By Robert Zeglinski
When John Fox took over as Bears head coach in 2015, a promise of respectability permeated throughout Halas Hall. Following a chaotic end to the disastrous Marc Trestman era, the Bears felt they needed a veteran coach who had been around the NFL for a long time to stabilize their organization. To put the franchise back on the proper track.
Three years and 30 losses later (and counting), Fox has stabilized the Bears — as a bottom-five NFL team.
Yes, for every manner of praise the Bears received for their inherently unimaginative and uninspiring hire back then, this coaching regime failure was all completely predictable. If only general manager Ryan Pace had the foresight to make a tangible, beneficial risk right away.
Somehow, Fox’s Bears have barely changed results-wise, even while the roster has actually been reasonably upgraded – an old excuse for giving the wily coach a shot after a despairing 3-13 2016 season. Somehow, the Bears still sit in what will likely be a fourth straight last-place finish in the NFC North: the last three of which under Fox.
A Chicago team already short on talent years ago, running on fumes and falling short in close games, almost came through in clutch situations with regularity – but didn’t while en route to a 6-10 season.
A Chicago team starting to brim with promise in the present with a budding franchise quarterback like Mitchell Trubisky and defensive pieces such as Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks, is, you guessed it, still falling short in close games. They’re still “almost” coming through in clutch situations with regularity, instead of finishing the job.
Sunday’s loss to the Lions, where now former kicker Connor Barth so egregiously missed a 46-yard field goal at the end of the game – wasting heroics from Trubisky – is but another small footnote at this rate for Fox’s tenure in Chicago.
A close loss where Fox’s team almost came through, almost made the plays necessary to win the game has become a trademark. It’s often said in football, and really all sports, that you need to lose to learn how to win. Even with a talent influx (that will surely be taken advantage of by the next head man), all Fox has the Bears do is experience defeat.
Again and again and again.
Of Fox’s 30 Bears losses, 18 of them were by 8 or fewer points. The 2017 Bears have lost three games by at least that close margin and four overall. You can’t point to a trend any better than this. This is routine.
Floyd almost sacks Matthew Stafford on a few pressures. Kyle Fuller almost picks off Stafford on a few diving plays. Trubisky almost breaks a long run before falling victim to the Soldier Field turf monster, tripping up. The examples go on.
You can go back in the story of all 30 Fox defeats, even the blowouts, and see his players making similar mistakes, always coming up short. In retrospect, his players have sometimes even operated in this fashion in his few victories, often enjoying a great manner of fortune to come out on top. Look no further than overtime wins against the Steelers and Ravens earlier this year.
But hey: everyone in the locker room has great chemistry now. That’s what mattered first at Halas Hall. Not the on-field product.
Yet, un-shockingly here Fox is, still making the same types of excuses and the same comments post-game following failures. Three years in, in his third Chicago November, beating a dead horse.
“I think it goes back to what I told you. We have lulls. We are not consistently on top of it. Today in the third quarter, that felt it was like a lull,” said Fox, explaining a scoreless third quarter for the Bears — the NFL’s worst third-quarter offense.
A one quarter “lull” would be generous for Fox because that actually describes the place he has this franchise in. The loosening formerly firm grip he’s had with a merciful six games to go, primarily put the Bears in that “lull.”
A conservative offense. Misplaced personnel priorities. A general lack of in-game awareness in management. All of that’s been on Fox. This was who he was before being hired by the Bears, this is who he’s been while roaming their sideline, and this is who he will always be. All of that flak speaks to “almost” — a word that will become the referendum on the Bears coach with a clinched second-worst winning percentage in team history.
Think about that. Fox has the second-worst winning percentage in the entire lengthy charter history of the Bears. A franchise that has largely been irrelevant for most of the past three decades with plenty of similar lame duck, ineffective coaches. A franchise that found originally found the NFL. That takes a lot to “accomplish.”
Of course, if the Bears, who are now banged up defensively with a likely loss of Floyd for the season, don’t win two more games through the rest of the year, he will possess the worst winning percentage in franchise history. Quite the illustrious title to possess and attain in a quick three seasons.
Though, with six games left as his Bears torpedo their way to the bottom one last time, Fox will likely be as indignant as ever to the bitter end.
“We have lulls. We have siestas. We don’t do it for 60 minutes,” said Fox, further elaborating in his own non-elaborative way on Sunday.
Only six more lulls. Only six more siestas.
Robert is your guy for all things Bears. Find him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.