LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) – John Fox helped change the culture in the Chicago Bears’ locker room.
He just didn’t produce enough wins to keep his job.
The Bears fired Fox on Monday after three losing seasons, ending one of the least successful coaching stints in team history.
“Today is the tough part of our results-oriented business,” he said in a statement.
While Fox was let go after a 5-11 finish, general manager Ryan Pace got a contract extension through the 2021 season.
“We think we have the right structure and we think we have the right people in those positions,” chairman George McCaskey said.
“We’ve seen some results in terms of player development and relying primarily on the draft for that development. We just haven’t seen those results on the field in wins and we’re looking forward to that.”
Chicago has had four consecutive losing seasons – each with 10 or more losses. The Bears haven’t finished above .500 since they let Lovie Smith go following a 10-6 finish in 2012. They haven’t been to the playoffs since 2010.
Hired shortly after the Bears brought in Pace, Fox leaves with a 14-34 record in three seasons and a .292 winning percentage that ranks as the second lowest in franchise history.
Only Abe Gibron was worse – 11-30-1 (.274) from 1972-74.
“Our record is a reflection on me as well,” Pace said. “But I feel good about where we’re at right now. I feel much better about where we’re at right now than at this time last year and that starts with the quarterback position.”
President Ted Phillips apparently sees the same things.
“I see the young talent,” he said. “The locker room is a great atmosphere. The players believe in themselves.”
Pace said the Bears had not “officially” asked permission to interview other teams’ assistants and that they’re open to coaches with offensive or defensive backgrounds. He would not say if Vic Fangio is in the running or if he hopes to retain him as defensive coordinator.
Pace would not say, either, roughly how many candidates he hopes to interview or what traits he’s seeking in a coach.
Though McCaskey and Phillips will have input, Pace made it clear the decision on the coach is his. He also said he will continue to have final say on the roster.
The next coach will have to get the most out of Mitchell Trubisky. After all, Pace staked his reputation to the quarterback when he traded up a spot with San Francisco to draft him with the No. 2 overall pick last spring.
Fox is 133-123 in 16 seasons as a head coach and is one of six coaches to lead two teams to Super Bowl appearances, joining Don Shula, Bill Parcells, Dan Reeves, Dick Vermeil and Mike Holmgren.
Fox helped orchestrate quick turnarounds while leading Carolina and Denver to a combined six division titles and seven playoff appearances in 13 years before he took over Chicago in January 2015. But his time with the Bears was forgettable.
Fox helped restore some of the professionalism that was missing under former GM Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman. But Fox’s conservative approach and some questionable decisions during games were sore spots.
The Bears were 3-15 against the NFC North and dropped all six division games this past season.
“I think he built a foundation,” linebacker Sam Acho said. “I think the success that he had here, we’re not going to see until later. Whether I’m on this team or not, I think you’re going to see success in the future.”
Cornerback Prince Amukamara said there were plenty of hugs for Fox when he met with the team Monday.
“Great, passionate coach,” he said. “Didn’t give up on us, didn’t quit on us and that’s very special for a head coach.”
Injuries exposing a lack of depth have been a major issue since the regime change.
Pace has had some big hits in the draft such as star running back Jordan Howard (2016, fifth round) and notable misses such as oft-injured receiver Kevin White (2015, first round).
His record in free agency is shaky, and he has struggled to replace some talented players no longer with the team such as receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, tight end Martellus Bennett and kicker Robbie Gould.
The Bears will need to bring in play-making receivers. But with the presence of Trubisky, Howard and running back Tarik Cohen and a promising defense led by end Akiem Hicks, tackle Eddie Goldman and linebacker Leonard Floyd, Pace insisted the team is in a better spot than it was three years ago. He also feels more comfortable in his position.
“I feel very comfortable in my shoes, I feel very confident, and I have a lot of good people and a lot of resources around me to help me attack this,” Pace said.
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