Bears Mailbag – John Fox Will Be Fired, But What About Ryan Pace?

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Credit: NBC Sports Chicago

The Chicago Bears lost to the woeful, god-awful, terrible San Francisco 49ers last Sunday. And don’t let the slim-margin 15-14 score fool you either; the Bears got dominated on both sides of the ball.

Adding to the insult was Chicago native, and Bears fan, Jimmy Garoppolo making his first start for San Francisco on his first ever visit to Soldier Field, and walking out with a win. But wait, there’s more! Former Bears kicker, and all-time leading scorer, Robbie Gould supplied all of the 49ers’ points by knocking through five field goals on five attempts, including the game winner as time expired.

It was one of the worst losses of the John Fox era, and there have beenĀ quite a few of those in the now-almost three years that he’s been rasping and bumbling his way on the sidelines.

With that mini-rant out of the way, we reach into this week’s Bears Mailbag. Thanks to everyone who submitted questions — the engagement with our Mailbag steadily improves every week. We appreciate it.

This question has a bit of a conspiracy theory undertone to it. In general, I’m a big fan of conspiracy theories. I think they’re a lot of fun. But I don’t think there’s anything fishy or sinister about John Fox, and I certainly don’t think he’s purposely trying to bring Ryan Pace down with him.

Here’s the thing about John Fox: A lot of what he’s struggling with right now isn’t new. He was always a players’ coach, motivator, and knew how to build a defense. Those talents of his were always damn good. But even in his “good” days, Fox was never one to pay too much attention to detail and game plans meticulously. Nor was he ever a good in-game coach with poor decision making and an awful inability to make adjustments. His conservative (to a massive fault) nature often has him coaching “not to lose”, rather than “to win”. And that’s one of his biggest problems.

Let’s make one thing clear though, Fox’s hire had a purpose at the time, and it’s been served. When he was hired three years ago, the Bears sported a franchise-worst defense, were a dysfunctional mess, and were the laughingstock of the NFL. His presence certainly helped steer the ship back in the right direction. The Bears, with his input, have built a solid foundation on defense, and the culture is certainly a better than it was at the end of the Emery/Trestman regime. But it’s clear the Bears have plateaued, and in some ways regressed (the reasons which are well documented), so it’s time to move on. The decision to do so was likely sealed after the Bears flopped against the Brett Hundley led Packers at Soldier Field following the bye week.

As for Pace, by all accounts, he’s safe for now. So no matter what happens the rest of the year, it seems he will get to pick the next head coach. Which, I believe, he should be allowed to do. There are too many conflicting reports about whether John Fox really was Pace’s first choice for head coach at the time both were hired. And even if Fox wasn’t Pace’s first choice, it was nearly universally accepted as the “right” hire. And Pace, who certainly isn’t perfect but has a lot of things up in the air, should get one more shot at a talent acquisition cycle and coaching hire.

Despite Pace’s faults in free agency and some draft picks just not panning out for whatever reason (e.g. Kevin White), Pace’s future with the Bears is tied to Mitch Trubisky, whom he boldly traded up for in this previous draft. Trubisky has gone through a lot of adversity in his rookie season (again, those reasons are well documented), and despite having a horrible coaching and overall offensive environment this year, he’s done alright. Pace’s next coaching hire, no matter their strength, will be tasked with making sure Trubisky’s development is priority number one. After that, the clock will begin ticking much more loudly.

But if Trubisky & New Coach pan out together, the Bears will be good for the next decade. And the clock won’t much matter.

I’m not sure how much truth there is behind this theory, honestly. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and Ryan Pace has shown enough calculation in his methods that he wouldn’t leave a single stone unturned. Vic Fangio would be the obvious choice to take over as interim head coach, but there are reports that Fangio doesn’t want the interim job anyway. And he’s already turned down extension offers to stay on as defensive coordinator, so it seems Fangio’s days in Chicago are numbered.

As much as I’d liked to have seen Fox fired after the inexcusable Green Bay disaster at Soldier Field, and there were reports out that ownership was strongly considering it, it didn’t happen, for whatever reason. He may very well feel that apart from Fangio, who has already reportedly scoffed at the idea, nobody is head coach material, even on an interim basis. We’ll just have to trust that.

But that isn’t to say Pace is just waiting for the season to end before doing his due diligence on the next coaching candidates. He’s already working on a list of candidates that he feels would be the best suited to take over, but none of them will be able to interview until the season ends, anyway. So the most we can ask for at this stage is continued due diligence.

I love Matt Patricia as a head coaching candidate. He is, as you said, literally a rocket scientist. At this point he might be my favorite candidate.

Sure, some people might be worried because he’s a defensive coordinator and Trubisky needs to be paired with a bright offensive mind. But guys like Bill Belichick, Mike Zimmer, Pete Carroll, and even Chuck Pagano for a while show that the head coach doesn’t need to be a brilliant offensive mind. They need to be a brilliant coach overall. Developing a quarterback requires strong attention to detail (and the ability to hire the right offensive coordinator), and Patricia is known for paying attention to such details.

For example, after the first four games of the season, people were calling the New England Patriots a disaster on defense since they’d given up the most points in the league up to that point. But Patricia made the necessary tweaks, and since then, the Patriots have risen up to 10th in the league in defensive points allowed. Talk about a turnaround. The Bears would greatly benefit from a coach like that.

Other than EDGE rusher, there isn’t a bigger need this offseason from a roster perspective than wide receiver. I think that’s been well established.

It’s hard to project what will happen in the draft and free agency without knowing who will return from the current group. Remember, Cam Meredith, Kendall Wright, and Dontrelle Inman are all impending free agents. And Kevin White has not yet proven himself dependable. But let us, for arguments sake, assume Meredith and Inman return next year. I’m assuming Wright will leave.

In free agency, I would love the for the Bears to go after some combination of the following: Davante Adams, Jarvis Landry, Paul Richardson, and Allen Robinson. Of course, a lot of that depends on who of these guys will either be re-signed or franchise tagged. But assuming they all hit the market, I expect Pace to be aggressive in pursuing them.

In the draft, I would not assume anything. I like Calvin Ridley a lot — he is my favorite receiver in this draft so far. But depending on how the draft shakes out (positioning, trades, etc.), you could very well see the Bears target an EDGE rusher in the first round instead. I would argue, after free agency, EDGE will be a much bigger need than receiver.

As touched on above, I don’t think Fox will be fired until after the season ends. First of all, he should have been fired after the Green Bay / Brett Hundley game. Then after the Philadelphia game. Then after the Robbie Gould game. But he wasn’t, so it’s safe to assume he won’t until “Black Monday”.

As far as losing to the Browns, I would argue that winning that game means more to this team than a higher draft pick. It seems clear the Bears will be drafting in the Top 10, and they don’t need a quarterback. They will have a prime chance to draft good talent no matter what. At that point, it’s more about scouting and pre-draft evaluation than it is about where you pick.

But what does it say about, and to, this team, to lose to the Browns? They already contributed to some of the worst losses in franchise history, having lost to the Brett Hundley Packers and woeful 49ers at home! Those losses were absolutely inexcusable.

A good amount of the Bears’ future core is already on the team. Obviously Trubisky, but you also have Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Adam Shaheen, Kyle Long, Cody Whitehair, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan, Eddie Jackson, and potentially others, who badly need a win for their own psyche. Trubisky said as much before the 49ers loss. They’ve lost way too many games by one score to some awful teams. They need to learn how to win, but they also need something good to happen. Winning a game, especially one that they have NO business losing, is a start. Give me the experience of winning over a slot or two of draft positioning every time.

Depending on what happens in free agency, certain needs will be more pressing than others, but it’s safe to say that EDGE rusher, receiver, and defensive back are the Bears’ most pressing needs.

That said, depending on how Ryan Pace’s board shakes out, expect to see players from this pool targeted in the first round (I’m not making any assumptions as to who will be taken before the Bears pick). This is in no particular order of preference or need:

  • Calvin Ridley, WR
  • Bradley Chubb, EDGE
  • Clelin Ferrell, EDGE
  • Courtland Sutton, WR
  • Roquan Smith, LB
  • Malik Jefferson, LB
  • Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB
  • Arden Key, EDGE
  • Harold Landry, EDGE
  • Connor Williams, OT
  • Quenton Nelson, OG

The Bears just shut Kyle Long down for the season by placing him on IR. Personally, I think it’s much too late — this should have happened a few weeks ago. But it’s better now than at the end of the year where his injuries would be even worse.

At this point, he gets a solid six months or so to recover from his shoulder and nagging ankle and hand injuries and whatever else ails the Bears’ biggest warrior. I think a solid offseason of rest and rehab will do him good, and he’ll be ready to go next year. Hopefully, the Bears are a much improved team with the right head coach by then.