If Bears fire John Fox, list of offensive-minded candidates is short

The home stretch has arrived for the Bears, with five December games that will close a season that featured more valleys than peaks.

The journey has been treacherous. As ESPN noted, through the first 12 weeks the Bears had the most difficult schedule in the NFL, with opponents holding a combined winning percentage of .633. It’s not even close. The Redskins were a distant second at .587.

After last Sunday’s dismal showing against the surging Eagles, the schedule gets much easier, starting with the scuffling 49ers (1-10). The Bears’ final five opponents have a combined winning percentage of .382, tied with the Chiefs for the league’s third easiest behind only the Redskins and Chargers (both .364).

The Vikings (9-2) could rest their starters in the Dec. 31 finale at Minnesota if their playoff seed is locked in. So a team that defeated the Steelers and Panthers and played competitively against other winning teams like the Falcons, Vikings, Saints and Lions has a chance to score some victories.

Only general manager Ryan Pace and Chairman George McCaskey know whether this is coach John Fox’s last stand. The team’s final record and the vibe at the end of the season (it’s not real good right now) surely will shape the opinion of what direction the team should head in 2018.

If the Bears make a coaching change, conventional wisdom says they will seek an offensive mind to guide the franchise’s greatest investment, quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

If that is the goal, the question soon will become: Who is that offensive mind? Right now no offensive coaching prospect appears to be a consensus head coach in the making. Not like last year, when Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was leading the league’s most explosive offense, positioning himself to be a coveted candidate on his way to the 49ers job. Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay emerged at the end of the year as a hot name and landed with the Rams after also being pursued by the 49ers. There doesn’t appear to be a 2018 version of Shanahan or McVay.

History tells us between five and seven teams will be in the market for a new coach. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will have multiple teams lining up for him if and when he’s ready to leave New England for a second shot as a head coach, something that could happen after this season. But besides McDaniels, who is the red-hot name, the new guy clubs will race to request permission to meet with?

“That’s a great question,” one veteran agent for coaches said. “I have no idea.”

“Josh McDaniels you can put as No. 1,” another coaching agent said. “He’s got all the leverage. There’s really not a No. 2. You’re getting into Pat Shurmur, maybe Frank Reich. I’m telling you there’s no one. A lot of teams will end up hiring some roll-the-dice, flip-the-coin guys. Good luck. Seriously, it’s going to be crazy.”

That doesn’t mean interesting first-time candidates will not emerge, it’s just a reminder that popular candidates with a great deal of buzz will be hard to locate. The hot candidates sometimes wind up flaming out quickly, and Packers coach Mike McCarthy was an under-the-radar guy when he was hired away from the 49ers in 2006. The Eagles were heavily criticized in 1999 when they hired Andy Reid, who had spent two years as Packers quarterbacks coach after two as the offensive line coach.

NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger suggested Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, 39, is a rising star. The Eagles blocked the Jets from hiring him as their offensive coordinator in January. Is he ready for the next step, which is more like a leap?

“That’s the guy,” Baldinger said last week before calling the Bears-Eagles game. “Sharp, sharp, really sharp. Like he’s the smartest guy in the room. He would be unbelievable with a young quarterback. Everywhere he’s been Flip has been good. High energy, nonstop. If you’re looking, he’s head coach material. He’s like McVay.”

Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, also 39, had some buzz earlier in the season, but his team is in a tailspin with five losses in its last six games. If the Chiefs don’t finish strong that could diminish his appeal, especially with the offense sputtering. Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, 33, may eventually emerge as a candidate but might not be polished head coach material yet. Pace knows Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, 46, well, but a fair question in New Orleans is how much decision-making input does he have with coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees. Carmichael’s late father, Pete Sr., was a Bears assistant under Dick Jauron from 2001-03. Maybe Rams offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, 38, pops up on the radar.

A handful of offensive coordinators with head coaching experience like Todd Haley, Scott Linehan and Shurmur could be in play. Candidates with other backgrounds would include Chiefs special-teams coordinator Dave Toub, Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and a host of others.

It promises to be a high-stakes game of musical chairs. We’ll have to wait and see if the Bears are in it.

Soft-tissue injuries hard problem to tackle: Ankle injuries were a focus for the Bears this season after a slew of them helped deplete last season’s roster. They took a close look at how and why they happened and what could be done to reduce them. Injuries have remained a significant factor this season, though, with soft-tissue injuries a consistent theme. The latest is Adrian Amos’ hamstring injury, which has him doubtful for Sunday’s game against the 49ers.

Since training camp started, at least 13 players — 11 of whom made or were projected to make the 53-man roster — have suffered soft-tissue injuries. Players sidelined by hamstring injuries inlcude OL Eric Kush (surgery, full season on IR), WR Rueben Randle (injury settlement, wasn’t projected to make roster), S Chris Prosinski (injury settlement, wasn’t projected to make roster), S Deiondre’ Hall (entire season on IR so far), CB Sherrick McManis (missed three games), RB Benny Cunningham (missed one game), DE Roy Robertson-Harris (missed two games) and Amos (likely out this week). LB Danny Trevathan missed three games with a calf injury and likely will return to face the 49ers. A triceps tear ended OLB Willie Young’s season after four games. WR Markus Wheaton missed three games with a groin injury. A pectoral injury sent LB Jerrell Freeman to IR after the season opener, and LB Nick Kwiatkoski missed four games with a pectoral injury.

That’s 55 man-games missed through 11 games, not counting Randle, Prosinski, Amos — who has yet to be sidelined — or the remaining games those out for the year will miss. The issue should be a priority again this offseason.

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