How safe is John Fox’s job?

 

We’re going to continue a series profiling a few NFL coaches who could potentially be on the hot seat in 2017. After taking a look at Hue JacksonTodd Bowles and Marvin Lewis we’re going to examine an NFC coach who may feel some pressure.

John Fox

His career

It’s difficult to write a quick blurb about John Fox, because he has one of the longer and more storied coaching careers among NFL head coaches. Some highlights:

His breakout came as the defensive coordinator for the N.Y. Giants, when he helped lead the team to the Super Bowl the year they lost to the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. In fact, our last profiled “hot seat” coach Marvin Lewis was the DC on that Ravens squad.

That wouldn’t be Fox’s only experience with the Super Bowl. After being hired as the head coach for the Carolina Panthers, he led the team to the title game in only his second year on the job. All in all, Fox lasted 9 years with Carolina, peaking with that SB loss.

But that wouldn’t be his last experience with the Super Bowl either. After Carolina, Fox went to Denver. He actually squeezed a playoff win out of Tim Tebow, but his greater success came when Peyton Manning arrived. Peyton+Fox made the playoffs three years in a row, including a Super Bowl trip (and another SB loss.)

Now with Chicago, Fox is struggling to find that same success. He’s gone 6-10 and 3-13 so far. Given his resume, you wouldn’t expect his job to be in jeopardy, but the third year is a crucial and dangerous one for coaches, even ones with as long as a resume as his own.

His strengths

Obviously, John Fox has plenty of experience — and plenty of playoff experience to boot. He’s one of the most respected and veteran coaches in the entire NFL.

That respect allows Fox to squeeze the most effort from his roster, even in a lost season like the Bears had last year when half the team lived in the training room. The 2016 Bears didn’t have a chance, but no one could accuse them of mailing it in.

Like his counterpart Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati, that respect allows Fox to stack his coaching staff with premium talent. In the last few years alone, Fox has seen several coordinators go off to head coaching jobs, including Mike McCoy, Dennis Allen, Jack Del Rio, and Adam Gase.

When he came to Chicago, Fox lured in perhaps the top two coordinators on the market — Gase (coming off a great run with him in Denver) and Vic Fangio (coming off a great run in San Fran.) Fox isn’t afraid to surround himself with top coaches and work as a CEO/overseer at times. He even let Fangio run a 3-4, after decades of his own success with a 4-3.

His weaknesses

It’s unfair to label all 60+-year-old coaches as “old school” and conservative — but John Fox fits that stereotype. His in-game decisions often skew that way, at times to his own detriment (see: Denver vs. Baltimore in the playoffs.)

One can also wonder how much Fox has benefited from some of the talent around him in recent years — particularly Peyton Manning and OC Adam Gase. Consider this: with Peyton Manning as his starting QB, Fox had a regular season record of 38-10 (79.2% winning percentage). Without Peyton Manning as his starting QB, Fox’s regular season record drops all the way to 90-102 (46.9%). In fact, Fox only has 3 “winning” records in 14 seasons without Manning.

That part of his resume, coupled with Fox’s advancing age, may not bode as well for the Chicago rebuild as Bears’ fans may hope.

His benchmark

In normal circumstances, even a respected coach would not survive three seasons in a row with 10+ losses. However, the Chicago Bears drafted QB Mitchell Trubisky with the #2 pick. Whether you like the decision or not, that does help extend their timeline and afford Fox some more leeway.

Their expectations may hinge on that QB position. If veteran Mike Glennon is under center all season long, this team should be closer to .500. If it’s Trubisky for long stretches, you can’t expect more than 5 or 6 wins. All in all, I’ll say the benchmark for Fox to be safe is 7-9, but that guess doesn’t mean all that much because so much does depend on whether Trubisky plays and how he looks when he does play.

His chances

As a general rule, it’s not a smart idea for a team to make a bold move for a QB in the draft when they have a coach that’s on shaky ground. The potential for disaster is too high. You could very well end up with a situation like the Rams have with Jared Goff now, where the young kid QB is trying to learn a second offense in two years, playing for a new coach who didn’t draft him in the first place.

The fact that the Bears defied that and traded up for Trubisky anyway shows either one of two things. 1) They have that a lot of faith in Trubisky, or 2) They have a lot of faith in Fox’s job security.

There’s no doubt that trade for Trubisky will eventually decide the fate of Fox and GM Ryan Pace — but it’s hard to imagine that’ll happen in 2017. It’s simply too early to make final judgments on a one-year college starter based on his play as a rookie. Given that, I’d say Fox has a survival chance of 60% this year, with a firing only happening if the team implodes. Most likely: 2018 will be the “make or break” year for the entire building.

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