1-on-1 with Bears' John Fox: The man behind the coach


1-on-1 with Bears' John Fox: The man behind the coach

Bears coach John Fox was a defensive back at San Diego State, had a cup of offseason coffee with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after graduating in 1978, then began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at SDSU. In Part 2 of his conversation with Bears Insider John “Moon” Mullin, Fox shares how he’s dealt with the life, why he’s still coaching and how long he thinks it’s something he’ll be doing.

Q: With all the success you’ve had and at age 60, did you consider just calling it a career after you and the Denver Broncos agreed to end it?

A: I’ve always known exactly what I was going to do: I was going to play football as long as I could, and then I was going to coach. That got instilled in me being around role models and coaches that inspired me. Next to teaching school, I can’t think of anything that would be as gratifying for me.

In life, early on, you try to provide for your family and there’s a job you have to do. But at this point in my career, I don’t have to do it any more. As far as taking care of my family, I’ve done that. Now I do it because I want to. I love being with the guys, love just week to week, the old ‘Wide World of Sports’ mantra, ‘the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat.’

Q: How about a “gap” year, regrouping? Did you and Robin think about taking a year or whatever off?

A: I would say I thought more about it after Carolina going to Denver than I did this time around. In either case, it wasn’t about the money. I was prepared to [skip a year]. But I’ve been in the league so long, you meet people, and I’d been with Pittsburgh, the Raiders, the Giants. Those were owners who weren’t some billionaires buying teams, who don’t really understand football. These people LIVED it.

[MORE: Check out Part 1 of CSN's exclusive interview with John Fox]

The Rooneys. Al Davis. The Maras. The McCaskeys. Halas. People who lived football.

And then Ryan [Pace]. He’s young but he’s been in the business for 14 years. Great people skills, good evaluator. A lot of people told me, don’t go to Denver. But now I’m Chicago. I love it.

Q: So then, where is home for you? You’ve got a home in Florida but where’s ‘home?’

A: Florida. You’ve got two coasts to choose from. Water’s warmer. You’ve got islands you can drive to by boat. No state tax. I’m on the water all the time.

Q: The life of a coach is one step above the military as far as constant movement and new “homes.” How hard has that part been?

A: You don’t do this without a stud wife. And I’ve got a stud wife AND stud kids. Really, I’ve spent my life raising other people’s kids. My wife has raised our kids. I don’t say I had no hand in it, but when you’re younger, busting it to get ahead in life. I still do it the same way I did 15 years ago – look at tape, evaluate players, that’s just how I do it.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Robin and the kids, they’re the ones that made the thing tick. I don’t care what coach; you have to have that.

Q: Do you set aside a “date night?”

A: Friday night. And it may not be just her and me. I may not have seen my kids awake all week. ‘Date night’ is a little easier now with the kids older; and my 15-year-old just says, ‘Dad, can you drop me off two miles away.’

You sign up for this, and we’re very well compensated. Your wife and children kinda do, but it wasn’t their choice. So whenever it’s rough, you feel worse for them, if that makes sense.

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Growing up, my Dad was a Navy SEAL would be gone for six months, we couldn’t even write him, we weren’t even allowed to know where he was. I think you grow up a little tougher like that. So when my wife complains about all of this, I tell her, ‘Hey, it was way worse than this.’ [laughs]

Q: Have you every thought of the point when you’ll give it up?

A: I haven’t hit that point yet. I’ll walk away when I do. And I don’t know if I’ll ever hit it [laughs]. I don’t know. I’ve had 8,000 coaches tell me, ‘If I’m doing this when I’m 60 or 65, punch me in the face.’ I’d’ve punched a lot of people in the face. Sid Gilman was one of them; he was 70. He retired for one year, then he said, ‘I got tired of my biggest decision every day being what time am I teeing off?’

When you do this for a living for most of your adult life, that excitement level is hard to match. It’s like a drug. Just the passion. That’s where I’m at. My agent, Bob LaMonte, was saying to me, ‘You know, you’re the only one of my [coaching] clients who’s been a head coach for three different teams. I never thought of that.

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday. 

Bears cut ties with linebacker Jerrell Freeman

Bears cut ties with linebacker Jerrell Freeman

The Bears began their slew of offseason moves by releasing inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Freeman, 31, signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Bears in 2016.

In his first year in Chicago he amassed 110 tackles in 12 games but was suspended four games for PED use. He played in just one game lsat season before suffering a pectoral injury that placed him on IR. He then tested positive again for a performance-enhancing drug, resulting in a 10-game suspension that bleeds over into 2018 for two more games, wherever he winds up.