Shaking the last crumbs out of the post-Packers-loss notebook...
In the wake of the Bears’ embarrassing and bewildering loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, an inescapable thought was that the defeat very possibly foreshadowed the end of John Fox’s tenure as Bears coach.
But how soon? And honestly, should it?
The glow of the Bears before the Green Bay game was misleading. I wonder if the hysteria reaction in the wake of it might be, too.
On the “should” point, first – 48 hours ago the Bears had won two of their previous three games, against teams with a combined record of 17-10, and Fox was being fitted for a La-Z-Boy instead of a hot seat. None of that offsets the appalling performance by a Fox team that should have been accelerating into a game that represented nothing short of a season-changing opportunity.
Which should mean that, as tempting or natural as it may be, any judgement of Fox should not be finalized based on the 23-16 loss to the Packers. GM Ryan Pace may have a rolodex of replacement possibilities – every GM does – but he and the organization didn’t launch Fox on Monday, so they have not reached a decision that presumably can’t be reversed by the results of the Detroit game next weekend and the Philadelphia Eagles game the week after.
Put another way...
If the Bears handle the Lions (they defeated Detroit in Chicago last year with Brian Hoyer under center, and lost by three in Detroit with Matt Barkley last year and the Lions headed for the playoffs)...
...and the Bears stun the Eagles (they’ve beaten the AFC North-leading Steelers and 7-3 Panthers already this year)…
…what will be the narrative on Fox’s situation? Just a thought.
On the “how soon?” point: Well known is the fact that the Bears have never fired a coach in-season, and Fox’s presence at the Halas Hall podium on Monday said the Green Bay loss hadn’t done it. Nor had the resulting 3-6 season record, nor had the fact that it was to a Packers team without Aaron Rodgers, nor that the Packers were coming off a short week vs. the Bears fresh from their off-week, and so on.
However, while chairman George McCaskey is committed to honoring and respecting the past, he is anything but a lockstep prisoner of it. He has put his imprint on many areas of the organization since succeeding brother Mike as the apex executive.
Why this could matter is that McCaskey would not be the first chief executive to break with tradition and in this case be agreeable to a coaching change if Pace wants to go that way, perhaps with an interim such as Vic Fangio to finish out the season.
The Bears are historically loyal and patient with their coaches, but McCaskey jettisoned GM Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman after two years. In the process, McCaskey became the first Bears chief executive to fire a head coach after only two seasons (Paddy Driscoll just went back to being an assistant coach under George Halas when Halas was ready to resume head-coaching after a two-year break in the last '50s.)
McCaskey and Pace would have some recent history as suggestive precedent. The L.A. Rams fired Jeff Fisher after wobbling to a 4-9 point with rookie quarterback Jared Goff in place last year. They lost their final three games but are 7-2 this year. The Buffalo Bills dumped Rex Ryan before the end of 2016; they are in the playoff discussion this year. Tennessee fired Ken Whisenhunt seven games into the 2015 season and went to 9-7 under Mike Mularkey in 2016 after the organization removed the “interim” label from Mularkey.
Nothing here should be taken even slightly as predicting or advocating that the Bears making a coaching change after this one game, which left them 2-3 under quarterback Mitch Trubisky. It is very, very unlikely that the Bears cast out John Fox without letting the rest of the season play out. The New York Giants, mired in a season considerably worse (1-8) than the Bears’, issued a statement of support for coach Ben McAdoo. The Bears and Giants are old-school organizations, the Maras and McCaskeys have similar values, and the Giants don’t fire coaches in-season, either.
But going the opposite direction from the earlier next-games scenarios: f the Bears sleepwalk again and are embarrassed by the Detroit Lions at home next Sunday, then have real problems in Philadelphia with the Eagles the following week, no one should rule out a historic “first” for an organization that can only be increasingly classed as desperate.
For those hoping the Bears jettison Fox after this year, a common citation is the fact that no Bears coach has held onto his job after a third straight losing season. That’s a little misleading, if only because it is a very small sample size, and enough exceptions in this case make the rule suspect.
Three of the nine coaches since the end of George Halas’ final stint were around for three straight losing seasons. Two were gone after two straight and one – Mike Ditka – was done after one. Under Chairman George McCaskey, Marc Trestman and Lovie Smith were dismissed without reaching the three-and-out standard.
Coach Fired after…
Marc Trestman 2 straight losing seasons (2013-14)
Lovie Smith 3 straight .500-or-better seasons (2010-12)
Dick Jauron 4 losing seasons in five (1999-2000, 2002-03)
Dave Wannstedt 3 straight losing seasons (1996-99)
Mike Ditka 1 losing season (1992)
Neill Armstrong 3 losing seasons in four (1978, 1980-81)
Jack Pardee (quit)
Abe Gibron 3 straight losing seasons (1972-74)
Jim Dooley 3 straight losing seasons
Besides the results in the standings, the undisciplined, sloppy play of the Bears in the Green Bay loss was the sort of thing that reflects very badly on coaching and coaches, even though none of the eight penalties assessed and three others flagged but declined were on the coaches.
“Lack of focus,” Trubisky said by way of blunt explanation after Sunday’s game. “It seemed uncharacteristic for us because we were locked in and ready to go.”
In fact, the Bears had become better behaved since Trubisky took over from Mike Glennon. They were assessed 10 and eight penalties in Glennon’s last two starts, then 8-5-5-4 in Trubisky’s before Sunday.
“Was it a real clean game, no,” Fox said. “I think we didn't line up properly as far as formation, we went in motion on a play, we went early. You know those are real, you saw 'em as well as I did. It created some behind-the-sticks series and that was a factor, especially on our third-down conversion ratio.”
As far as poor focus, Fox wasn’t copping to much by either coaches or players. “Well, I think you know it's all of the above,” Fox said. “You know there's no doubt about that. But I think there's some new people out there you know that, again it's not an excuse, it's just a reality.”