Bears coach Fox out, GM Pace gets contract extension

Jan 2, 2018 - 2:54 AM LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- On the day of head coach John Fox's firing, Chicago Bears ownership doubled down on general manager Ryan Pace with a contract extension through 2021.

"We've seen some results in terms of player development and relying primarily on the draft for that development," Bears board chairman George McCaskey said. "We just hadn't seen those results on the field in wins."

As a result, Pace will begin looking for a new head coach to improve the win total after Fox's Monday firing.

A record of 14-34 and three straight last-place finishes under Fox led to the coaching decision, which Pace said he made on Sunday night following the season-ending 23-10 loss to the Vikings.

"(Fox) helped set the foundation for this organization to go to new heights," Pace said. "However, in the end, where we stand today the results on the field over the last three seasons simply isn't good enough."

Pace acknowledged his part in the team's dismal on-field record.

"I need to point the finger at myself, as well," Pace said. "Our record is a reflection on me, as well.

"But I feel good about where we're at right now. I feel much better with where we're at right now than this time last year and that starts with the quarterback position."

It was Pace who signed veteran Mike Glennon and paid him $16 million in guaranteed money before last season while also trading up to second in the draft to take Mitchell Trubisky.

Pace's plan wasn't to play Trubisky, but when Glennon bombed completely it became necessary to use the rookie.

"With the quarterback position, I have no regrets in us being aggressive in attacking that position," Pace said. "It's that important. We all felt confident in Mike and sometimes in our business, things don't work out. There's a lot of factors involved.

"But fortunately for us, being aggressive at that position, in essence we took two swings. Not just Mike, but the progress of Mitch and how well he played. We felt he was ready to take on the challenge, he did and I think he'll benefit from that."

The Bears won four games in Trubisky's 12 starts while he posted a 77.5 passer rating. The desire is to build more around Trubisky in terms of talent and the coaching staff. Pace even said Trubisky may be brought in to meet coaching candidates.

Despite reports they've asked to talk to Carolina defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, Pace said no one has been sought as of Monday evening.

The Bears may be building around Trubisky, but the next coach doesn't necessarily need to be someone from the offensive side.

"We're looking for the best coach, best character, best leadership," Pace said. "So I don't want to paint ourselves into offense or defense. It's going to be a broad, thorough search."

Fox was not available at Halas Hall and the team released a statement they said he made: "Thank you to all the players, coaches, the city of Chicago and Bears fans everywhere, your passion for the game and this team is unmatched in the NFL. Today is the tough part of our results-oriented business but I wish the Bears organization the best for years to come."

Players called it an emotional day. They pointed to circumstances beyond Fox's control to explain the losing record over the past three seasons. Key among them were injuries, particularly this year to wide receivers Kevin White and Cameron Meredith, and pass rushers Willie Young and Leonard Floyd.

"If you don't have your first core of guys, even though we were in games this year without our core guys -- when I say core guys I mean like our starting lineup, like Kevin and Cam and Willie got hurt and then Leonard got hurt, we were still in games, we were able to compete," cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "But anytime you don't have your initial starters it is tough to win."

Fox was always considered a players' coach, and his players continue to find value in three seasons regardless of the record.

--Injuries played a huge role in the Bears failures and Pace said he weighed them into the decision to fire Fox. Ultimately, after finishing with 19 on injured reserve last year and 16 this year, the Bears will be looking closely at training methods if not new strength and training coaching.

"It's something that's occurred three consecutive years and something we've looked at closely," Pace said. "We did a lot to address it last year, whether schedule changes, tracking data, a lot of tweaks. But it wasn't enough. With parity in our league, injuries play a big factor in our results.

"It's something we have to get on top of and that's my job. There's going to be studies into why are these teams the healthiest, why are these teams not, and are there some commonalities. But we have to get that fixed because it's affecting our results."

--The list of Bears unrestricted free agents is a short one, but cornerback is the position of greatest concern.

Kyle Fuller ranks the highest on their list following his turnaround season. Prince Amukamara, the other starting cornerback, is also a free agent.

"I can definitely see myself back here," Fuller said. "I was drafted here. I like it here.

"But it's my first time ever in free agency. I have to talk to my agents, my family and just see how that stuff works out. We'll see. I understand it's a business. So I'll be looking forward to whatever it brings."

Fuller's play under head coach John Fox had been spotty in 2015, and then he missed 2016 with a knee injury. So he took it to heart to improve after several offseason talks and golf with coordinator Vic Fangio. Fuller noted several areas of his own improvement.

"You know, just physicality, being able to come up and tackle," Fuller said. "My preparation just as far as learning offenses, my work ethic, being a good team member, trying to be a good leader any way I can. Just a number of things."

The knock on Amukamara was his inability to make interceptions, and he lived down to this by failing to make any. He hasn't had one since 2015.

Still, he had tight coverage much of the season, and it would be difficult for the Bears to replace both corners. They also have Marcus Cooper under contract another year, but Cooper struggled in spot playing time.

"I think after meeting with Pace or whoever I meet, or if we do that here, I'll have a better idea as to how I'm prioritized or how I'm valued," Amukamara said. "And then we could resume (talks) after that."

Amukamara is a veteran of two free agency periods. If he leaves, it would be his third team in three years, and he's been shedding light on the process for Fuller.

"I've been in his ear enough," Amukamara said. "I think he's getting the right advice from every avenue. I think he's handling it right. But I think if I was to give him anything, I would say just find the perfect fit.

"You see a lot of guys that go to a different defense, and they might be one-and-done or two-and-done. So you want to make sure you're able to flourish and still make plays. Like (A.J.) Bouye, who goes to Jacksonville and has a great defensive line and still is able to be successful. Then you see a guy like (Byron) Maxwell - I'm not saying he's not a great player, because he's definitely a playmaker. But the Eagles probably weren't his fit, and then the Dolphins probably weren't his fit, and now he's back to doing what he does in Seattle. You just want to make sure it's a great fit."

--Defensive end Mitch Unrein is the only other free-agent starter on defense. On offense, wide receivers Kendall Wright, Dontrelle Inman and Zach Miller are free agents.

Several others who played key reserve roles are unrestricted free agents on defense, including linebackers Sam Acho, Christian Jones and Lamarr Houston.

The place where free agency could most impact the Bears is special teams. Kicker Cairo Santos, punter Pat O'Donnell, long snapper Andrew DePaola and key coverage men Josh Bellamy and Sherrick McManis are unrestricted free agents.

--The Bears finished 10th on defense and it had defensive players singing the praises of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who is expected to get an interview for head coach.

"He's a great coach," Houston said. "Even though we didn't have the best record, the defense did have a lot of good stats. That goes to show his worth as a coach."

Fuller thinks the defense can pick right up and continue with the progress even without Fangio thanks to their success this year.

--Wide receiver Cameron Meredith is at four months in his recovery from a left ACL tear and is running and regaining strength. He called his recovery on schedule and plans to be available for the start of training camp.

The start of camp will mean getting used to working with Mitchell Trubisky. In OTAs and training camp, Meredith was working with the first team and Mike Glennon before his season-ending injury in late August.

"We're going to try and get together as much as we can in the offseason," Meredith said. "Try and make up for the lost time. I'm excited to just to get in rhythm with him, come practice time. He's got a whole year under his belt. He's not a rookie anymore. I know he knows what he can do and we're excited about that part, too. "

--The Bears will draft eighth and will have seven selections. According to the Chicago Tribune, they will not give up a conditional draft pick for wide receiver Dontrelle Inman. With 23 catches, Inman failed to meet the condition of 25 receptions required for the Chargers to receive a seventh-round pick. Inman had five catches for 94 yards in the finale.

The Bears have one pick in the first, second, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds, and two in the fourth round.

NOTES: G Josh Sitton (ankle) did not play Sunday against Minnesota and missed the last two games. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Tom Compton. ... T Bobby Massie (knee) did not play against Minnesota after an injury suffered against Cleveland in Week 16. Bradley Sowell replaced him in the starting lineup. ... TE Adam Shaheen (chest) missed Sunday's loss to Minnesota and was out for the final three games following an injury suffered against Cincinnati. Shaheen finished his rookie season with 12 catches for 127 yards.

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