Once-Hopeless Chicago Bears Have Traveled Light Years in Just a Few Weeks

John Fox

Considering where the Chicago Bears were when they dropped their regular-season finale to the Minnesota Vikings just a few weeks ago, they have come light years in their quest to turn their fortunes around.

No team in the NFL was in as much disarray as the Bears. There were worse teams – such as Jacksonville, Tennessee, and Oakland – but the Bears had a general manager who didn’t have a clue, a head coach who had the authority of a preschool teacher, and a quarterback who was far more trouble than he was worth.

The Bears jettisoned general manager Phil Emery and booted Marc Trestman further than Robbie Gould’s longest field goal. They are still currently saddled with Jay Cutler as their starting quarterback, but that could change shortly.

The choice of Ryan Pace as the new general manager looks like a good one, but he is young and his actions will prove if he is ready for the job. He can’t do worse than Emery, who went on a long and involved search when he was looking for a head coach and came up with Barney Fife … er, Trestman.

Pace has been on the job about two weeks, and his first hire appears to be just what the Bears need. John Fox is just about the opposite of Trestman in every area.

Fox is experienced, confident, and a back-to-basics football coach who will emphasize defense and a running game, two factors that have always been staples in the Bears’ history. He has reportedly brought in veteran defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to run his defense.

He is not going to ignore quarterback play and the passing game, but unlike Trestman, he’s not going to pay lip service to the basics of the game. Championship teams almost always dominate in these areas, and that’s one of the reasons that Trestman didn’t make it. He was portrayed as an offensive genius who could make the passing game hum, but the reality was quite pitiful.

Once the Broncos decided to part ways with Fox – that’s just how it went down, no matter how it’s spun – it seemed that the Bears had a chance to go after the right coach.

Fox is at his best when trying to repair a disaster. He proved that in 2002 when he was named head coach of the Carolina Panthers. Carolina had finished 1-15 the previous season, and the team was incapable in the last year of George Seifert’s tenure.

Fox came in and solidified the defense, improved the offensive line, and had his team play nasty, physical football. The Panthers improved to 7-9, and soared the following season.

The Panthers found a productive quarterback in Jake Delhomme and finished first in the division with an 11-5 record. They won their Wild-Card game at home against the Cowboys, but they were not given much of a chance the following week in the divisional playoffs against the favored St. Louis Rams. However, Fox and his Panthers shocked Mike Martz and the Rams when Steve Smith caught a Delhomme pass on the first play of the second overtime and raced 69 yards for the winning touchdown.

The Panthers would earn the NFC title with a road upset of the Philadelphia Eagles, but they came up short in the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots.

Fox had a similar situation when the Broncos hired him in 2011. Denver was a disastrous 4-12 in 2010, and Fox immediately restored them to respectability with an 8-8 season that was good enough to earn the AFC West title.

The Broncos would find a way to upset the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild-Card game with the erratic Tim Tebow at quarterback, but they would get trounced by the Pats in the next round.

The Broncos became a much better team in 2012 with the arrival of Peyton Manning, and while Fox no longer fit in with Elway’s gameplan, he clearly is the right man for the Bears because of his track record. He can turn around a losing team quickly.

There is much more work to be done, and it could take a couple of seasons to do it all correctly. However, there is one more major step that needs to be taken right away.

They can’t report to training camp in 2015 with Cutler as their quarterback. Fox and Pace need to come to the conclusion that Cutler is the wrong man to have in the locker room and the huddle, and that he needs to be some other team’s burden.

They will have to address the quarterback position in the draft and/or free agency, and they may not get a passer with the physical gifts that Cutler brings to the table. However, Cutler’s inability to learn from past mistakes, his reckless form, and his careless demeanor can’t be overcome. If the Bears have to go with Jimmy Clausen, Matt Moore or Jake Locker for a year, so be it.

The Bears ended their season with a hopeless effort in Minnesota. Three weeks later, hope has returned and there is a reasonable chance for success.

They must continue to make the right moves and send Cutler packing.

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Steve Silverman
Steve Silverman is a longtime sportswriter who spent 10 years as senior editor at Pro Football Weekly and he has also written for the Wall Street Journal, ESPN Magazine, MSNBC, and NFL.com. Silverman currently covers all sports – including the NFL – for CBS New York and Bleacher Report.