What a delicious irony that John Fox’s immediate future as head coach of the Chicago Bears might just be at the mercy of the quarterback he didn’t want.
At least, that’s how it’s starting to look.
As we’ve seen over the last few days, things are reportedly getting messy up at Halas Halls. According to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport, the Bears have brought in outside help to do a top-to-bottom examination of their football operations, which has apparently produced several “intense meetings” involving members of the front office and coaching staff.
At this point in time, Ryan Pace’s job is reportedly safe going forward. Fox’s? Not so much.
The Bears' dysfunction between coaching staff and front office has been revealed, and a divorce could be coming. https://t.co/c8yX5lN1Dy
— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) October 30, 2016
Despite coming into Chicago with a reputation for turning teams around in two seasons—he took Carolina from 1-15 to a championship date in 2002 with the New England Patriots in 2003 and led the Denver Broncos from Tebow Time (2012) to the Super Bowl (2013)—Fox has demonstrated no such magic here.
After a 6-10 campaign in 2015 that had people looking hopefully toward this year, the Bears have gone 1-6, bring Fox’s overall record to 7-16. Is some of it injuries? Sure. But as I’ve mentioned before, there’s plenty more to this story.
And the biggest storyline—and the one that has reportedly torn through this dysfunctional façade—has been Fox’s handling of Cutler.
By now, we’re all familiar with the events. Cutler badly aggravates a previous injury to his thumb in Week 2 against the Eagles and is ruled out of the next game, despite reportedly “lobbying to play”.
Brian Hoyer takes over at quarterback and proceeds to throw for 1,392 yards, 6 TDs, 0 INTs as a starter, including a four-game streak of 300+ yards and a three-game streak of 300+ yards and 2 TDs. However, he only leads the Bears to 15.4 pts/gm as the team goes 1-4 in his five starts.
During the fifth start—two Thursdays ago in Green Bay, Hoyer suffers a broken arm, knocking him out for 6-8 weeks. The following Monday, Cutler is suddenly cleared to practice again and named the starter.
What was Jay up to during that time? Apparently, according to Rapoport, he was “kept away” from practice as Fox preferred Hoyer, for reasons that I also have previously speculated on. Fox, of course, has never admitted to this, saying that the Bears had no plan for Cutler’s return until he was fully healthy.
Bears' Fox: No plan at QB for when Cutler returns https://t.co/zddJYk8lJs
— ESPNChicago (@ESPNChicago) October 10, 2016
In fact, once Cutler was officially cleared, he even had the audacity to say that having Jay start again was the plan all along.
#Bears coach John Fox on Jay Cutler's status over the past 5 weeks: "I think Jay kind of knew all along what the plan was."
— Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) October 25, 2016
Except for that part where he supposedly told people in private that he’s “done” with Cutler, which he then swiftly denied when asked about it.
Oh, this is awkward.
I’m not really one for conspiracy theories myself, but it’s getting really hard not to acknowledge that, whatever Fox throws at the media, he clearly didn’t want to play Cutler again if he didn’t have to. And it backfired on him spectacularly.
Clearly, due to this saga and the fact that the Bears have shown no signs of progress, the front office’s patience is wearing thin with Fox and failure in general.
After all, they literally just fired Marc Trestman two years into a four-year deal for essentially ruining the trajectory of a franchise that, while struggling with mediocrity under Lovie Smith, was at least competitive.
The funny thing is that somehow, even though they tried to rebuild and even seemed like a team that was on its way back toward respectability last season, they have ended up right back where they were two years ago—with dysfunction throughout the organization and a terrible on-field product.
Another eerie similarity between that year and this one? Both coaches essentially tried to scapegoat Cutler—Trestman benched him for Jimmy Clauson and Fox, for all intents and purposes, benched him for Hoyer—and prove that they could win games using system over talent.
Of course, the front office has to share some blame for this weird dynamic between the front office and coaches, particularly if it’s true, as suggested by ESPN’s David Kaplan, that Bears brass—namely chairman George McCaskey—specifically hired Fox for the purpose of counteracting Pace’s inexperience as a GM (and, perhaps, leading to Fox having more power on personnel decisions than your average head coach).
If that’s the case, and Pace—who has so far been solid in acquiring talent—has potentially had his power over the team muted by the hand-picked veteran coach when he perhaps could’ve done more good, that only makes it look the organization look bad. Like, Chicago White Sox bad.
Ultimately, whether this discussion is had during the bye week if the Bears lose (as some anticipate) or after this likely abysmal season concludes, Fox’s job is in serious jeopardy. Should the Bears somehow make it back to near .500, it might not even help him much, since people will undoubtedly be wondering what the Bears could’ve done if Cutler had played the extra two or so games he was possibly healthy for.
For now, though, let’s just enjoy watching Fox squirm on the sidelines as he’s subjected to the roller coaster that is Cutler. As Jay put it himself:
Bears QB Jay Cutler on whether he feels he still has John Fox's support: "He doesn't have a choice, I guess, at this point." (1/2)
— Rich Campbell (@Rich_Campbell) October 25, 2016
At this point, Fox had better hope that his #1 quarterback does play well, no matter what speculation happens afterward. At this point, that could well be the only chance he has to still be in Chicago past Black Monday.