John Fox’s finale? Three years later, Bears again on the ‘clean edge of change’

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Bears GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox have been together three years. (AP)

They would add frosted glass during the offseason, a lesson learned.

But TCF Bank Stadium, the Vikings’ temporary home, had only a clear windowpane separating the Bears owners’ suite from the press box during the season finale three years ago.

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Among those inside the suite: principal owner Virginia McCaskey, then 91; her son George, the Bears’ chairman; and general manager Phil Emery, who watched what was generally accepted to be Marc Trestman’s last game as coach.

The McCaskeys cheered the Bears’ rare positive plays — George screamed “Go! Go! Go!” when cornerback Kyle Fuller returned an interception — while Emery scribbled notes sitting in the front row, unaware of what was to come.

The next morning, the McCaskeys split with Trestman. They fired Emery, too. He read a lyric from songwriter Carrie Newcomer in a brief appearance at Halas Hall: “We stand breathless on the clean edge of change.”

Three years later, the Bears are there yet again: on the edge of change, yes, but also in Minneapolis. On Sunday, they will face the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium in what figures to be coach John Fox’s last game. Fox is 14-33 in three seasons, having beaten his NFC North foes — the Packers, Lions and Vikings — only once apiece and spending 36 weeks, and counting, in last place in the division.

General manager Ryan Pace is thought to be safe. His future is tied to the development of rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky, for whom he traded four picks to draft No. 2 overall in April. The intrigue surrounding Trubisky makes the Bears a more attractive job this year than it was when Pace landed Fox mere days after his own hiring. Fox himself said the roster reconstruction has set the team up well.

“I think a lot of the heavy lifting has been done,” he said.

Then again, Emery’s job felt safe three years ago — after all, he was in the front row of the owners’ box, and president/CEO Ted Phillips was back home in Chicago, something the team said was not unusual.

If the Bears sense a superstar coach would only take a job if he could pick his own boss, perhaps they change their mind about Pace. Such big-game hunting isn’t the Bears’ way, though — Fox was the second person in their history who’d actually had head-coaching experience when he was hired to run the team.

If Pace remains, the Bears could decide to change their leadership structure in some way — perhaps hiring a football czar — but that, too, would seem to be out of character. Bringing in another football mind would ostensibly neuter Pace, whom McCaskey has praised since his arrival. Could the Bears change Phillips’ duties? They’ve bristled at the notion in the past; last month, he was the only executive quoted in the team’s press release about expanding Halas Hall.

Only one person knows for sure what will happen either late Sunday or early Monday — the same man who was cheering Fuller’s interception three years ago.

McCaskey promised that the Bears would evaluate everyone’s performance — even the chairman’s — at the end of the season. He held true to that declaration when others might have installed an interim coach after one of the season’s many low points.

McCaskey must be careful in his next move. If the Bears don’t start winning — they’re 45-66 during his tenure as chairman — eventually there will be no other common denominators to fire.

Since McCaskey took over in 2011, the Bears have employed three general managers and three coaches. Whoever replaces Fox will be coach No. 4.

Sunday will be the five-year anniversary of the first coaching domino to fall: when Lovie Smith was fired for the sin of finishing 10-6.

The Bears have been searching for progress and traction — and a winning season — ever since.

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley.

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

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