Players typically make coaches’ decisions for them with their levels of play, and if any doubt remained about what management would decide on John Fox’s future, the Bears turned in one final bumbling 2017 performance — a 23-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings — that presumably opened the trap door under Fox, whose firing is expected sooner rather than later.
From a 3-5 point at midseason, Fox’s team plummeted in a 2-6 freefall in which, after defeating Pittsburgh, Carolina and Baltimore in the first half of the season, the only victories came over bottom-feeders Cincinnati and Cleveland. For all of the close games that hinted at progress (Atlanta, New Orleans, Detroit), five losses in the 5-11 year were by double digits, only one fewer than in last season’s abyss.
“The league makes me be here,” was the gist of Fox’s message postgame, a statement that he was not going to talk at all about his job situation, only about this game, and not surprisingly there were no questions from the media about this game.
And there really wasn’t much to talk about, other than possibly how representative this game was of the Bears over the second half of 2017.
The offense running eight plays from inside the Vikings' 10-yard line, four of them from the two, and zero points from quarterback Mitch Trubisky and the offense that converted only one of 12 third downs. Offense, defense and special teams authoring 10 penalty walk-offs that cost 116 yards in a game that saw the Bears rush for all of 30 yards. That the Vikings were tagged with 12 penalties is irrelevant when Bears special teams (seven points) outscored the offense (three).
Fox finished this 5-11 season winless in the NFC North and with a 14-34 mark in his three seasons coaching a team that too often found ways to lose games that were there for the winning.
Midway through the fourth quarter, FOX put up a graphic listing the 10 projected Bears starters on injured reserve, from Kyle Long to Zach Miller to Kevin White to Cam Meredith to Pernell McPhee to Leonard Floyd and on and on and on. It won’t be enough of a reason to excuse the third straight double-digit-loss season under Fox, but it does go a long way toward explaining it.
NFC North shakeup?
The coaching turmoil that’ll ratchet all the way up in the next day or two will likely affect the Bears in more than just their own coaching situation. Minnesota offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur fits the in-vogue template for head coaches — young, offensive background, quarterback successes — and if he leaves, chances are that Case Keenum goes with him. The team that hires Shurmur will by definition be bad (which is why teams change head coaches in the first place) and probably not blessed with a strong quarterback situation.
That portends a possible shakeup at the top of the NFC North, because the Vikings are not the runaway leader in the division without Keenum and Shurmur, whose nine wins in two seasons coaching the Cleveland Browns suddenly look pretty impressive.
What's Pace's future?
A massive X-factor in the Bears' football operation is the fate of general manager Ryan Pace, though team ownership under chairman George McCaskey going to a fourth general manager in seven years (Jerry Angelo, Phil Emery, Pace and the hypothetical successor) would be shocking. Pace shares the dismal record of the past three years and gets demerits for too many major misses in free agency (Mike Glennon, Marcus Cooper, Markus Wheaton, Jerrell Freeman, Connor Barth, etc.), surprising if only because Pace comes from a background in pro personnel with New Orleans. Pace’s drafts have produced more core players (Trubisky, Cody Whitehair, Leonard Floyd, Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen) than his efforts in free agency (Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan).
But the phrase “rookie mistakes” can be applied to more than just players, and a long view on Pace is that he will improve with age. Ownership would be well served to stay a course with Pace; he hires his own clean pick for head coach and the clock really starts then on what the Bears planned to be an emerging star in the personnel world.