Chicago Bears fire coach John Fox despite his belief team has improved
One of John Fox's favorite sayings is: "Football is only fun when you win," but the Bears didn't have nearly enough fun in his three years as their head coach.
His teams won just 14 of 48 games in his three years as head coach, so Fox was fired with one year remaining on the four-year contract he signed on Jan. 16, 2015.
With a news conference set for approximately 4 p.m. today at Halas Hall, team officials released this statement:
"Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace has informed John Fox he will not return as head coach in 2018. Fox was hired on Jan. 16, 2015."
The team also released this statement from Fox: "Thank you to all the players, coaches, the city of Chicago and Bears fans everywhere, your passion for the game and this team is unmatched in the NFL. Today is the tough part of our results-oriented business but I wish the Bears organization the best for years to come."
Fox believes he is leaving the Bears an improved team from the one he inherited, but that wasn't enough to save his job after Sunday's 23-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings completed a 5-11 season. The Bears finished last in the NFC North in each of Fox's three seasons.
"I definitely feel like we're better than we were three years ago," Fox said after his final practice on Friday.
But the Bears under Fox were not better by enough to get him a fourth year in the ongoing rebuilding process that too often lagged. The team he inherited from Marc Trestman went 5-11 in 2014, but it lost back-to-back games by 28 and 41 points at midseason and then five straight to end the season.
Fox leaves his successor a younger team with more potential than the aged squad he inherited. Thirty-four players 28 or younger started at least one game for the Bears this season.
"We've basically retooled the whole roster," Fox said. "A lot of the heavy lifting has been done. I think we're kind of at ground zero, level (playing) field. And making that transition and change at the quarterback position this year bodes well for the future."
After a 1-3 start this year, the Bears switched from veteran quarterback Mike Glennon to rookie Mitch Trubisky, knowing that there would be growing pains. Still, the Bears managed to defeat three playoff teams this year -- the Steelers, Panthers and Ravens, and they suffered narrow losses by 6, 3, 8, 7, 3 and 1 point.
"These guys have played very, very hard in every game this season," Fox said, "regardless of the score."
But Fox's situation likely became irreversible after the 23-16 loss at home to the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 12.
The Packers were playing with inexperienced and unaccomplished Brett Hundley in place of All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Bears were coming off their bye week, and a victory over a diminished Packers team -- clearly below average without Rodgers -- would have elevated the Bears to 4-5 with at least a shot at the playoffs.
Instead, it became the second of five straight losses, and the 2017 Bears finished out of the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season and 10th time in 11 years.
The loss to the Packers was yet another example of the Bears' persist offensive struggles during Fox's reign. His teams scored more than 30 points just once in their last 39 games. They have been held to 20 points or fewer 31 times in Fox's three years, while scoring 30 or more points just three times. They scored 20 points or less 12 times this season and managed 30 or more just once.
Fox's 14-34 record with the Bears left him with a .292 winning percentage. Only Abe Gibron, at .274 (11-30-1 from 1972-74), has a lower winning percentage among the Bears' 15 coaches in franchise history.
Fox's teams never won more than two games in a row and never reached the .500 level at any point in his three seasons.
As has been the norm in recent seasons, the Bears were out of the playoff race this year by Thanksgiving. While no one expected them to be playoff contender coming off their 3-13 record in 2016, a fourth straight double-digit-loss season failed to meet even the lowered expectations.
"I don't think that we were anywhere in the midst of being picked to win the Super Bowl or anything of that nature," Fox said. "(But) our expectations are higher than what our record is."
Two weeks after the loss to the Rodgers-less Packers, the Bears suffered a 31-3 trouncing in Philadelphia on Nov. 26 that dropped them to 3-8.
The Bears hit rock bottom after losing 15-14 at home Sunday to the San Francisco 49ers, who came in with one win but dropped the Bears to 3-9.
Fox finished with a 1-5 record against each of the Bears' three NFC North rivals, leaving him with a 3-15 mark in the division.
Before the Week 16 victory over the Browns, GM Ryan Pace said: "We're all disappointed in the season, but there are things that are encouraging in regards to player development and what that means going forward. Almost all our starters and impact players are very young players and that really bodes well for the future.
"The way we see it is the future's bright because we've seen growth in a lot of areas and from a lot of our players. It's not just the growth of the quarterback, but it's the growth really throughout our roster with really a young team."
But Fox and his staff will not be part of that future.
Injuries had a cumulative effect on both sides of the ball in each of Fox's last two seasons. The Bears finished 2016 with 19 players on injured reserve and concluded the current season with 16 on I.R.
In Week 13, injuries on defense reached near-epidemic proportions. The Bears were forced to play outside linebacker Lamarr Houston almost every snap vs. the 49ers after signing him four days earlier. They started Chris Prosinski at safety that Sunday after signing him on Thursday.