Pace, Fox promise to Bears fans: It will get better

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bears coach John Fox, left, listens as general manager Ryan Pace discusses his assessment of the team's 3-13 season.

    Chicago Bears coach John Fox, left, listens as general manager Ryan Pace discusses his assessment of the team's 3-13 season. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 1/4/2017 3:46 PM

If the first step in any recovery program is recognizing you have a problem, the Bears are ready for Step Two.

In Wednesday's postmortem on a 3-13 cadaver of a season, Bears general manager Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox acknowledged their second year in Chicago was unacceptable.

 

"We're all disappointed," Pace said. "We have higher standards; me personally, our coaches, our players, the entire building has higher standards."

Pace is cognizant of a frustrated fan base that showed its dissatisfaction in the home finale, which was played in front of 21,663 empty seats.

"My message to Bears fans is simple: We're going to get better," Pace said. "We will improve. I hear you. I also understand this is just talk, and we've got to show actions. We've got to show results. I fully get that."

Fox's combined first two years are the worst of any coach in team history, and the first back-to-back losing seasons in his 15 years as a head coach in the NFL.

"The buck stops here," Fox said. "I think there's no doubt that coming off a 6-10 (in 2015), we had higher aspirations. It just didn't happen. This is foreign territory for me as well, as a coach, and it is going to get better."

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Despite failing to meet expectations, Fox is the right man to lead the Bears, according to Pace, who hired him.

"We're all judged on wins and losses," said Pace, the NFL's youngest GM. "John is, the whole building is. From Day One I said I want us to be a tough, smart, disciplined football team. I definitely think we're headed in that direction.

"Some things happened this season that put major stress on the coaching staff, and I get that. But for us to get better long term … it's developing our talent and it's developing our culture, and I think we're doing both of those things."

While both Pace and Fox said the injury epidemic (19 players on injured reserve) was not an excuse, they also used it to help explain the worst 16-game season in franchise history.

"The injury situation was an issue," Pace said. "It's something that we're going to clearly be working on this off-season. The silver lining is that it forced a lot of younger players to step up, and we liked the way a lot of those younger players responded.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"(But) we're not going to sit here and hide behind our youth and injuries."

The good news for fans who have suffered through the 9-23 record that Pace and Fox have produced is that the Bears hold the third overall pick in April's draft. They also have the financial means to make improvements through free-agency moves that could have an immediate impact.

"We're top five in cap space this year," Pace said. "With that comes major responsibility. (And) we're picking extremely high in every round. We've got to take advantage of that."

Job One in the third year of the rebuilding process is acquiring a quarterback who can lead the Bears to respectability after three straight double-digit-loss seasons and just one playoff appearance in the 10 years since losing Super Bowl XLI to Indianapolis.

"I understand the importance of that position," Pace said. "I understand the magnitude of that decision. That's a critical decision for me."

The Bears are expected to move on from Jay Cutler, who would count $16 million vs. the salary cap next season.

"Once we make a decision as an organization, whatever it is, he'll be the first to know," Pace said. "I made him that promise."

Cutler was one of many key players to miss significant time with injuries, and Pace promised a proactive approach to address that situation.

"We're going to look at other teams, other sports, everything. From the training room to the strength-and-conditioning room, to what we do on the field, the practice schedules, everything's going to be analyzed," Pace said.

Given the knee-jerk reaction around the league when it comes to making change, Pace was asked if he felt pressure from upper management after two disappointing years.

"I just feel confidence in us, and trust in what we're doing and trust in the plan," he said of himself and Fox. "It's a results-based business, and this season was not acceptable. But there are some reasons to be optimistic, and a lot of it is going to hinge on what we do this off-season."

Fox said he was encouraged by late-season games against the Lions and Packers in which the Bears were competitive before losing by 3 points.

"You're playing a playoff team, and you go toe-to-toe with them," Fox said. "Now, you find a way to lose. When you're young, you learn to compete. Now we need to learn how to win."

If that lesson isn't learned by next season, Pace and Fox probably won't be around to do any more teaching.

• Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.

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