The first throb of Chicago’s heart occurred nine minutes, 30 seconds into John Fox’ introductory press conference as head coach of the Bears.
“We look for smart, tough people that are going to condition themselves to be the best they can be,’’ he said. “Football is a very combative, physical game, and it takes combative, physical people.’’
As opposed to people who are coached to be humble, trusting, respectful and willing to be part of a “transformational process,’’ as the previous Bears head coach used to say.
Fox did not set out Monday to invalidate Marc Trestman’s approach to coaching, but a man on a walk doesn’t set out to squish a bug either. Nor was he purposely trying to channel another Bears coach a few minutes later, yet with one three-word utterance by Fox, all the Grabowskis out there genuflected involuntarily.
“Sometimes in life …,’’ he began.
Da Coach! The only thing missing was Fox addressing the assembled media members with a Mike Ditka-esque “gang.’’
The final indication that we were no longer dealing with the Trestman regime came when he responded to a question about his leadership style.
“I’m brutally honest,” Fox said. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I’m not afraid or intimidated to tell people the truth.”
When I think of telling people the truth, I immediately think of, “No, Lance, you can’t miss practice to open your new restaurant in California’’ or “No, Brandon, it’s not a good idea to be taping a TV show in New York on your day off during the season’’ or “Jay, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you’re trying to give the ball to the other team.’’
It’s entirely possible that I’m projecting my view of the ideal coach onto Fox. But in the highly reflexive NFL, teams often sprint in the opposite direction of the previous coaching failure. Thus, Fox’s accountability demands are replacing Trestman’s encounter groups. Hallelujah.
This is an old-timey coach, in the best sense of the term. Tough players, defense, running the ball – these are the things that the 59-year-old Fox values. In Chicago, he’s preaching to a choir of baritones.
New general manager Ryan Pace says he wants the same kind of players.
“Intelligent, tough, physical – so that meshes with me, too,’’ he said. “… We’re going to have certain core traits that we’re looking for in a Chicago Bears player, and you’re going to win with those guys.’’
Fox and Pace have their work cut out for them. They have to hire coordinators to help fix a broken offense and a miserable defense.
I’m not sure either man can fully grasp how far this team has sunk in terms of talent and morale until they dip toes into the muck. But they do understand that figuring out what to do about Cutler is the most important order of business. Pace said it has been a part of many of their conversations already.
The guess is here is that there won’t be any takers for Cutler’s fat contract and that he’ll remain a Bear. Fox will rely more on running back Matt Forte and tell Cutler to knock it off with the stupid turnovers. The offense will be geared with that in mind. Cutler will go from the highest-paid quarterback of 2014 to the highest-paid game manager of 2015.
Lovie Smith (the coach before Trestman) used to say, “trust me,’’ in explaining some of his decisions, such as when he jettisoned Ron Rivera as defensive coordinator. But it’s easier to trust someone who has done it before. Fox said Monday that he has seen just about everything in 26 years of NFL coaching, which includes stints as head coach in Carolina and Denver. You tend to trust a man with that kind of experience.
Don’t tell Fox that he’s aging at 59. Come to think of it, don’t tell him he turns 60 on Feb. 8.
“You talk about 60 like I was old or something,’’ he said, smiling. “I’m very healthy, very energetic, I stay away from mirrors. I truly feel as I did at (34) when I went to work with Chuck Noll and the Pittsburgh Steelers in ’89. At which point that goes away, I’ll go away. I have a great passion for what I do.’’
The words “Super Bowl’’ still creep into conversation at Halas Hall, as they did Monday. The word “rebuild’’ doesn’t get nearly enough attention.
“I can’t make any promises other than I’m going to give it everything I’ve got,’’ Fox said. “And that (Lombardi) trophy is kind of lonely out there in the hallway.’’
First things first, coach.