Under fire: Players stand by John Fox but have few wins to show for it
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Adam L. Jahns’ “Inside the Huddle” column appears in game-day editions of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Two years ago, the Bears ruined Brett Favre Night at Lambeau Field before a national audience on Thanksgiving. And then they partied.
The visiting locker room morphed into a dance hall, and coach John Fox was the main attraction. Fox danced with his players to rapper Young Jeezy’s “Win.” Some players said they saw him “dab,” too.
The hoopla was captured and shared on social media by players, including former Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, linebacker Christian Jones and wide receiver/special-teamer Josh Bellamy.
It was an emotional 17-13 victory against quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Players had every right to be jubilant. They felt insulted that they were chosen for what they called Favre’s “homecoming.”
The Bears improved to 5-6 that night, and they did it with Jay Cutler still at quarterback and maligned linebacker Shea McClellin handling the defensive calls.
So much has changed since then.
It wasn’t the statement victory many inside and outside Halas Hall thought it was. It turned out to be an indictment. Two years later, it remains the one true highlight of Fox’s Bears tenure.
The Bears lost three games in a row after that night, including an overtime loss to the Blaine Gabbert-led 49ers the next week at Soldier Field. The Bears also haven’t beaten the Packers since then.
With seven games left in his third season in charge of the Bears, Fox is fully under the microscope now.
It’s true that he hasn’t lost the locker room. But no one is dancing, either.
“He’s still positive,” said Bellamy, the DJ of the Bears’ Thanksgiving party at Lambeau Field. “He’s always trying to find an edge to try to win. He’s not going to back down. That’s what you want from a head coach. . . . It’s rough right now, but, hey, he’s still doing everything he can to go get a ‘W.’ ”
There are reasons why wins have been scarce for Fox. Injuries ravaged his team this season and last. General manager Ryan Pace also completely overhauled the roster. And the Bears have gone from Cutler to Mike Glennon to second overall pick Mitch Trubisky at quarterback.
But excuses should never outnumber victories. Trubisky’s growing pains don’t always have to be painful. The Bears should’ve beaten Gabbert and the 49ers two seasons ago just like they should’ve taken it to the Packers and backup quarterback Brett Hundley last week.
The Bears are good enough to beat Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford — they’ve already beaten the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger and the Panthers’ Cam Newton — but erratic enough to lose to Hundley at home.
After losing to Hundley, Fox delivered this message at the podium: “Like a lot of games this season, we’ve been in the thick of things until the end and just came up a little short. That’s what I told the team.”
It’s a familiar refrain from Fox after narrow defeats. Staying in games runs it course, though. It’s not an indication of success. It does summarize the Bears: close but not quite good enough to win.
When that’s the case, the coaching must be evaluated. Under Fox, the Bears have lost at home to Gabbert, Hundley, Brock Osweiler, Blake Bortles, Case Keenum and Carson Wentz in his second career start.
“Coach Fox is coach Fox,” Bellamy said. “He’s giving everything he’s got. It’s on the players. He’s not going out there playing the game. He’s just the coach. It’s on the players to change everything. You can’t point the finger in the direction of coach Fox.”
In other words, Fox is under fire, and the players know it.
“I know what it’s like when the outside’s turning on you on the inside,” guard Kyle Long said. “You’ve got to just kind of circle the wagons. That’s kind of the spot we’ve been in the last few years, unfortunately.”
Players have seven games to change that for Fox.
“Any coach would take heat,” said Bellamy, who is close to Fox. “It doesn’t matter who it is. If it was Bill Belichick and his team was losing or whatever, they’d be talking about him. It’s the game. You got to find somebody to blame.
“Everybody knows that coach Fox is a hell of a coach. He’s a wonderful coach. He’s been to the Super Bowl. He’s had Super Bowl teams. He’s had playoff teams. You can’t question him because his résumé speaks for itself.”
It did in 2015.
In a way, Fox already has served his purpose. He helped clean up a dysfunctional mess. The locker room is a better place today than at the end of the Marc Trestman era. But the dance parties in Fox’s locker room have been few and far between.
@mklcolvin: Any [wide receivers] you keep from the current roster on the 2018 Bears? I’d like [a free agent], Cam Meredith, Dontrelle Inman, a draft pick, Tre McBride and Kendall Wright.
A: Why not most of them? Throw in Tanner Gentry, too. Depth clearly was an issue this season because of injuries to Meredith (torn anterior cruciate ligament), Kevin White (broken shoulder blade) and Markus Wheaton (various ailments). The Bears don’t seem ready to give up on White, and it doesn’t hurt to give him one more chance next season. But he shouldn’t be given his starting spot back. He needs to earn it back by competing against a free-agent signee and a draft pick. To a lesser extent, the same applies to Meredith. Improving at receiver is the Bears’ top offseason priority because of quarterback Mitch Trubisky. The Bears have to spend money and use picks to do that.
@PJDaisy13: How do you see the rest of the season playing out? I look at the schedule and see “potential wins.” But the Bears don’t seem to play when [fans] need them to.
A: It’s true that the Bears have a favorable schedule. It actually started against the Packers and backup quarterback Brett Hundley. But, as you said, the Bears don’t play well when they seemingly should. Their loss to Hundley is an obvious example. The only thing predictable about the Bears is their unpredictability. They’re consistently inconsistent. Knowing that, here are my predictions for the rest of the season: vs. Lions (loss), at Eagles (loss), vs. 49ers (win), at Bengals (win), at Lions (loss), vs. Browns (win) and at Vikings (loss).
More action, less talk
Considering everything he does and says is analyzed, rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky has handled the spotlight extremely well since taking over for Mike Glennon.
But without the victories, Trubisky sounds ready to move on from feel-good stories about himself. He was asked several times about a story left guard Josh Sitton shared on a conference call with the Green Bay media about him yelling at his offensive linemen for breaking the huddle before he did.
“Yeah, I remember it,” he said.
How did the line react?
“I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” he said.
Trubisky still is learning the offense, but according to his teammates, he’s asserting himself as the leader. And now, Trubisky appears to be taking control of his own narrative.
The Bears must like that.
“The most important thing for me right away was to earn the trust of my teammates and to show them how much I care,” he said when he was first asked about Sitton’s story. “[It’s] so that I can earn their respect in that when I say something in the huddle, it holds weight. I think it has gotten to that point.”
Trubisky said the offense’s rhythm and timing have been affected because of the different receivers who’ve taken the field in his five starts.
But Trubisky sees stability ahead after Dontrelle Inman’s arrival. Inman and slot receiver Kendall Wright should provide it.
“It’s been a challenge, but we’ve also overcome it sometimes, and other times it’s hurt us,” Trubisky said. “We finally figured that room out and who brings what to the table. We continue to get better and grow as a group. I like what I’m seeing, so we just need to continue to develop that rhythm and timing and keep building that chemistry.”
Follow me on Twitter @adamjahns.