The Chicago Bears probably aren’t going to have a new coach in 2018. At least, not if they continue on their current pace.
Before the season I wrote that if the Bears won seven games, John Fox would be a lock to stay. Through eight games, they only have three wins, but have played the third-hardest schedule in the league, according to Football Outsiders. The last four games particularly have been really interesting.
It isn’t just that the Bears have gone 2-2. It’s that they really beat the crap out of one good team, should’ve won by a lot more against a mediocre team and were close to beating two of the best teams in the entire league.
It seems like the majority of the fan base still isn’t happy. They don’t just want to win, they want to look good doing it. But that wouldn’t matter no matter who the coach is. Hell, a large percentage of those people want Jim Harbaugh, the master of the ugly wins, as the coach.
What the Bears have in Fox is a coach who has proven to be a builder of really good defenses. He built a Super Bowl-caliber defense in Carolina, then again in Denver and now in Chicago. He has the loudest voice in the draft room when it comes to defense.
The complaints are about the offense and I understand them, but consider these points:
• Fox had top-15 offenses in four out of five years with Jake Delhomme before Delhomme hit the wall.
• The offense the Bears are currently running isn’t the only offense they know how to run. Just last year, the Bears threw for over 4,000 yards with Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley and a crippled Jay Cutler. They now have a rookie quarterback and UDFA receivers. They’re running the offense they need to run – just as Fox did with Tim Tebow. He then ran something completely different the next year.
• Can he “develop” Mitch Trubisky? Well, no fewer than five quarterbacks have had the best years of their careers under Fox. (Hoyer and Barkley doubled their salaries from one year to the next.) And we’ve seen growth in Trubisky in his four starts. Is there a real reason to not expect that to continue? Coaches often get too much credit for the development of quarterbacks and the Jeff Fisher/Jared Goff comparison is the flavor of the month. Steve McNair went from being an incredibly raw rookie to the league MVP. Who was his coach? Jeff Fisher. Vince Young played in one Pro Bowl. Who was his coach? Jeff Fisher. Maybe Goff just got better?
• The Bears need better players before we can talk about their offense being good. Teams can’t lose their top three receivers and have a good passing offense with a rookie quarterback. It just doesn’t happen.
• Ryan Pace likes his coach. Forget all the bull people said around the draft last year. Pace wants Fox to be his coach.
But I don’t think Fox is a lock. In theory, the Bears should win enough games for Fox to keep his job simply because second half schedule is significantly worse than the slate they played in the first half. Doesn’t it seem like every time you’re thinking Fox’s Bears are going to take a step, they let you down and flop backwards?
The Bears are supposed to be in a good spot coming off of the bye week, but they’re 0-2 after the bye under Fox, including a 36-10 beat down against the Bucs last year. Good teams get better as the season goes on and Fox’s teams have gotten worse with a December and January record of 2-8 and the two wins coming against teams that won a combined eight games. Not good.
This week, the Bears have a limping Packers team coming to Chicago. They have to win this game. It’s a chance to essentially put a nail on Green Bay’s coffin and possibly lead to a major change in their leadership. There’s no reason the Bears shouldn’t beat Brett Hundley.
If they don’t, I think the odds that Fox is the coach next year take a major dive. If that happens, here’s a ranking of the guys waiting in line:
2. John Morton, OC, NY Jets
There’s a common thought that, among coordinators, Morton is doing the most with the least amount of talent and it’s hard to argue with that. Morton worked with Ryan Pace in 2006 and has also worked with the likes of Norv Turner, Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh. Sean Payton thought enough of him to bring him back as a wide receivers coach in 2015 and Harbaugh hired him twice, once in San Diego and once in San Francisco. Being on the same staff as Vic Fangio in San Francisco, there’s a chance he might be able to convince him or Ed Donatell to stay on as the defensive coordinator.
3. Pat Shurmur, OC, Minnesota
If Morton isn’t the guy doing the most with the least, Shurmur is. The Vikings offense is 13th in scoring and 11th in yards despite playing most of the season with Case Keenum at quarterback. They also lost running back Dalvin Cook after four games and were without Stefon Diggs for a few weeks. Yet, they’ve been continually successful and Shurmur deserves a lot of credit for that. He’s an old school West Coast offense guy who learned a lot of spread concepts from Chip Kelly. His record sucked in Cleveland, but it’s probably safe to say he wasn’t the problem.
4. Sean Payton, HC, New Orleans
How did he go from first to fourth? Because I just don’t think he’s going to be available. It was hard to not be impressed with the game Payton called against the Bears a couple of weeks ago. His team is now 6-2 and might be the front-runner in the NFC. Although there has long been a rumor that Payton is looking for another job, it would take a collapse for the Saints to finally decide to let him leave.
5. Matt Nagy, OC, KC & Frank Reich, OC, Philadelphia
I lumped these two together because I have the same reservation.
Both are offensive coordinators for high-scoring teams, but both work under head coaches who designed the offenses and call the plays. Nagy has always worked for Andy Reid, which is probably a good sign since a bright and successful coach has always made sure to employ him. Reich was fired in San Diego before being hired in Philadelphia. Of course a firing shouldn’t be looked on too harshly, after all, Sean Payton was fired in New York. With both guys, Pace would need to know exactly what they do before seriously considering them. From the outside, you’ll always hear team and media members praise their guys, but we really don’t know without being in the meetings. There is a rumor that Chris Ballard is eyeing Nagy after he fires Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis. That, of course, contradicts the rumor that he loves Dave Toub for the job.
6. Mike McCarthy, HC Green Bay
The season is slipping away from the Packers and McCarthy has one year left on his deal. There are rumors that Ted Thompson is going to retire soon so, it’s entirely possible that McCarthy is let go. There are some who think McCarthy is only employed because of Aaron Rodgers, but Rodgers is only a star because McCarthy retooled his mechanics after a rocky first couple of seasons. McCarthy is a good coach and a bright offensive mind. He had top-15 offenses in New Orleans with Jeff Blake and Aaron Brooks. He had success with Matt Flynn in Green Bay and he brought Brett Favre back from the dead. It’s entirely possible that they stink right now because Hundley is terrible. A bonus is that Pace knows McCarthy. The two worked in the same organization for four years. It would be interesting to see McCarthy work with Trubisky and an aggressive GM.
7. Vic Fangio, DC. Chicago
There’s no question Fangio has something with this Bears defense and the only way to keep it going might be to make him the head coach. I just don’t see Fangio as having the personality and communication skills to be a head coach. The way he publicly questioned Kyle Fuller’s desire last year was bullshit. Whenever you hire a defensive guy, you have to hire a great offensive mind. The most easily connected coordinator candidate to him is Greg Roman. Not exciting, but at least he’s experienced.
8. Matt LaFleur, OC, LA Rams
I suppose LaFleur is a bit like Nagy and Reich in that he’s the offensive coordinator for a team with an offensive head coach. I found it telling that both Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan wanted to hire LaFleur. The 38-year-old had a couple of other interesting stops as the offensive coordinator for Ashland and quarterbacks coach for Notre Dame in 2014 — a year in which Everett Golson threw for 29 touchdowns. Like with Nagy and Reich, we need to find out exactly what he knows and if he can lead a room.
9. Darrell Bevell, OC, Seattle
With no offensive line, broken down running backs and no elite receiver, the Seahawks have one of the 10 best offenses in the league. Much of the credit should go to Russell Wilson, of course, but we’ve seen Wilson develop into one of the very best quarterbacks in the league with Bevell being the only guy pushing the buttons. What I also like about Bevell is the fact that he values the running game, coordinating six top-five rushing offenses 12 years.
10. Scott Linehan, OC, Dallas
Daunte Culpepper. Matthew Stafford. Tony Romo. Dak Prescott. Those are the quarterbacks who have had the best years of their careers with Linehan calling the plays. He started with three of those guys as rookies. If you want to talk about coaches who have had success with young QBs, he’s been as good as anyone. He’s on his way to having his seventh top-10 scoring offense and eighth top-10 offense in terms of yardage in 15 years as a play-caller. He flamed out in St. Louis largely because Marc Bulger broke at the same time. That said, there was reportedly a little bit of a Trestman-factor with him as some questioned if he was willing to stand up to star players. Even if that’s true, it was a decade ago so I really don’t know what to make of that.