Bears

A culture change didn't matter as John Fox now has worst winning percentage in Bears history

A culture change didn't matter as John Fox now has worst winning percentage in Bears history

The good news, perhaps, is there was no finger-pointing in the Bears’ locker room following Sunday’s debacle against the San Francisco 49ers. There wasn’t anyone putting a coach or teammate on blast to the media or making excuses for themselves after a 15-14 defeat to a 49ers team with 10 losses.

That’s probably a product of the culture John Fox worked to instill in his team after taking over a toxic situation three years ago. But here’s the thing about that culture: It hasn’t led to the Bears winning games.

Fox, after Sunday’s loss, is 12-32 as head coach of the Bears. His .273 winning percentage is now worse than that of Abe Gibron, whose .274 winning percentage from 1972-1974 was the previous low-water mark in franchise history. While the Bears don’t have a room full of loudmouth malcontents anymore, they haven’t been able to turn that into any semblance of success.

“Just, I don’t know man, try to think long-term, for real,” safety Eddie Jackson said. “You got a good enough team, close games like this you should’ve won, but just gotta keep thinking next day, man. That’s about it.”

Jackson, in the last four weeks, has experienced more losses than he did in four years at Alabama (the Tide lost three games in which he played). He talked optimistically last week about the rookies on this team — led by Mitchell Trubisky — working to set a new standard on which the Bears could build in 2018. But setting that standard isn’t easy when the results aren’t there (or, in the case of Adam Shaheen, when you’re only playing 24 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, as he did Sunday).

Jackson was asked if this loss was the low point of the season and said it is. But what’s to say the Bears haven’t hit rock bottom yet?

“You’re 3-9, it’s tough, man,” Jackson said. “It’s tough. Especially games like that, you know you should’ve won. It’s just tough.”

The players on this team aren’t focusing on what will be the biggest storyline surrounding the Bears for the remainder of the 2017 season — a potential coaching change. This team does seem to know all it can do right now is collectively put their heads down and work to make things better.

“I wouldn’t say sad, I wouldn’t say depressed, but it’s just quiet,” Trubisky said of the mood in the Bears’ locker room. “It’s definitely not good, but I still have confidence going forward because I know the guys in that locker room, they care. I know we fought on the field and I know a lot of the guys, they’re putting their bodies on the line — up front, protecting for me, on defense making plays, they’re flying around. We’re not just doing this for nothing, we’re doing it for a purpose. We’re just not getting the results we want.

“The only thing I know is go back to work, go harder, keep getting better at practice, keep pulling together — there’s no finger-pointing, just keep pulling together, sticking together and it’s going to turn around. So I feel good about that.”

What would “better” look like, though? More than 147 total yards on offense, for one. Trubisky completed 12 of 15 passes but didn’t take any risks, either by design or by virtue of an under-manned receiving corps not presenting any opportunities to open things up. Vic Fangio’s defense isn’t without blame here, either, and has now allowed over five yards per play in five consecutive games. There’s a difference between losing but making progress and just losing, and the Bears lately have been doing too much of the latter.

The Bears might have the right culture in place to get better in these final four weeks. Whether they have the right coaches or players, though, appears to be a more important question.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bears use Jags/Vikes as blueprints and build an elite defense over offense?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bears use Jags/Vikes as blueprints and build an elite defense over offense?

On this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, David Schuster (670 The Score), Dan Cahill (Chicago Sun-Times) and Jordan Bernfield join David Kaplan on the panel.

The Bulls keep on winning. Should they try to make the playoffs? NBCSportsChicago.com’s Vincent Goodwill joins the guys to discuss.

Plus, with Bortles, Foles and Keenum starting in this weekend’s Championship Games should the Bears prioritize improving their defense this offseason?

Will Bears see instant improvement under Matt Nagy? Putting his first-year expectations in context

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USA TODAY

Will Bears see instant improvement under Matt Nagy? Putting his first-year expectations in context

Circling back around from the playoffs to the Bears, or at least to the Bears using the current postseason as a bit of a prism, magnifying glass, measuring stick, all of the above:

The ultimate question, obviously meaningfully unanswerable for perhaps another 10 or 11 months, revolves around expectations that were ushered in along with Matt Nagy and the rest of his coaching staff. One early guess is that there’ll be an inevitable positive bump in the record, the only true measuring stick. Depending on changes in practices, strength training, luck, whatever, Nagy might fare better than John Fox simply by virtue of having a presumably healthier roster — pick any three Bears who were injured during the 2017 season: Leonard Floyd, Cameron Meredith, Eric Kush, Kyle Long, Pernell McPhee, Mitch Unrein, Kevin White and Willie Young — and a broken-in Mitch Trubisky from the get-go.

This is far from a given, however. Far, far from a given for the Bears. Of the 10 coaches hired in the 50 years since George Halas stopped, only Fox, Dick Jauron and Dave Wannstedt improved on the winning percentage of their immediate predecessor. All dipped, save for Jack Pardee, who in 1975 equaled the 4-10 finish of Abe Gibron before him. And Pardee was getting Walter Payton in that year’s draft, so things started looking up in a hurry.

And maybe that should be the expectation for Nagy, who projects to get some or all of Fox’s wounded back, plus a draft class beginning with No. 8 overall.

Better Bears record in 2018? Maybe, but ...

The Bears are perhaps something of an anomaly (imagine that) in the near constant of incoming coaches failing to improve matters in their first years. One of the more memorable aspects of this writer’s first year on the Bears beat (1992) — besides the obvious pyrotechnics of Mike Ditka’s epic final season — was the startling turnarounds effected by first-year (and first-time) NFL coaches that year, with several teams on the Bears’ schedule that year, meaning there were chances to study those in depth.

Consider: Bill Cowher took the Steelers from 7-9 to 11-5, Dennis Green took the Vikings from 8-8 to 11-5, Mike Holmgren took the Packers from 4-12 to 11-5, Bobby Ross took the Chargers from 4-12 to 11-5, and Dave Shula took the Bengals from 3-13 to 5-11.

The Bears played all but the Chargers that year, losing twice to Green, once to Holmgren and defeating the Cowher and Shula teams. Holmgren’s Packers didn’t make the playoffs, but he had to make an in-season quarterback change, which worked out pretty well long-term (Brett Favre).

Bears coaching-change history notwithstanding, the Nagy bar should be well above the five wins of Fox’s 2017. Nagy is a first-time head coach, but none of Cowher, Green, Holmgren, Ross or Shula had ever been NFL head coaches previously, either. Green and Ross had been college head coaches, albeit Green with a losing record and Ross barely .500 in those tenures.

And those coaches were taking over in the last year before the advent of free agency, which began in 1993. The Bears “landed” Anthony Blaylock and Craig Heyward. The Vikings secured Jack Del Rio. The Packers, Reggie White.

Odd years coming

Expectations vs. results will be interesting to observe in quite a few places this season. In some spots, the situation wasn’t completely broken but they “fixed” it anyway, in the dubious tradition of the Bears axing Lovie Smith after consecutive seasons of 11-5, 8-8 and 10-6 — two more wins (29) than Fox and Marc Trestman had combined (27) over the next five years.

Sometimes that sort of thing can work out. Phil Jackson did get the Michael Jordan Bulls to the next level that Doug Collins hadn’t. And Joe Maddon got the Cubs over the Rick Renteria hump, though adding Kris Bryant, Dexter Fowler and Jon Lester probably helped, too. Fox got the Broncos into a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning, but Gary Kubiak won one with Manning. Fox’s Broncos went against the 2013 Seattle Seahawks, one of the top 10 defenses of all time, while Kubiak had the good fortune of instead having one of the all-time great defenses in 2015.

But back to current NFL case studies:

— The Lions fired Jim Caldwell after a 9-7 season, his third winning year out of four there, two of those going to the playoffs.

— The Titans concluded their playoff year with the exit of Mike Mularkey, his reward for a second straight 9-7 that reversed four straight losing years under others.

— Chuck Pagano had five .500-or-better seasons with the Colts, didn’t have Andrew Luck all year, and was fired two years after going 5-3 with Matt Hasselbeck filling in for Luck.

What the expectations are in those venues is their business, just as it was when Phil Emery launched Smith in a fashion similar to the Titans with Mularkey. Smith didn’t reach the 2012 playoffs but would have been fired for anything short of a Super Bowl appearance, as Mularkey was for only winning one playoff game with Marcus Mariota as his quarterback.

All of which makes the Nagy/Pace Era more than a little intriguing. Nagy takes over a team with a No. 2-overall quarterback, as Mularkey did with Mariota. Some of Mularkey’s undoing traced to failing to maximize Mariota with an offense suited to how his quarterback plays his best, and force-fitting a player into a scheme is high-risk at best.

That doesn’t really apply in the case of a conservatively wired Fox, who directed that the offense be kept under ball-security control with a rookie quarterback. Fox and Dowell Loggains arguably were as constrained by Trubisky as he was by them.

But Nick Foles flourished with the Eagles under Chip Kelly and Doug Pederson, struggling a bit under Jeff Fisher. Case Keenum, a teammate of Foles when the Rams played in St. Louis, was so-so under the defense-based Fisher with the Rams, yet went supernova this year under the defense-based Mike Zimmer with the Vikings, which speaks to the value of the right coordinator irrespective of the head coach’s offensive or defensive background.

In the end Nagy’s achievements will be player-based. They always are. What he can do with what he’s got and given, via draft, free agency or whatever, vs. the successes and non-successes of others in his situation, is the work in progress now.