The Broncos were good in 2014. They went 12-4 with a top-five offense led by quarterback Peyton Manning and a top-five defense led by linebacker Von Miller.
But the Broncos still had enough of John Fox.
Getting upset by the Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs didn’t help, but even before that, there were rumblings that Fox’s run was nearing its end.
“I think the main thing between [Fox] and I was we disagreed on how to get to the next level,” Broncos general manager John Elway said Jan. 13, 2015, a day after he and Fox mutually agreed to part ways.
“We accomplished so much, four AFC West championships. But I think the biggest miss between us was how we can take that next step and what it was going to take to get to that next step. I think that’s where that disagreement came from.”
A day after Elway’s comments, Bears general manager Ryan Pace interviewed Fox. A day after that, Pace flew to Denver to meet with Fox. On Jan. 16, Fox was named the Bears’ new coach.
Reports later explained that Elway had issues with Fox’s practices and approach to discipline. An ESPN story said that Elway would yell at the team when Fox wouldn’t.
For Elway, the “next level” was winning the Super Bowl. The Bears aren’t close to that, but there is a “next level” for Mitch Trubisky. Pace must decide whether Fox is the right coach to help his franchise quarterback reach it.
Pace deserves a chance to find a new coach if he wants to take that course of action. The organization owes Pace that opportunity — minus an adviser and its earlier work on candidates. The sense here is that he’ll get it when he wants it.
To be fair, Pace and Fox operate hand-in-hand in many aspects. Pace likes Fox, and Fox likes Pace. The team also didn’t want to play Trubisky this season. This was meant to be Mike Glennon’s year.
Circumstances change, though. They always do. As Elway’s comments illustrated, they did in Denver. Fox was good enough until he wasn’t.
Fox might improve his 12-29 record in the last seven weeks, but chairman George McCaskey and president Ted Phillips won’t forget his loss to the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers — not after he bungled a challenge and dropped to 1-5 against the Bears’ archrivals.
McCaskey and Phillips valued Fox’s history of quick turnarounds, but Pace also was clear about his intention to rebuild through the draft. He didn’t promise a quick fix.
This season, though, always was viewed as a defining one. A turnaround from Fox, in some form, was supposed to take place.
Trubisky didn’t change that expectation; his arrival enhanced everything. While it’s true that Trubisky has much to learn, his development added another layer to the evaluation of Fox. Pace actually will have a better understanding of what the Bears are and what they could become because Trubisky is playing.
Pace’s first coaching search moved at a frenzied pace. He interviewed Todd Bowles on the same day he officially joined the Bears on Jan. 8.
The Bears announced that Doug Marrone and Teryl Austin were interviewed on Jan. 13, a day before Fox visited Halas Hall.
Before Pace was hired, McCaskey, Phillips and special adviser Ernie Accorsi interviewed Dan Quinn and Adam Gase. Fox’s availability changed everything because Accorsi worked with him with the Giants. Accorsi was part of Fox’s initial interview.
The decision to hire Fox ultimately was Pace’s. But it was prudent for Pace to act sooner than later because his own hiring process set back the Bears’ offseason timeline.
Pace would control that timeline now.
He would meet with his choice of coordinators from playoff teams — opportunities he didn’t have in 2015. He would create his own coaching list. More important, Pace would determine the future he wants for Trubisky.
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