Bears

Unfinished Bears job a 'bitter pill' for John Fox, but the legacy lies beyond just the W-L record

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USA TODAY

Unfinished Bears job a 'bitter pill' for John Fox, but the legacy lies beyond just the W-L record

When John Fox succeeded Marc Trestman in 2015, neither he nor the Bears were looking at the situation and Fox as any sort of “bridge” hire – a de facto interim coach tasked with winning, but just as importantly, developing and getting a team turned around and headed in a right direction.

The heart of the matter is always winning, but in the overall, the mission statement also includes leaving the place better than you found it. Fox did that, which is very clearly the sentiment upstairs at Halas Hall as the Bears move on from Fox to Matt Nagy.

“It would’ve been nice to see it through,” Fox said to NBC Sports Chicago. “That’s kind of a bitter pill but you sort things out and move forward.

“I do think it’s closer than people think. We inherited a mess... but I felt we were on the brink at the end. I think that [Halas Hall] building is definitely different; they feel it. I do think that it was a positive.”

(Fox is probably not done coaching at some point, but that’s for another time, another story, and anyway, it’s his tale to tell when he feels like it. Or doesn’t.)

One measure of the Bears change effected: Virtually the entire Trestman staff, with the exceptions of receivers coach Mike Groh and linebackers coach Clint Hurtt, was jettisoned along with Trestman. By contrast, Nagy has retained not only virtually the entire Fox defensive staff under coordinator Vic Fangio, but also arguably the single most important non-coordinator offensive coach by virtue of position responsibility – Dave Ragone, the hands-on mentor of quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

Obvious but extremely difficult decisions are coming, as to shedding personnel and contracts – Josh Sitton, Pernell McPhee, Willie Young being among the most difficult because of tangible intangibles that no organization wants to lose.

“Bridge” results

Fox was never intended as a bridge coach but the results point to that function having been served. To exactly what end remains to play out under Nagy and the quarterback whom Ragone and Fox’s handling began developing.

Rick Renteria was one of those “bridge” guys for the Cubs, intended to be part of pulling out of or at least arresting the slide into the Mike Quade-Dale Sveum abyss, and leaving something for Joe Maddon. The late Vince Lombardi effectively served as that, at age 56 and for an unforeseen one-year for a Washington Redskins organization that’d gone 13 years without a winning season before Lombardi’s 1969 and needed a radical reversal. The culture change was realized over the next decade under George Allen and Jack Pardee, much of the success coming with the same players with whom Washington had languished before the culture change.

The Bears were in that state after the two years of Trestman and the three years of GM Phil Emery, certain of whose character-lite veteran player acquisitions (Martellus Bennett, Brandon Marshall) and high-character launchings (Brian Urlacher) had left a palpable pall over Halas Hall. A Fox goal was to eradicate that, which insiders in Lake Forest say privately was accomplished even amid the catastrophic crush of three straight seasons of 10 or more losses, and with injuries at historic levels.

What happens next is in the hands of Nagy and GM Ryan Pace, after a third John Fox franchise turnaround failed to materialize. Or did it? Because much of the core, from Trubisky through the defensive makeover, came on Fox’s watch, like him or not.

“You wish some things would’ve happened differently obviously,” Fox said, “but there was a lot positive that happened.”

Will 'special' throws help Mitch Trubisky keep his job with the Bears in 2020?

Will 'special' throws help Mitch Trubisky keep his job with the Bears in 2020?

Every so often, Mitch Trubisky has conjured up the sort of eye-catching “special” throws expected from a former second overall pick. A few popped up in the Bears’ win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday, specifically his 18-yard touchdown strike to Ben Braunecker and a 33-yard deep ball to Allen Robinson with pressure in his face. 

Those two throws represent two of the more encouraging moments for Trubisky during his third year in the NFL. Quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone called Trubisky’s touchdown to Braunecker “great,” and was impressed by the throw to Robinson given he got hit after releasing it. 

“He lets that thing go with the anticipation, which we’re always preaching to him,” Ragone said. “To me, even though that play wasn’t a touchdown, that throw in general is kind of what obviously we’re hoping more and more of those type plays as the rest of the regular season moves on.”

The question the Bears have to ask themselves is this: Is Trubisky’s ability to make outstanding throws enough to out-weigh the glaring issues encompassing their quarterback and an offense averaging just 18 points per game?

Plenty of teams and coaches have been enamored by “special” abilities in quarterbacks (Jay Cutler, for these purposes, is a prime example). Plenty of coaches, too, have been drawn by the allure of being the guy to finally harness talent that shows up occasionally on highlight reels. 

It’s how the Bears can, at the least, talk themselves into keeping Trubisky as their starting quarterback for the rest of 2019. And it’s how general manager Ryan Pace, speaking on WBBM-780 (the Bears’ flagship radio station) prior to Sunday’s game against the Lions, can make this argument as to why he’s confident in Trubisky: 

“I think this is all part of playing quarterback in the NFL.” Pace said. “Every quarterback goes through this and it’s just part of the experience. … There’s growth that happens on the field. There’s growth that happens off the field. Other young quarterbacks around the league are going through it, the same thing, and honestly we’re proud of the way that Mitch is handling it.”

“You see it within games right now. You saw it in Philly, it was really a tale of two halves. So he’s fighting his way out of it within games. 

“We all know that Mitch can play better. Mitch knows that. He’s just in the process of navigating through this along with the rest of the offense. He has confidence in himself. His teammates have confidence in him. And we’ve just got to fight through this.”
 
Pace does not speak to the media during the regular season, and is not going to send a message to his quarterback when coach Matt Nagy is sticking behind Trubisky (to put it another way: If he had already determined Trubisky weren’t his 2020 quarterback, he wouldn’t say it publicly). 

Between lauding those special throws and — accurately — pointing out not everything in 2019’s offense is Trubisky’s fault, though, there is some groundwork laid for the Bears to build an argument for not changing starting quarterbacks in 2020. 

But the Bears need to be careful when it comes to thinking they can harness Trubisky’s “special” ability. Quarterbacks, generally, are who they are after making 32 starts — and Trubisky on Sunday will start his 35th game in the NFL. The late-emerging successes of Alex Smith (who was with Matt Nagy in Kansas City) and Drew Brees (who was with Pace in New Orleans) are the exceptions to the rule, not the rule. 

Still, the more “special” throws, the better for the Bears’ (slim) chances of making 2019 a relevant season in their 100-year history. But the Bears in 2020 will need to strike a proper balance between evaluating the occasional high-degree-of-difficulty completion and the routine decisions made by Trubisky. 

“Just continue to try to do my job and I think those really good throws will come,” Trubisky said. “And just, when the normal play is there just continue to make that and put my team in a good position to stay on the field, convert third downs and just try and score points, ultimately.”

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The Bears pranked Tarik Cohen about his height and unfortunately it is hilarious

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USA Today

The Bears pranked Tarik Cohen about his height and unfortunately it is hilarious

Some athletes are short, and some athletes are tall (sports!). That's just a fact of life.

And hey, another fact of life is that Tarik Cohen is 5'6. The Bears almost certainly know this, and yet: 

Tarik, I'm sorry. None of this is your fault, and really this isn't even about you. Poor Eli Apple's probably in the locker room scrolling Instagram and ranting to no one in particular about how he made that joke three weeks ago. In a perfect world people who are are 5'6 always have towels available to them, but for now it remains a timeless prank. 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.