CHICAGO – Is it just me, or does it seem like yesterday that George McCaskey gave, by NFL standards, a quick hook to general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman after a 5-11 record in Trestman’s second season?
McCaskey’s answer for Bears Nation was the Ryan Pace-John Fox regime, and it started with some much-needed housecleaning, followed quickly by a surprisingly competitive football team.
Bourbonnais in 2015 opened with returning Bears raving about what a breath of fresh air the locker room and training camp had become with Brandon Marshall gone and Fox a much more traditional players-type coach than Trestman.
Pace using the seventh overall pick in the draft on Kevin White and bringing back Jay Cutler and the disastrous contract Emery saddled the team with proved to be missed opportunities, but off that lost second season with Trestman, the Bears fielded a surprisingly competitive team.
After an 0-3 start, they fought their way back to 3-5 and went into St. Louis to start the second half, and behind a monster performance from Zach Miller, demolished the Rams, 37-13, to become relevant again, at 4-5.
A week later, the Bears lost at home, 17-15, to Fox’s former team and eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos when Jeremy Langford was stopped on a two-point conversion attempt in the final minute. But four days later, on a Thursday night, they went into Lambeau Field and came away with Cutler’s first victory there, 17-13 over the Packers, to make it three wins out of four and climb to 5-6.
Sadly, it’s been pretty much straight downhill from there. The club would drop four of its final five and is 9-28 since that Thursday night in Lambeau. In the two games that followed, Robbie Gould missed 40- and 36-yard field goals that allowed the 49ers to get to overtime and beat the Bears, 26-20, and then a 50-yard attempt late to let Washington hold on to a 24-21 lead – the net effect of those kicks being the horrible decision to cut Gould coming out of training camp the following August.
The real death knell for the Fox half of the Pace-Fox regime came immediately after the season Jan. 11, 10 days after that season also ended with an ugly loss in Minnesota and two days after offensive coordinator Adam Gase left to take the head coaching job in Miami, when Fox elevated quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains to the OC spot.
To be clear, Loggains is nowhere near the only problem with the Bears today, nor is he the answer to all that is wrong.
But after compiling an excellent record of hiring coordinators and assistants, in Loggains Fox went with a young coach nowhere near ready for the responsibility or possessing the skills to design an offense or call plays, and the club has gone backward ever since.
To be sure, Fox had other handicaps to battle – including a roster from which only four starters played every game in 2015, led the NFL in players on injured reserve and starters games lost to injury in 2016 and played Sunday’s season-ending 23-10 loss at Minnesota with 10 opening day starters on injured reserve and two more, Josh Sitton and Bobby Massie, in street clothes on the sideline.
By the time you read this, Fox almost will certainly have been told his Bears career is over and Pace will be knee deep in the search for his second head coach – a hire that will define Pace’s Bears career.
Fox will be fine. He’s a good man who’s made a fortune coaching football and can do whatever he wants next.
But it seems certain he will spend more than a little time asking himself: “What if he’d done things differently after Gase left?” while Pace works feverishly to solve the head-coaching puzzle knowing the pressure is really on now.
• Hub Arkush is executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.