If you could build a Mt. Rushmore of Chicago coaches, whose faces would you put on there? Phil Jackson and Papa Bear Halas are give-ins. I can already hear you screaming “DITKA!” so let’s throw him on there too, Ray Bans and all.
After that, you can start spilling into the present-day: Joel Quenneville is headed in the right direction; Tom Thibodeau isn’t too far behind. If Joe Maddon is as good as advertised, he may deserve his own Mt. Rushmore adjacent to the one we’re discussing.
As the rampant speculation (that’s right, nothing has been confirmed yet) about the Bears’ possible union with ex-Broncos head man John Fox continues, the most optimistic of us fans can also envision Fox’s head up on that mountain.
Oh sure, the story basically writes itself: a proven leader falls into the laps of a reeling-but-proud franchise out of nowhere, he partners with a young, edgy GM in Ryan Pace, and the duo return the all-that-is-good aura to the Chicago Bears franchise with endless years of runs at the Lombardi Trophy.
But hang on a sec: would the Bears be hiring Fox with championships in mind? Or is he a means to a different end?
But if the Bears hire him, don’t expect him to add a third separate trip to the Promised Land to that impressive resume. Instead, expect an upgraded version of what we went through with Rick Renteria and the Chicago Cubs.
Yep, allow me to introduce you to “John Fox, Professional Place Holder.”
Even though the Bears circumstance doesn’t exactly parallel the Cubs’, it’s easy to foresee a similar scenario pan out over the next few years.
In the winter of 2013, the Cubs were coming off an abysmal season and needed a stabilizing force to restore some respect in the clubhouse while letting some young talent mature.
Now, in the winter of 2014-15, the Bears are coming off an abysmal season and need a stabilizing force… you know what, just re-read the sentence before this one. You’ll get it.
The (glaring, major, important) difference: not too much young talent on this Bears roster.
Let’s be frank for a second: anyone who is not on the Bears payroll that thinks the team can legitimately contend for a Super Bowl next year is more delusional than… well, Marc Trestman. Stings, doesn’t it?
If you thought 2014 was bad, we may very well be in store for an equally bad 2015… or worse, depending on how the upcoming NFL Draft pans out. As it stands now, the front office is hamstrung when it comes to cap space, has as many contractual albatrosses to deal with on offense as proven talents, and has nearly 11 spots to shore up on defense.
That last nugget might be a bit of a stretch, but you get my point. This situation makes it all the more imperative that Ryan Pace nails his first draft and gets some solid talent in the pipeline that can flourish in about two year’s time.
But by then, it will be 2017. Raise your hand if you think Jay Cutler will still be on the roster by then. Nobody? Alright, raise your hand if you think Matt Forte will still be effective at 33. Again, nobody? Bueller?
If you go with the assumption that a new coach will get a four year deal with the team, you’ve effectively sunk the first two years of the deal by letting the cream rise to the top. It’s not quite the lengthy rebuild the Cubs were forced to endure, but it’s not the miracle overnight turnaround that so many people falsely believe to be true for every team in the NFL.
Sure, it seems to happen once a season. But let’s not forget the worst-to-first 1998 Colts had Peyton Manning on the rise. The 1999 Rams already had Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt. The ’01 Patriots had some guy named Tom Brady. You may have heard of him.
There doesn’t seem to be a knight in shining armor waiting in the wings on this roster. Trust me, I’ve checked.
Have I painted a doom and gloom picture to conclude that hiring John Fox would be a bad idea? Not at all. I actually think that even though the choice to hire Fox would be a conservative one, it’s likely the best option that Ryan Pace has. I’m just trying to spell out an honest look at the future so people don’t assume Fox can perform miracles in a matter of days.
While hiring a younger, unproved candidate to take the reigns (i.e. Dan Quinn or Terryl Austin) could potentially lead to a lengthy, successful tandem with Pace, it could also turn into another Trestman-esq garbage fire.
In this situation, especially considering that it’s Pace’s first shot to get this hiring thing right, go with what you know. You know John Fox can come in and establish a presence in the locker room that demands respect. You know he can help stabilize the defense and enforce a run game. You know he can take a lesser-than-average team and turn it into an above average team if you give him time.
When you consider the state of flux that the Bears have been in for the past five or so seasons, stability is something that fans might crave just as much as playoff appearances. Sure, 12 win seasons are great, but they’re not in the cards right now. If you can keep the arrow pointing in the right direction, slowly stockpile talent, and add a win or two to the record for the next four seasons, I’ll take it.
If Fox is hired, you can all but guarantee that the Bears will no longer be the punchline of jokes by the year 2019 or 2020. But you can also wage a guess that any team he leads won’t get over that final hump (see: Super Bowl).
By then, Pace will have already built enough cache with the team and with the fans to go out on a limb and bring in some young, fresh meat to further build and finally seal the deal.
But if he throws a curveball in the coming days and hires an unproven coach right now, he’s basically throwing the four-year safety blanket that Fox provides right down the drain in hopes of hitting the jackpot.
If you’re the youngest person to ever hold your position in a prestigious organization, do you put that much on the line with your first decision? My money says no, but when it comes to the Bears, you never know.