The 2017 season is a critical one for Head Coach John Fox, who enters year three of a four-year contract with the Bears after finishing last in the NFC North in each of his first two seasons.
Indeed, after a 9-23 start, Fox could be on the hot seat after this season. And if you consider what the Bears did in the 2017 NFL Draft (adding a slew of high-risk, high-reward offensive skill position players) and combine that with a quick glance at the team’s current roster construction … it’s worth wondering whether Fox, 62, is really part of the team’s long-term plans.
To that end, Matt Miller’s Scouting Notebook at Bleacher Report mentions that this could be Fox’s final season in Chicago. Further, Miller offers up a pair of potential candidates in Bob Stoops and Jeff Fisher.
“There was plenty of speculation that Stoops would be in line for a job with the Chicago Bears if John Fox is gone after this season. That wouldn’t surprise me, but I’d also keep this name in mind: Jeff Fisher. Fisher played for the Bears and spent one season there as a coaching assistant in 1985. It’s too soon to say Fox is done after only two seasons on the job, but if he’s out, these are two names I expect to be linked to that job.”
Fox’s potential position on the hot seat is understandable based on a number of factors, not limited to his age, looming lame-duck contract status, and team’s evident direction based on the team’s current roster situation.
Stoops is a successful, big-name coach with an established pedigree of success – but one without NFL head coaching experience. He recently retired after a successful run at Oklahoma, but explained that he doesn’t want to coach in Chicago – despite his recent housing purchase in the area – after walking away from college football. And for what it’s worth, Miller sees Stoops as a potential fit for the Indianapolis Colts if things don’t work with Chuck Pagano. So maybe Indianapolis, with Andrew Luck and a potent Colts offense in tow is a better fit for Stoops than a rebuilding Bears squad.
You know Fisher’s story by now. He coached the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans (1995-2010) and St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams (2012-2016), compiling a 173-165-1 record in 22 seasons. He played for the Bears from 1981-1985, then coached under Buddy Ryan (who was the defensive coordinator for the Super Bowl XX winning Bears) from 1986 to 1990 when Ryan was the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Fisher has coached through transition periods before (when the Oilers moved from Houston to Tennessee and the Rams’ return to Los Angeles after leaving St. Louis). He even led a rebuilding effort behind the strength of a young, first-round quarterback (Steve McNair), power running game (Eddie George), and above average defense.
However, there isn’t much, if anything, that makes Fisher stand above Fox as a head coach. Fisher has just six winning seasons, the last coming in with the 2008 Titans. He has been the man who led five 8-8 seasons and five more seven-win campaigns. Fox has coached six winning seasons and seven postseason teams in 15 seasons. Statistically speaking, Fox has had a higher percentage of successful seasons than Fisher.
Another losing season could bring the end to Fox’s time in Chicago. And that would mean that GM Ryan Pace, who already hitched his bandwagon to the future development of quarterback prospect Mitch Trubisky, would need to find a coach who would grow with a young team. That coach would need to represent a clear upgrade from the team’s current situation. So if a veteran like Fox isn’t that guy, how would a coach with a similar background serve as an upgrade?
Thankfully, that’s not a question we – or the Bears – have to answer until this coming winter.