One thing that has rarely happened in recent years has been a true fracturing of a Bears locker room. It didn’t happen last year when the Bears started 0-3 (against three really good teams) and probably won’t after this year’s 0-2 beginning (against one pretty good team and one really good rookie quarterback).
But this year already has had a flash point, which last year didn’t. Now, injured linebacker Pernell McPhee getting in the face – literally – of quarterback Jay Cutler raises that specter, if only because Cutler has the professed support of teammates on his side of the ball. Seeing their quarterback being publicly dressed down, on national TV, by a teammate not even in uniform, even if he (McPhee) was voted a defensive co-captain despite his injured status, will not sit well with everyone.
If the head coach has a problem with it, he wasn’t saying, either because he doesn’t, or because he would have spoken directly with McPhee and anyone else and kept that in-house.
“I have not seen [the televised incident],” Fox stated on Tuesday. “I wasn’t aware of it last night. We’ve got a short week. I haven’t had all this time to go back and look at TV copies and what-not.”
And best guess is that he hadn’t seen the footage, if only because he saw/heard it live at the time and didn’t need to see a replay. Also, verbal sideline exchanges aren’t uncommon, although not so much with a member of one unit crossing over the line of scrimmage and berating someone over there.
Or maybe McPhee was doing what Fox would like to have done?
“My understanding is you’re going to have conversations,” Fox said. “These guys are competitive, they’re going to hold each other accountable. You’re going to have, not confrontations, but conversations. That’s always been the case on any football team I’ve ever been around.”
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An issue here is that Cutler himself has been a practitioner of the public blowback, whether toward teammates or coaches. At this point the Bears have more of their future invested in McPhee than Cutler. And reality around Cutler is that he has played better under tough love (Mike Martz in 2010-11, coaches’ doubts last offseason before Adam Gase went all-in with Cutler), and few teammates have torn into Cutler the way McPhee did.
Fox may not like public floggings, but he did set out a clear operating philosophy last year, and it doesn’t include mincing words just to avoid hurt feelings.
“Almost everybody in [the locker room] is classified as a professional,” Fox said after the Bears fell to 0-2 after their loss to the Arizona Cardinals, also at Soldier Field. “And that’s what professional do: They don’t worry about morale. We get paid to win.”