John Fox right man for Bears' rebuilding job

Bears go for experience in choosing John Fox, a coach that will rebuild the defense, emphasize running game.

The Bears went down a path they never had ventured before to get a man who has brought back an organization from an even worse position than they are in now.

John Fox has been hired as the 15th coach in franchise history and becomes the first with the distinction of having been a head coach elsewhere. Yes, new general manager Ryan Pace, a week after Chairman George McCaskey and President Ted Phillips hired him, clearly placed value in finding an experienced leader, one who had a mutual parting with the Broncos on Monday, a day after they were ousted from the divisional round of the playoffs.

Fox, 59, guided the Broncos to the Super Bowl last year and took the Panthers there after the 2003 season. He has 13 years experience and brings with him a history of rebuilding defenses on the fly with a belief in a strong running game. Fox has handled every type of player you can imagine, so a locker room with quarterback Jay Cutler and wide receiver Brandon Marshall will be nothing new, an aspect of the job that overwhelmed predecessor Marc Trestman.

No one knows yet, but the guess here is Fox is comfortable going into 2015 with Cutler as his quarterback.

Maybe Fox isn’t the perfect candidate to take over the Bears after a last-place finish in the NFC North, but he was the best candidate available. His regular-season record is 119-89 and he has made seven playoff appearances with six seasons of 11 or more victories. This isn’t like going outside the box to hire Trestman with Bruce Arians holed up in a hotel near Lake Forest waiting for a phone call, as happened two years ago. If Fox doesn’t work out, the Bears at least took a swing with a coach who has pedigree.

Fox inherits a 5-11 team that has been trending downward ever since an appearance in the NFC championship game after the 2010 season. But he took over the Panthers in 2002, a year after they were 1-15, and righted them quickly. They went 7-9 in Year 1 before making a run to Super Bowl XXXVIII the next season. So he has handled the Bears’ kind of situation — and worse.

“They are going back to the blueprint in Chicago,” said former Bears wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad, who played for Fox with the Panthers.

Said former Panthers defensive end Mike Rucker: “If you close your eyes and someone says, ‘Defense and running the football,’ the first thing that is going to come to your mind is John Fox.”

It’s interesting because Fox has been cast as a players’ coach — a label former coach Lovie Smith also had – but he’s respected for instilling toughness, accountability and discipline. He has shown a willingness to put up with difficult personalities like wide receiver Steve Smith while getting maximum production. He has made playoff runs with quarterbacks Jake Delhomme and Tim Tebow.

“I like Fox as a player,” Muhammad said. “I don’t think we agreed on everything but I knew where he stood and that was good for me. I don’t want a coach who (urinates) on my boots and tells me it’s raining, you know what I mean?

“One of the things I appreciated from Fox that he did for every single player was you knew your role on the team. So if you’re the third receiver and you’re fighting for that No. 2 spot in training camp and you don’t win it — you’re not going to have a coach who says, ‘Keep trying, you can get there.’ No, he’s gonna go, ‘Hey my man, No. 2 is No. 2 for a reason and you’re No. 3 for a reason. When we go to three receivers, you are going to be in the game. Right now, I need you to focus on being the gunner on the punt team and I need you to be the best gunner you can be.’

“You’re going to get the straight from Fox and not a lot of coaches give you the straight. While you might not agree with it and you might not like the straight and narrow, pretty soon you’ll learn to appreciate it because a lot of people will lie to you and tell you something that you want to hear instead of what is the truth.”

Pace showed his confidence in hiring a veteran coach, breaking from a recent NFL trend of young GMs choosing first-time coaches. The thinking is the GM doesn’t want a coach who has been through the process before to come in and potentially attempt a power play. But Pace, 37, now is paired up with a coach he probably can learn from and one who surely came with a high recommendation from Saints coach Sean Payton, a trusted friend of both Pace and Fox.

“The character of guys he had around, guys did not want to let him down,” Rucker said. “So not only were you playing for yourself, you were playing for him also.”

That’s what experience shows. The Bears will be better off for it.

bmbiggs@tribpub.com

Twitter @BradBiggs

 

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