Only days short of three years ago, new general manager Ryan Pace and new head coach John Fox were offered as a tag team with Pace the new boss and Fox his trusted lieutenant, even if Fox seemed intent on occupying Pace’s air from the jump as the cure for the ills Phil Emery and Marc Trestman had wrought upon the Bears organization.
Perhaps the fact that we rarely heard from Pace without Fox on his hip through the first couple of years helps explain why on the Black Monday after the Bears’ season-ending, 23-10 loss to the Vikings to run the duo’s record to 14-34 Fox got the ax, while Pace got some new paper.
After the news leaked early in the day that Fox was gone, a three-sentence statement from the Bears finally came out several hours later that read: “Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace has informed John Fox he will not return as head coach in 2018. Fox was hired on January 16, 2015. Pace will hold a press conference at approximately 4 p.m.”
At 4 p.m. on the button it was team president Ted Phillips behind the lectern to issue a full-throated endorsement of Pace, including, “He’s identified value at every level of the draft, and last but not least, got great character, great work ethic. He knows he needs to improve, as we all do. But we see the progress in our roster, and we’re confident that that growth is going to continue.
“So for all those reasons, we believe Ryan is the man to lead our football operations into the future. And I’m pleased to say that we’ve extended his contract through the 2021 season, because he’s earned the opportunity to see his plan to fruition.”
Pace then spoke and seemed to get emotional, explaining, “Early this morning I informed Coach Fox that we were going to head in a different direction. Shortly after, he addressed his staff and the team.
“I have the utmost respect for Coach Fox. He’s a great friend, and I want to thank him for the last three years as our head coach. He poured everything he had into the Bears. And he’s been a tremendous force in changing the culture and the mentality in this building.
“However, in the end, where we stand today, the results on the field over the last three seasons simply isn’t good enough.”
Pace didn’t try to absolve himself of blame but did share Phillips’ confidence in the Bears’ future adding, “I understand those results are also a reflection on me. I have to do a better job.
“But as I stand here today and I look at where we’re heading, there’s sincere optimism. If you look back at this time last year, we had major questions at the most important position on our team – quarterback.
“We were aggressive in our approach to address that position, and we couldn’t be happier in the direction that it’s heading. It’s on us to continue to surround our young quarterback with the talent he needs to succeed.”
Pace refused to offer any insight into the search for Fox’s successor, saying, “I don’t want to paint ourselves in a corner.
“We’re looking for the best coach; best character, best leadership. So I don’t want to paint ourselves into offense or defense.
“It’s going to be a broad thorough search, and I can tell you we have not officially sent any requests in.”
In a media Q and A that ran just over half an hour, Pace offered no additional insight into exactly what he’s looking for in his next coach or why he will be better than Fox.
Make no mistake, from where I sit the Bears made the right moves Monday.
While I’m not sure Pace has succeeded to the level Phillips is selling, he has earned the right to hire his own guy and needed the extension to offer the stability any top candidate will be looking for.
But this is completely Pace’s show now, and there is no room left for error.
The next Bears coach had better be the right one, or there will be nothing left Phillips can sell.
• Hub Arkush is executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.