By PAT YASINSKAS for TonySoftli.com
In my years as a full-time sports writer, I covered head coaches Sam Wyche, Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden, Lovie Smith, Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano, Sean Payton, Mike Smith, George Seifert, John Fox and Ron Rivera.
So who is the best coach I have ever covered?
Here comes the curveball. My answer is Fox. Yeah, I know, Dungy, Gruden, Payton and Seifert won Super Bowls. And Wyche, the two Smiths and Rivera have had some pretty good seasons.
So why am I going with Fox, who has been to two Super Bowls, but lost them both? My reasoning is simple. I have seen Fox get more out of less than any coach I have covered.
But as I watched Fox and the Chicago Bears lose, 29-7, to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t help think that Fox’s greatest strength is also his biggest weakness. He’s stubborn to a fault and that just may cost him his job. Fox is 9-25 in three years with the Bears and Chicago ownership isn’t as patient as it once was. In fact, I think you can make a case that Fox is on the hottest seat of any coach in the league so far this season.
His downfall might be the thing that brought him so much success in Carolina and Denver early in his career. Fox loves older quarterbacks and isn’t fond of playing young ones. Remember what happened when Fox came into Carolina in 2002? He went out and signed Rodney Peete, who was almost as old as offensive coordinator Dan Henning, and benched Chris Weinke who was the starter as the Panthers went 1-15 in his rookie year. With Peete and not much else on offense, the Panthers improved to 7-9 in Fox’s second season.
It was clear Peete was only a temporary answer and I still thought Weinke could be a decent NFL starter if he had a good supporting cast. Fox didn’t agree. He went out and signed Jake Delhomme, a career backup who had more time in the league than Weinke.
Almost instantly, Delhomme replaced Peete as the starter and the next thing you knew the Panthers were in the Super Bowl. They got there by strictly following Fox’s philosophy – play great defense and don’t make mistakes on offense. Delhomme was never anything more than a game manager, but he also got the Panthers to the NFC Championship Game in 2005.
When Fox was pushed out of Carolina after the 2010 season, part of the reason was because he wouldn’t play rookie Jimmy Clausen, who was acquired with a second-round pick. Fox was against that move from the beginning and he stood his ground until the end.
History repeated itself when Fox got to Denver the next season. Cult hero Tim Tebow was already with the Broncos. Fox didn’t think he was an NFL quarterback (he was right) and didn’t start Tebow until he was left with no other choices. Even though Tebow helped get the Broncos to the playoffs, Fox unloaded him as quickly as possible.
Before the 2012 season, Fox traded Tebow and signed Peyton Manning. Fox won four straight division titles and reached one Super Bowl. But there was some disappointment that he didn’t win a Super Bowl (or two) with Manning to go along with the trademark Fox defense. Fox and Broncos president John Elway stopped seeing eye to eye somewhere along the way and there was a mutual parting of the ways after the 2014 season.
Fox immediately landed in Chicago, where he gave maligned veteran Jay Cutler a chance. But that didn’t really work out. The Bears went 6-10 in 2015 and 3-13 in 2016 when Cutler was banged up for much of the season. Cutler was released after last season and Fox finally got to bring in “his’’ guy.
Fox went back to his old tactics and made a move that looked almost exactly like when he acquired Delhomme. The Bears signed Mike Glennon, who was stuck on the bench behind Jameis Winston in Tampa Bay, to a three-year, $45 million contract. Glennon had shown some good things early in his career but had turned into a forgotten man.
Fox brought him in and immediately named him the starter. Then a very strange thing happened. The Bears traded up to the No. 2 spot in the draft and selected quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. I still find it hard to believe Fox was completely on board with that move. He already had his game manager in Glennon and you knew there was no way Trubisky was going to play for at least a couple years – if Fox had his way.
But Fox may no longer have his own way. He has started Glennon the first two games and has been pretty ordinary. The Bears are 0-2. They already have a bunch of injuries. Fox’s third season in Chicago probably won’t be a winning one.
If Fox is going to get a fourth season in Chicago, he has to change his ways. He needs to make a move that is completely out of character.
He has to start playing Trubisky – right now.
It’s unfortunate Glennon has to be the fall guy because he’s a decent quarterback and a good guy. But there are 14 games left and Fox has only one way to save his job. He has to show ownership some glimmer of hope for the future or else he’s gone.
Maybe Trubisky is ready and maybe he’s not. It doesn’t matter. Fox has to step out of character, roll the dice, start the rookie and hope Trubisky is good enough to save his job.
Pat Yasinskas currently is focused almost entirely on earning his Masters of Business Administration at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. But the veteran NFL reporter will keep a slight hand in the business, writing occasional columns for TonySoftli.com. Yasinskas previously has written for ESPN.com, The Charlotte Observer and The Tampa Tribune. His professional relationship with Softli began when he was covering the Panthers for The Charlotte Observer and Softli was an executive for the team.