MINNEAPOLIS — The John Fox Era came to a close Monday morning, less than 24 hours after the 2017 season ended with a 23-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
As the Bears begin the search for their third head coach since firing Lovie Smith after the 2012 season, keep this in mind: It won’t be as simple as the Bears identifying their guy and hiring him. With plenty of franchises expected to also have head-coaching vacancies — including sides with established quarterbacks like the Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions — the Bears will have to pitch themselves, too.
New Year’s Eve wasn’t exactly a great pitch for the Bears, with Michael Burton the team’s leading rusher at halftime with one carry for zero yards (Jordan Howard carried five times for minus-one yard). Mitchell Trubisky made a rookie mistake when he flipped the ball to no one in the end zone for an intentional grounding-caused safety, and the offense didn’t cross midfield until early in the first quarter. The Bears committed 10 penalties; they finish the 2017 season having committed at least eight penalties in nine games.
But looking at the larger scope of the Bears, there are three clear ways Ryan Pace, Ted Phillips and George McCaskey can sell the Bears to prospective coaching candidates:
1. Mitchell Trubisky
While Trubisky’s final 2017 numbers might not look too impressive (seven touchdowns, seven interceptions), those are in line with what plenty of rookie quarterbacks have done in recent history. The No. 2 overall pick has shown flashes of brilliance this year and has the athleticism and intangibles to be molded into a much better player. His leadership qualities shined even as the Bears again slipped to the bottom of the NFC North: The best anecdotal evidence of that is multiple veteran offensive linemen saying Trubisky would tell them to “shut the f*** up” if they were goofing off in the huddle.
There’s no better way for a head coach to obtain job security than by developing and tying himself to a franchise quarterback. Trubisky’s already worked through a lot of the growing pains of being a rookie, and the Bears should be able to entice some of the league’s best coaching candidates with an improving, highly touted quarterback.
2. The rest of the core
In addition to Trubisky, a good number of the Bears’ best players are in Years 1 or 2 of their NFL careers: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Cody Whitehair, Leonard Floyd, Nick Kwiatkoski and Eddie Jackson fit that bill. Eddie Goldman and Adrian Amos just finished their respective third years in the league. Adam Shaheen flashed his potential a few times between when the coaching staff played him more (following Zach Miller’s injury) and a chest injury that wound up ending his season (after the Cincinnati game). Akiem Hicks was a home run free-agent signing, Danny Trevathan a rock-solid anchor of the defense and a healthy Kyle Long is a key building block.
There’s still a lot of building that has to happen to fill out this roster, with wide receiver, edge rusher and cornerback red-line needs. The Bears could look to upgrade at tackle, too. The free agency whiffs since Pace became the team’s general manager in 2015 — most recently and notably, Markus Wheaton and Marcus Cooper at those red-line positions — have made those needs even more pressing. The Bears won’t be able to address all of them through the draft; Pace will need to hit on a free agent signing or a trade if all of them will be filled.
But there’s enough of a core here — it’s certainly better than things were after the end of the Marc Trestman/Phil Emery Era — that the next coach won’t have to do as much “erasing” as Fox did when he took over in 2015.
3. Updated facilities
The Bears picked an odd time — 4:30 p.m. on a Friday — to announce plans to significantly expand and renovate Halas Hall back in November. But the renovations are designed to add plenty of space and resources for the team’s players and coaches, and could be a selling point for not only the next coach, but future free agents. The renovations are expected to be completed in time for the 2019 season and include:
— A 13,000-square-foot indoor turf space with a 133’x26’ video projection wall and an adjacent virtual reality room.
— The weight room being expanded by 2,000 square feet.
— The sports medicine space being four times larger than the current space; there will also be an equipment room, recovery space and a nutrition and fuel station that are double the current size at Halas Hall.
— Coaches offices increasing by 50 percent, and position meeting rooms doubling in capacity.
— The locker room being expanded by 1,700 square feet, and a 3,250 players’ lounge will be added.
— The cafeteria being expanded by 4,300 square feet.
— Two additional practice fields that are already under construction, doubling the team’s outdoor practice field capacity.