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All eyes on John Fox as Bears coaching search continues

Two years ago on Friday, a deal was consummated in the wee hours of the night. The Bears’ next coach would be Marc Trestman ­after his successful run in the Canadian Football League. His deal was reached at 1:30 a.m.

OK, so what’s up with John Fox this year?

Day 18 of the Bears’ coaching search, also known as Thursday, came and passed without an official announcement.

At this point, Fox, the former Broncos coach who just became available on Monday, still is widely considered the leader for Bears coach, with one report prematurely declaring the job his Thursday morning.

The Bears also have been consistent in announcing official candidates after the conclusion of their interviews and no one new emerged as of late Thursday.

Two league sources said the Bears, notably first-year general manager Ryan Pace, were doing their due diligence on Fox, especially when it comes to establishing a relationship between GM and coach. After all, this is the most important decision of the Pace’s still-blossoming career. Sources also said that other candidates were yet to be informed about the Bears’ decision as of Thursday evening.

“Ryan is leading the football operation,” chairman George McCaskey said last week. “And as Ryan said, the most critical first step in that is selecting the right head coach.”

Fox was that last candidate to interview, coming on Wednesday. The other official candidates include former Bills coach Doug Marrone, Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase. Marrone is said to be close to Pace after working together with the Saints.

Todd Bowles, who was the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator the last two seasons, was said to have a strong interview, but he was hired by the Jets. A source close to Bowles said earlier this week that the Bears had an interest in a second interview, but there were concerns that he wouldn’t last past his second meeting with the Jets.

“The first order of business is to hire the right head coach to lead us to championships,” Pace said last week. “Right now, that is the most critical thing I am doing. … I can assure you I understand the importance of decision.”

McCaskey, president Ted Phillips and consultant Ernie Accorsi, who has known Fox for years, have been a part of every interview. But McCaskey said Pace’s comfort level with his coach will be everything. Fox left the Broncos after a clear discord with GM John Elway.

“It comes down to both of them saying whether each of them is comfortable with the other,” McCaskey said.

One source familiar with the Bears’ hiring process suggested that negotiations between a veteran, strong-minded coach such as Fox and the Bears could take time, whether it’s establishing common ground or working out the money and details of the contract.

Fox doesn’t have much leverage with the only Bears and Falcons as head-coaching options. The Falcons, according to reports, are willing to wait on Quinn, even if it means after the Super Bowl.

McCaskey has been clear that money won’t be an issue for the Bears, but Fox could still command a hefty contract, especially after what has transpired this week.

The Bills signed former Jets coach Rex Ryan to a reported five-year, $27.5 million contract and the Cowboys re-signed Jason Garrett to a five-year, $30 million deal.

But the Bears’ search is “in Ryan’s capable hands now,” McCaskey stressed last week. “However he wants to go forward, that’s how we’re going to do it,” he said.

Contributing: Patrick Finley

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adamjahns