Marc Trestman at the helm. Trestman’s plan worked briefly, as the team ranked second in scoring in 2013, but the wheels fell off last year as the offense tumbled to 23rd. Meanwhile, Chicago’s defense—long a cornerstone of the franchise—produced the two worst statistical seasons in the Bears’ long and storied history.
So to give the reins back to the defense, to a coach whose first NFL gig came under Chuck Knoll in Pittsburgh, is hardly surprising. To help him restore Chicago’s defense, Fox brought in deposed 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, whose defenses have ranked in the top 10 in points and yardage allowed each of the past four seasons.
Certainly there are personnel issues on the defensive side of the ball—most notably an aging talent core and a dearth of linebacker talent—but the Fox/Fangio hiring strongly suggests focus will return to the kind of defense Chicago fans have grown accustomed to.
Pace and the Bears organization hope that Fox can rebuild as quickly as he did at his two previous NFL stops. In Carolina he took a Panthers team that went 1-15 in 2002 and had them in the Super Bowl two seasons later. Given Denver’s recent success it’s easy to forget where they started, with Fox inheriting a 4-12 team and taking them to the playoffs four straight seasons, including a Super Bowl appearance last year.
It’s easy to say Fox rode Peyton Manning’s coattails to success, but don’t overlook the fact that he guided a Jake Delhomme-team to a Super Bowl and a Tim Tebow-led squad to a playoff victory.
Which leads us directly to the biggest question the Bears face this offseason: What to do with Jay Cutler?
On the surface you would think Fox’s track record suggests a much more conservative, run-oriented offense than we’ve seen from the Bears the past two seasons—bad news for fantasy owners who have enjoyed the volume of passes and the fact that so many of them are directed at wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Such an offense would also take the ball out of Cutler’s hands and in theory reduce the potential for drive-killing turnovers Cutler is infamous for.
However, Fox has entrusted his offense to the same guy who ran the high-flying show in Denver, hiring Adam Gase to be the Bears’ OC.
Like Fox, many consider Gase more of a figurehead than the actual architect of Denver’s offense, with Peyton Manning doing most of the heavy lifting. But what Gase lacks in experience he more than makes up for elsewhere; he was on the short list of head coaching interviews for many of the openings this offseason—including Chicago’s—and received a ringing endorsement from Manning himself during his last two offseasons of interviewing for head coaching jobs.
Sure, it was Manning on the field as the Broncos set a league record for points scored last season and finished fourth in total offense this year. But it was Gase who put in plenty of behind-the-scenes game-planning this week and Gase who was in Manning’s ear pre-play.
And it was likely Gase who steered the Broncos into a more run-heavy approach down the stretch as they attempted to protect Manning’s injured thigh.
As for Marshall, he has a familiarity with Gase as well. During Marshall’s final season in Denver (2009) Gase was his position coach—and the result was a more-than solid 154 targets, 101 catches, 1,120 yards, and 10 touchdowns. Aside from Marshall’s two high-volume seasons under Trestman the past two years, those are the best numbers of his career.
The blended result of Fox’s conservative approach and Gase’s cutting edge passing schemes has yet to be determined, but don’t be surprised if it includes more quick-release passing plays—which should fit physical mismatches like Marshall, Jeffery, and tight end Martellus Bennett to a T—and plenty of work for running back Matt Forte as well.
Of course, the key will be how the Bears decide to handle the Cutler situation. At his introductory presser Fox was asked what he looks for in a quarterback; he answered, “one who wins.”
And later, Fox told ChicagoFootball.com, “I’m not afraid or intimidated to tell people the truth.”
Which means Cutler could be in for an earful.