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Emma: His Message Seemingly Lost To His Bears, John Fox Is On Hot Seat

By Chris Emma--

TAMPA, Fla. (CBS) -- In the aftermath of his most embarrassing loss as the Bears' head coach, John Fox held his team in the tight visitors' locker room and delivered a message.

"He challenged us," quarterback Jay Cutler said.

Who was listening?

Now 2-7, the Bears were battered 36-10 by the 4-5 Buccaneers on Sunday. It felt even worse.

What's even more of an indictment is that the team was riding high off a victory over the Vikings and had a bye week to refresh. With more time to game plan, why did the Bears seem so unprepared?

Questions are sure to follow after a loss that was simply inexcusable. But this much is certain -- Fox is on the hot seat.

After claiming that the playoffs were possible, the Bears played like a team ready to select at the top of the draft. Will it be DeShone Kizer, Deshaun Watson or Mitch Trubisky quarterbacking the Bears in the future? It doesn't seem like Cutler is coming back.

Cutler had one of his worst games in a Bears uniform, throwing a pair of picks and fumbling the ball away twice more. He handed the Bucs nine free points.

"That falls on all of us," Fox said of Cutler's abysmal outing.

Blame starts with Fox, who's now 8-17 leading the Bears. A bye week that was supposed to rejuvenate the team left it hapless with seven games to go. Fox was brought to the Bears following the disastrous Marc Trestman tenure and was asked to first bring accountability, then build a winner.

There's plenty of character inside the locker room, but the Bears are no better now than they were when Fox took over. A few individual performances have been bright spots, but it will be hard to mark collective progress in Fox's second season.

Losing is only part of the problem. The manner in which Fox has carried himself in the process is the greater issue.

A recent NFL Network report illustrated the dysfunction that exists between Fox and the front office brass. General manager Ryan Pace will surely win that battle should it wage on.

When he was hired in January 2015 as the league's youngest GM, Pace was an upset pick to run the Bears' football operation, but ownership believed in him to the extent that they diverted him back to Halas Hall before he could get on a plane following his interview. There are three years remaining on his five-year deal.

As for the 61-year-old Fox, it's fair to question how committed he is to build the Bears a contender. Getting throttled out of the bye week will only further that concern. Two years remain on Fox's four-year deal.

Winning cures all, something Fox often says. On the other hand, losing makes everyone miserable. Fox's relationship with Pace will only worsen if this season continues to spiral. Pace is a young general manager looking to establish himself, and Fox has full control of his ship.

Should the Bears continue to lose, Pace may get his pick at a new head coach.

"This is as unified of an organization and football team as I've ever been associated with," Fox said after the win over the Vikings.

Fox's act is wearing thin at Halas Hall. Any further friction may force management's hand at firing Fox to prevent tension from worsening. That's only one aspect of a potential divorce.

The Bears are building with one of the youngest rosters in football. Fox has been tasked with developing these young pieces into an annual playoff contender. After this latest loss, Fox demanded that his players stay together and continue their collective fight.

Losing eventually takes its toll. If the Bears quit on Fox, he's as good as gone.

"Coach is a great coach, man," Bears linebacker and captain Pernell McPhee said. "We just got to spend more time being professionals."

Two years ago, it was Trestman, the man who wrote a book on leadership, whom lost control of his team. His authority as head coach was lost and the Bears were forced to move on. It seemed then that the proud franchise had hit rock bottom.

Topping the 2014 season in dysfunction will be awfully hard to do, but the Bears have seven games remaining.

Fox is on his third head-coaching job. He could be nearing the end of his career in the NFL.

Don't count out Fox just yet -- he could improve his relationship with the front office and find the same page. To a man, the players have said they will stay committed to the coach.

But there's only one way for the Bears to prove they're still committed to Fox. They must accept his challenge and win.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago's sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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