By Chris Emma--
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) -- In the aftermath of the Bears' triumph over the Packers on Thanksgiving night in the 2015 season, the praise for then-quarterback coach Dowell Loggains poured in.
Jay Cutler was quick to ensure Loggains got his deserved praise. Cutler was in the midst of his most efficient season in a Bears uniform, and Loggains had helped Cutler become a better decision-maker and give his team a better chance to win.
Since that night at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Chicago has won three games. That night seems like ages ago now. These Bears are are 3-12 and a week away from crucial evaluations to their entire football operation.
Among the many in question is Loggains, the 36-year-old offensive coordinator in his ninth season as an NFL assistant. It's a complicated situation, one that gained context when coach John Fox was asked Thursday if he expected Loggains back next season.
"Yeah," Fox said in response. "I think as I mentioned before, when you guys were asking me about reports and whatnot, a lot of things change. Players will change, coaches change. It's not like I'm going to make changes. It's just the nature of the beast. I don't know if there will be a long line at 3-12 right for coaching opportunities, but stranger things have happened."
Consider that a less-than-ringing endorsement from Fox. Given the chance to back Loggains and state his return, Fox evaded the closed-ended question, as he often does.
Fox did credit Loggains for his work with an offense in constant flux. Loggains has been tasked with coaching Matt Barkley as the team's starting quarterback the last five games. Barkley joined the Bears a day prior to Week 1 on the practice squad. Three quarterbacks will end the season on injured reserve. That's a microcosm of their injury issues.
The Bears currently rank 13th in yards and 28th in points scored.
"The continuity and consistency helps when there is continuity and consistency," Fox said. "And that's not been the case. It's a credit to the coaching staff, Dowell in particular."
Frankly, that's the strongest defense for Loggains to return in 2017. It's could also be viewed as an indictment of Loggains' play-calling abilities, regardless of who's quarterbacking the offense. Loggains has been guilty of under-utilizing rookie running back Jordan Howard, the NFL's seventh-leading rusher who's 61 yards shy of passing Matt Forte's mark as the Bears' leading rookie rusher. Howard has done so in just 12 starts, and he often hasn't been given a big workload. In the past seven games, Howard more surpassed the 18-carry mark just once.
In a goal-to-go situation in last Saturday's loss to the Redskins, Loggains elected for three Barkley passes, including two from the 4-yard line, instead of giving Howard the ball. That's a glimpse into why Howard has just six rushing touchdowns on the season and the Bears are middle-of-the-pack in yards gained but bottom-of-the-pack in points.
"No one — even (the media) — second-guesses themselves as much as I do," Loggains said Thursday.
Loggains is popular at Halas Hall. He joined the Bears because of the trust Fox held in him, then was promoted in part because of Cutler's recommendation that he would be the best fit as Adam Gase's replacement as offensive coordinator. Loggains has a great relationship with his players, namely Cutler.
But part of the reason Loggains earned his promotion was because of his fit with Cutler, both in terms of schemes and communication. Cutler may have played his last game with the Bears, who could be drafting their next franchise quarterback this spring. Despite his popularity, Loggains could be ousted after his first season as the Bears' offensive coordinator. That's for Fox and the team's front office to decide.
Loggains has proved himself as a capable quarterbacks coach, but the questions to his play-calling abilities are valid, even with the varied mesh of personnel.
While Fox hinted that his entire coaching staff could return next season -- the situation with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is much more messy -- firm decisions will come following Sunday's finale in Minnesota. The Bears have yet to state that Fox will return for his third season as their head coach, the most important of all factors in play, though he's scheduled to appear with general manager Ryan Pace in a press conference next Wednesday.
What happens out west could add another layer to Fox's decision. The Chargers appear set to fire Mike McCoy as their head coach. The 44-year-old McCoy, who interviewed to become the Bears' head coach in early 2013, has worked 12 years alongside Fox. McCoy was hired from Fox's Panthers as the Broncos' offensive coordinator in 2009, leading the Denver offense for two seasons before being hired in San Diego.
Should McCoy become available, a move which could come as soon as the conclusion of Sunday's games, Fox could be faced with the opportunity to pick between Loggains and McCoy.
What's clear is Fox's respect and admiration for Loggains as a young coach, but evaluations of the coordinator must be specific to his abilities in bringing the Bears a productive offense. Howard will be their rock in his second season, and a young quarterback is expected to be in place and vying for the starting job.
On the other hand, Loggains didn't get his fair shot at offensive continuity because of the Bears' extreme injury situation this season. Fox has continuously pointed to this while backing Loggains as his coordinator.
Loggains emerged as the top candidate to replace Gase as Bears' offensive coordinator well over a year ago, and his place was won shortly after the position became available. Fox didn't even hold external interviews. The Bears were pleased with their new play-caller.
One year later, Loggains' standing with the team is far from clear.
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