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What does John Fox say? A look at how the Bears coach inspires

BOURBONNAIS — The final day of Bears training camp Sunday at Olivet Nazarene University featured a message about water, potatoes and eggs — up on the big board for everyone to read and ponder.

It’s coach John Fox’s way.

“ ‘The same water you use to soften potatoes is the same water you use to boil hard eggs,’ ’’ veteran safety Antrel Rolle recounted.

Translation?

‘‘You make your own way,’’ Rolle said.

Under Fox, there are daily messages to consider. Players have their favorites and their own interpretations, but the purpose doesn’t change.

‘‘Attitude will determine altitude,’’ outside linebacker Jared Allen said.

‘‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail,’’ tight end Martellus Bennett said.

‘‘E plus R equals O,’’ outside linebacker Sam Acho said. ‘‘Events plus response equals the outcome. You can’t control the events, but you can control your response, and that response will control the outcome.’’

It’s all part of the process Fox often refers to — how he’s changing the Bears’ mindset, building a belief, a confidence.

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After record-setting attendance at camp last season, fans stayed away this summer. A 5-11 season full of controversy and followed by staff changes has lowered the expectations of the faithful.

USA Today recently predicted the Bears would finish 3-13, worst in the NFL, in 2015. That only fueled widespread doubts.

What does Fox think?

‘‘The one thing I know is that we get to define what we are,’’ Fox told the Sun-Times after his final practice in Bourbonnais. ‘‘USA Today won’t define us. The outside won’t define us. We’ll define us.’’

The Bears aren’t exactly circling the proverbial wagons. There are no ‘‘Bunker Down, No Noise’’ T-shirts like the ones receiver Brandon Marshall distributed last season.

There is plenty of bulletin-board material — ‘‘I use whatever it takes. It’s been done before,’’ Fox said — but it doesn’t mean much now.

‘‘The media does what they do,’’ guard Matt Slauson said. ‘‘They’ve got to write stupid stories about stupid stuff. We’re going to worry about us.’’

Fox’s daily mantras are what players recall. That’s their bulletin-board material.

‘‘I would say belief is part of it,’’ Fox said. ‘‘It’s acquiring the best human talent available and motivating them to do great every day.’’

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The use of inspirational quotes in sports isn’t new. But there is a science behind how Fox is doing it, said Charmon Parker Williams, an assistant professor of business psychology at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. It’s very popular among sports psychologists.

‘‘[The players] are starting their day off with a ‘breakfast of champions,’ ’’ Williams said. ‘‘Instead of nourishing their bodies, they’re nourishing their minds and creating a mindset that will help them optimize performance.’’

She said the repetitiveness of the messages helps players internalize them. The differences prevent boredom and provide novelty.

‘‘You are providing the team with the tools to have a positive internal monologue with themselves,’’ she said. ‘‘The team is probably looking forward to these.’’

The messages help at physiological, psychological and spiritual levels, Williams said. That every player interviewed shared a different phrase is a good sign. Fox is connecting with them.

‘‘It could make the difference between success and not being successful,’’ Williams said. ‘‘That optimism, once it’s internalized, can actually help create a sense of muscle memory or brain memory in a way that will motivate the person to pursue a particular goal.’’

Fox’s track record also makes a difference. Players often make unsolicited mentions of it.

It’s not just his two Super Bowl appearances, but it’s how he turned a 1-15 Carolina Panthers team into a 7-9 squad in 2002 and how the Denver Broncos went from 4-12 to 8-8 and a playoff appearance with Tim Tebow at quarterback in 2011.

‘‘We know he’s a guy that’s just not going off blind faith,’’ guard Kyle Long said.

Receiver Eddie Royal’s notebook is full of Fox’s phrases. Fox used them in 2011 when he turned the Broncos around before Peyton Manning’s arrival.

‘‘He always had those quotes,’’ said Royal, an eight-year veteran. ‘‘He’s done a great job of just motivating guys and getting guys ready to play and playing for each other. I haven’t seen a guy that’s able to do that so quickly, to get a group of guys to play for one another and feel like a family. You have to give him a lot of credit. He does a great job with that.’’

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Center Will Montgomery, the only player to play under Fox at all three of his NFL stops, said it’s business as usual. Players getting their first taste of Fox say he’s everything he’s built up to be — a personable players’ coach who isn’t afraid to hold anyone accountable and then some.

Veterans have responded. They’re thankful for the freedoms bestowed on them. There isn’t a monotonous, late-into-the-night schedule. There’s free time and scheduled events — which included a movie night at camp where ‘‘Beverly Hills Cop’’ was shown — to build bonds.

‘‘He’s demanding yet understanding,’’ Allen said. ‘‘He provides a work environment where there’s no B.S. He has a process, he has a system, and it’s obviously been proven to work. I trust in what he’s saying.’’

The strongest message is on the binders of the defensive players: ‘‘Things must change. Be part of the solution, not the problem.’’

That one doesn’t change. It demands that they improve after the two worst defensive seasons in Bears history.

Instant defensive improvement was critical to Fox’s feats in Carolina and Denver. Consider it another part of his process.

‘‘You condition them to be able to succeed in football,’’ Fox said. ‘‘That’s a lot of hard work, whether it’s the offseason or training camp, where I think you lay the foundation of that mindset.

‘‘I don’t know what the results will be, but I like where we’re at right now.’’

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