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John Fox embraces Bears history, challenge of turning team around

John Fox to Virginia McCaskey: "We're going to do our very best to make you proud."

It was sometime on Saturday that John Fox and Ryan Pace set out on their first field trip together, a casual trip to the Des Plaines home of Virginia McCaskey.

The inspiration had been Pace's with the Bears' new general manager feeling compelled to connect with the proud matriarch of the franchise he was now running.

It didn't hurt Pace that he had a little early success as an NFL GM to show off.

So off he went with Fox, the Bears' new coach. Both men felt energized by the new direction of the organization and wanted McCaskey to know they understood her passion and aspirations.

During the visit, Fox looked McCaskey in the eye and made a promise.

Said Bears Chairman George McCaskey, Virginia's son: "(John) said, 'We're going to do our very best to make you proud.' She liked to hear it."

On Dec. 29, George had brought Virginia's emotions to the forefront, characterizing his mother as "pissed off" and "fed up with mediocrity" following the free fall that left the Bears at 5-11, in last place and out of the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years.

In a flash, the Bears sent coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery out the door.

And in the 21 days that followed? Virginia McCaskey celebrated her 92nd birthday on Jan. 5, the hiring of Pace three days later and the hiring of Fox at the end of last week.

On Monday, Fox was formally introduced as the 15th head coach in Bears history and quickly referenced the first man to hold the job — Virginia's father.

"To be standing here in the same role as George Halas is pretty remarkable," Fox said.

Who knows just how much first impressions will affect the heavy lifting Fox and Pace have ahead in their effort to revive the Bears. But suffice it to say, the duo is off to a promising start.

Winning over Virginia McCaskey is certainly a nice touch. Now the more significant work will come in the efforts of Fox and Pace to forge a bond and sharpen a vision together.

And at this point, Fox doesn't foresee any anxiety over the dynamic that now has him reporting to a boss more than 22 years his junior and still settling into his first GM job.

"I don't care about age," Fox said. "He's smart, he's honest. He's all the things I look for in a guy I want to be in the trenches with. I'm excited about that. I think we can both help each other. And that's what this is about — pulling people together."

Pace reciprocated the praise Monday, expressing admiration for Fox's verve and drive, his ability to have fun and inspire players.

In a formal interview last week at Halas Hall, Pace felt a connection. But in order to gain a greater sense of just how deep the relationship with Fox could go, the GM flew to Denver to feel it out further.

"I could feel his energy," Pace said. "And I think he felt mine."

Just a week ago, Fox's four seasons as coach of the Broncos came to an abrupt end, a development nearly everyone at Halas Hall has characterized as "a game-changer." Wherever the Bears were in their head coaching search at that point, the sudden availability of a proven winner who had sparked marked turnarounds with the Panthers and Broncos required urgent action.

Said team President Ted Phillips: "There's a certain confidence about him and there's a certain trust that he knows exactly what it takes to build a winner. He's done it twice."

In winning their sales pitch to Fox and signing him to a four-year contract, the Bears lured a coach who's both proven and respected for his candor and charisma, qualities he showed plenty of during Monday's news conference.

"It's honesty," Fox said. "Sometimes people are sugar-coating (things). Sometimes it's third-party conversations. You see a lot of that in any business and that's no different in the NFL.

"I'm brutally honest. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But I'm not afraid or intimidated about telling people the truth."

When asked later about a timeline for a Bears turnaround, Fox shrugged.

"I've always been of the (mindset) of understate, overproduce," he said. "I've never predicted records. If I could do that I'd be at a race track somewhere."

Instead, Fox is now working at Halas Hall where on Monday there seemed to be a refreshed feeling and a belief that a needed jolt of energy and direction had been found.

"After such a disappointing season, now we're all full of optimism," Phillips asserted. "And I think for good reason. It's not just hope."

dwiederer@tribpub.com

Twitter @danwiederer

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