Our Pledge To You

News

How Bears’ John Fox is ‘coaching like he’s been here for years’

He announces that there’s a new Bear in the family.

Then he invites his players to stand in front of their teammates and give the name, gender, height and weight of their newborn.

For Bears coach John Fox, connecting to his players is as simple as making them feel like family — even when Jay Cutler, Matt Forte and others are announcing an addition to theirs at home.

“This is the first time I’ve ever been on a team like this,” defensive lineman Jarvis jenkins said. “It makes you feel family-oriented. Anytime you have a family, you’re going to go to bat with your family.”

Fox knows how to connect with his players, a skill developed over 14 years as a head coach.

“It definitely doesn’t feel like this is his first year,” Jenkins said. “He’s coaching like he’s been here for years.”

As Fox about his first season with the Panthers, though, and he playfully asks if he has to discuss it. He knows the struggles of being a first-year head coach, and Sunday’s opponent, the 49ers’ Jim Tomsula, is one of three in the NFL.

“I can sympathize,” he said. “I wasn’t real excited about it my very first year.”

Tomsula, whose head coaching resume included one year with NFL Europe’s Rhein Fire and one game as the 49ers’ interim, is 3-8.

Of the seven men coaching new teams this year, he’s the only one with fewer than five wins. The Broncos’ Gary Kubiak leads with nine. First-year coach Todd Bowles, who interviewed at Halas Hall in January, has given the Jets the biggest leap from last year.

“I went into it with some strong advice from a couple people who’d done this for a long time, who said just make sure I came into it expecting the unexpected,” said Tomsula, the 49ers’ former defensive line coach. “I feel like I’ve taken that approach.

“The other one was, don’t make knee-jerk decisions, Think your way through things.”

Experience is valuable because it takes time.

“When you see a guy that has a lot of success, when you see a guy that has Super Bowls, that knows what it takes to get there … you listen to a guy like that,” said Jenkins, who played for first-time head coach Jay Gruden last year in Washington. “You have to respect that, and trust in knowing that he’s going to get you where you want to go.”

Fox needs to win only one more game to ensure a better Bears record than last year.

“Like anything, when you do something for the first time, it seems a little longer and harder,” Fox said. “I think the more you do it, the better you get.”

After “kind of winging it” to start his first year, Fox’s 2002 Panthers won four of last five and went 11-5 the next season.

His second job was more impressive, offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. Fox took over the Broncos in 2011 during the lockout and couldn’t communicate with players until July. They lost four of their first five but went 8-8 and made the playoffs.

Gase, then a Denver assistant, called the feat unbelievable.

“The same thing here is, just getting that locker room to come together,” he said. “Guys are all fighting for the same cause.”

Because he could be leading his own squad next year, Gase has watched how Fox gets his new teams to buy in.

“I think his energy, his attitude,” Gase said. “He knows people. And he does such a great job as far as his communication with players.”

Fox is “in love with the game,” outside linebacker Pernell McPhee said. When new players arrive, Fox introduces them in meetings so everyone can call them by name.

“It means a lot,” McPhee said. “Coach has done a great job keeping us connected with each other.”

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley
Email: pfinley@suntimes.com