The Bears have fired head coach John Fox after three years with the team. Fox accumulated a 14-34 record in three straight losing seasons with double-digit losses. The Bears finished dead last in the NFC North in each of those seasons.
General manager Ryan Pace will now undergo a search to replace Fox that will receive an immense amount of scrutiny given that it’ll be the third head coach hired after the Bears fired Lovie Smith following a fairly successful tenure with the organization.
The Bears have not made the playoffs in seven straight seasons, a trend that needs to be reversed quickly and will only make Pace’s search that much more difficult.
Who will replace Fox as next Bears head coach?
So, where do the Bears go from here? What kind of head coach should Pace be seeking?
Common sense suggests the Bears need to look for an offensive-minded coach given that the NFL is an offensive league and the Bears invested in a young quarterback when they traded up one slot in the 2017 NFL Draft to select Mitch Trubisky.
Having a head coach who works closely with the quarterback is a benefit, to be sure. But is it absolutely necessary? Could the Bears get away with hiring a defensive-minded coach and still have a successful offense?
The most prominent example to point to is New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who came from a defensive background and has run and operated one of the most successful franchises in all of sports for the past decade and a half. Belichick has mostly won with solid defenses and an offense led by a great quarterback.
The caveat with this example is that the “great quarterback” is Tom Brady, and Trubisky is not likely to ascend to that level of greatness. Still, that does not disqualify this model. It would just mean the Bears would have to surround Trubisky with far more talent than the Patriots did with Brady.
Here are some of the most important qualities — in no particular order — that Pace should be looking for in the Bears’ next head coach.
The Bears need to find an innovator, no matter what side of the ball he specializes in. The running gag is that “NFL” stands for “Not For Long.” This is as true about players as it is about philosophies and schemes. How many times throughout the history of the league have teams ushered in, and then summarily ushered out, certain gimmick plays and gadget schemes? This is not because they’ve gotten bored of using them. It’s because opponents have learned how to stop them. For every bright young mind that contributes something new to the game, there’s another bright young mind waiting to exploit it. By finding a head coach who has an innovative quality, you’re ensuring that he’s not a one-trick pony who will buckle and fold the minute that teams figure him out.
The next Bears head coach needs to be a strong personnel evaluator. But wait, you ask, isn’t that supposed to be Pace’s job? Of course it is, but that doesn’t mean the head coach should live in a vacuum and not understand players’ strengths and weaknesses. It’s Pace’s job to actually acquire talent for the head coach to utilize, but the head coach will work closely with his GM and let him know what he needs to succeed. Not only is “player recognition and acquisition” an important aspect to personnel evaluation, but so is self-scouting. A great head coach will not be quick to discard players when they don’t fit the mold of what he’s looking for. He will strategically position his players like chess pieces to give them a role in which they can contribute to the team’s success.
The Bears need to hire a game strategist who understands all game situations and can read and react to what the opponent is doing. This goes above and beyond John Fox’s use of the challenge flag and a coach’s general “halftime adjustments” that fans so often complain about on a regular basis. This is about adjusting coverage on the fly if a particular receiver is decimating his defense. This is about recognizing holes in a defense, those that were not there on game film, and altering the offense to exploit them. A game strategist can identify when it’s best to go for it on fourth down, when to try a special teams fake or trick play, when to cut loose and air it out and when to ground and pound and be conservative. The game strategist knows how to manage the clock and make use of his timeouts, knows the risk-reward of challenges, and can discern the best use of field position as a means of strategy.
The Bears should hire a coach smart enough to surround himself with the right assistants. It’s not always what you know that makes you successful at your job, it’s who you know, too. A smart coach will surround himself with assistant coaches who are good at what they do. Every coach on the roster needs to pull his weight, develop the players under his charge, and ensure the team operates as a well-oiled machine. The head coach cannot grow and develop 53 different players, so he needs assistants who buy into what his overall philosophy is and do not deviate from that plan. It’s also important that the head coach doesn’t just hire “yes men” who praise him constantly and offer little insight. A smart coach will surround himself with assistants who offer ideas and provide valuable insight on how the team can have better success.
The Bears need a coach who commands respect and gets everybody to buy into what they’re doing. In other words, the head coach has to be a good salesman. He’s selling himself, and he’s selling his product — that is to say, a formula for winning. There are few egos in the world larger than those of professional athletes. If you lose one or two of the key players in your locker room, you will find it hard to sustain success. If the players believe in their head coach, they’re going to fight hard from kickoff to final buzzer each and every week. Or, as many players say, “I’ll run through a brick wall for him.” Marc Trestman was not a guy that commanded respect. John Fox was, and you could see it in the players’ efforts throughout the season, even if they didn’t have the talent to get the job done.
There are many other factors that a general manager weighs when selecting a head coach, but those are some of the most important ones I think that Pace needs to address with his next hire.
Whether or not Pace goes after an offensive-minded head coach — which I think is far more likely than not — there are certain qualities that the coach must have to make the Bears successful.
Yes, taking Trubisky to the next level is vital, and he’s the most important piece moving forward. His success is the best path toward team success. But a great Mitch Trubisky paired with a mediocre or bad Chicago Bears team does absolutely nothing for the franchise. Thus, the head coach needs to be far more than Trubisky’s personal tutor.