A lot has changed since John Fox wore Panthers blue on the sidelines, but the Chicago Bears head coach still has plenty of ties to Carolina.
In fact, Fox has even more ties thanks to recent changes in the organization.
Linebacker Thomas Davis is among five players who played for Fox in 2010 and who have played for Ron Rivera ever since. Then this offseason, Julius Peppers and Captain Munnerlyn returned to the fold, as did general manager Marty Hurney.
"There's still some familiar faces since, well, I haven't even added up the years since I've been there," Fox said. "I look forward to seeing those guys."
Sunday, those familiar faces will head to Chicago to take on a Bears team that Fox is working to make relevant again. He's in his third season with a team that won just nine games over his first two seasons as it works toward finding a franchise quarterback. While seeing so many familiar faces from his past might make Fox feel old, rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky – a University of North Carolina product – is having the opposite effect on a Bears team that while just 2-4 has surprised many with its level of competitiveness.
"We're hanging in there. We've got a young quarterback that's fun to coach, fun to watch, and a young team that's getting better," Fox said. "Rookies regardless of what position they play, if they're good enough they're going to succeed, and I think he's good enough. When you think about it, last week was his 15th start since high school football. That's pretty incredible. He's a talent."
Fox pointed out that his Bears had the Falcons on the ropes in the opener before coming up empty on four late-game shots from the 5-yard line. They've knocked off the Steelers and picked up their first road victory this past Sunday in Baltimore – the first time a visiting rookie quarterback has won on the Ravens' home field since John Harbaugh arrived there in 2008.
While Trubisky is giving the Bears a chance, it's no surprise that a Fox-coached team is relying heavily on its defense and run game. That was a staple during his time with the Panthers, a nine-year tenure that produced three playoff appearances, two NFC Championship appearances and one Super Bowl appearance.
It's been an up-and-down journey professionally and personally for Fox since his first head coaching job came to a close. The Broncos made the playoffs each of Fox's four seasons from 2011-14, but an early exit from the playoffs in 2014 contributed to the end of his run, and the Broncos won the Super Bowl the first year after his departure – against the Panthers.
Late in his third season in Denver, which ended with a loss in the Super Bowl, Fox collapsed due to a genetic heart condition and had to undergo surgery on short notice that sidelined him for a month.
"I feel healthy, great, and am loving life," said Fox, who estimated at 180 pounds he's 30 pounds lighter than he was before the scare. "I've got more energy and feel way better."
The incident occurred in Charlotte when he visited his former home for a golf outing during the Broncos' bye week.
"I still have the house there," Fox said. "Two of my sons are still there, and my wife, Robin, is back there now. She's spying on you guys. Nah, I'm just joking. My sons were in a wedding in Charleston over the weekend, so she went back for that and to see our Charlotte friends.
"I still have a lot of ties. I'm still a member at Quail Hollow. I still have a lot of good buddies in that neighborhood that I stay in touch with. In fact, a few of them will be flying out for the game Sunday."
View photos of the week of practice leading up to the Panthers' game against the Bears.