Jake Delhomme was an early riser, the type of quarterback who’d arrive at the team facility before dawn to watch film before his workday officially began.
And during his seven years with the Panthers, Delhomme often had an early-morning companion. Coach John Fox just happened to be an early riser, too, and even though Fox’s area of expertise was defense, he’d join the film session.
It was just coach and quarterback. And the time spent together was invaluable.
“He would always pop in and sit in the film room,” Delhomme said. “We would just kind of chew the fat a little bit and talk about little things.”
Fox comes to Chicago with the same blueprint that traditionally has led to success for the franchise. The Bears will have a tough, physical defense. And they will run the football.
“But John truly understands that coaches and quarterbacks are going to be tied at the hip — no matter what,” Delhomme said. “That’s just the way it is, how it goes. They’re tied at the hip.”
Which brings us to Jay Cutler.
Fox and general manager Ryan Pace undoubtedly had conversations about the mercurial quarterback with the big contract during the hiring process.
Of all the personnel decisions coming up for Pace and Fox, none will be bigger than Cutler. As it stands now, Cutler is the Bears’ best option, which wouldn’t be lost on Pace or Fox.
Cutler’s play in 2013 was good enough to convince the Bears to sign him to a seven-year extension, which already has guaranteed him $38 million, including $15.5 million for 2015.
But if Cutler truly wants to finish his career in Chicago, as he says, he has to get on board with Fox and whomever he hires as offensive coordinator.
“John and I had a great relationship,” Delhomme said. “I would ask John questions. I would lean on John.”
Coach Marc Trestman was hired to unleash Cutler’s potential, and it backfired. Trestman’s delicate handling of Cutler prompted criticism because there were visible signs that he was regressing in 2014. His eventual benching of Cutler in Week 16 added further confusion to an already tumultuous situation.
Delhomme said players should expect an honest, straightforward approach from Fox.
“I always believed that the biggest thing with John was honesty,” Delhomme said. “As a player, that’s one thing you always wanted from a coach, good or bad. When a coach can be honest, it’s not what you want to hear, but the truth is what’s best for the team.”
And there won’t be any coddling from Fox. Let’s face it: The Bears’ locker room remains filled with turbulent types from Cutler to wide receiver Brandon Marshall to tight end Martellus Bennett.
“He can manage egos to a great extent,” Delhomme said. “He’s not afraid to have a conversation with the big-ego guy and tell it like it is.”
To be fair, Fox has benefitted from having Peyton Manning the last three seasons in Denver. Together, they won three division titles and advanced to the Super Bowl last season.
Cutler’s natural skills are somewhere between Manning, one of the all-time greats, and Delhomme, who has the same number of Pro Bowl appearances as Cutler at one.
Delhomme just happened to be a winner for Fox. He was 53-37 in the regular season and 5-3 in the playoffs as Fox’s quarterback. He led the Panthers to the Super Bowl during the 2003 season and the NFC Championship Game in 2005.
“[Fox helped] from a defensive mindset,” Delhomme said. “John was always, ‘Take what they give ya.’ . It’s little things like that. Try this, don’t bite on this and things like that.”
It worked for Delhomme. Will Cutler listen, too?