This off-season has certainly been one for the books. From the firings and hires made to their coaching staff, to the players they signed and drafted, there is plenty to be excited about for Bears fans. I will be publishing a three part series, where their entire off-season will be thoroughly reviewed.
Without further adieu, let’s examine what has happened with the coaching staff, and all the changes to be expected in terms of overall culture and philosophies.
It only seems like yesterday when the Chicago Bears introduced Matt Nagy as their 16th head coach in franchise history. For only the second time since the founding of their franchise, the powers at be elected to hire an offensive-minded coach as their new leader on the coaching staff. Fans were both excited, and fearful; the last offense-first coach hired by Chicago was one Marc Trestman. Many did not know what to expect in such a departure from the traditional conservative, defense-first philosophies displayed over time.
In just their first off-season together, general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy have established an entirely new identity at Halas Hall.
A new sheriff brings with him a new attitude
Gone are the days of restricted, almost controlled interactions with the media. For what seemed like three decades, John Fox would rarely make his assistants available to meet with the local media. When Fox did meet with the media, he would be short, blunt, and what I believed to be excessively secretive in the updates and news he would put out. Meanwhile, Pace seemed content to hide in his office for a good majority of the league year.
And you might as well have left your personal cell phones or other electronic devices at home; they enforced what has been acclaimed as one of the strictest media policies in the entire league. Truly, for almost every season since Mike Ditka was dismissed from the organization in 1993, every head coach seemingly attempted to distance themselves from the media. Let us not forget the moment when Fox abruptly left his final press conference after answering only two questions.
On January 1st, 2018, Ryan Pace made the decision to fire coach Fox. Surely, Pace had every performance-related justifications in the world to dismiss his first hire as the Bears’ general manager. A 14-34 record over a three year span would drive any fanbase and manager crazy. To make matters worse, Pace aimed to accomplish a revolutionary change in addressing the franchise’s historic problem; investing big in a home grown quarterback. That is, trading up for Mitchell Trubisky, while having a head coach who has never developed a young quarterback of his own.
In a move that still has me pumped to this day, Pace broke the mold of his predecessors. His choice to replace John Fox, is one Matt Nagy. Someone that is a young, energetic, and highly motivated alpha dog that specializes in creating excitement on offense. In fact, from what I can muster, Matt Nagy is the youngest person ever hired — 39 years and some change — as the head coach of the Bears.
I broke down the hire in it’s entirety in this older article of mine.
Suddenly, the franchise seemed to be re-invigorated. In his masterful debut with the Chicago based media, Nagy didn’t just step into the light. He became the light. A spectacle for many a Bears fan who have never witnessed such an open and honest dialogue between coach and media. Even general manager Ryan Pace has recently been more available as of late.
To think, this is only the beginning of the changes seen in da Windy City.
He, Nagy, brings forth a new sense of accountability and leadership to the locker room. A similarity is shared between Nagy and his predecessor, Fox, in that they were viewed fondly by their players. That appears to be the only similarity shared between each party, as fellow die hard fan and proud Chicagoan Kyle Brandt discussed in a recent edition of “Good Morning Football.”
“Swaggy Nagy,” you say? Brandt didn’t create the nickname, as he confessed in the aforementioned video. Where I personally do not care for hearing “McBae” repeated over an absurd amount of times, he does bring up an interesting comparison in coaching philosophies.
John Fox, for what its worth, is a player-first coach. I have absolutely nothing against that ideal, not one bit. Heck, I support it within my own philosophies. Yet Nagy is introducing a new concept, one that I can see being described as “work hard, play harder.” He is instilling a new sense of discipline and order to a team that habitually shot itself in the foot during critical moments of the game. This belief is reinforced by Brandt’s statement of coach Nagy “cracking the whip” during the instillation phase of off-season workouts.
Linebacker Danny Trevathan provided some insight to recent changes exhibited by Nagy and his staff.
Bears LB @Grindin_59 laughed when asked what the Matt Nagy impact is on this team so far. "Swag...being obssesed...he says it all the time and he really means that...we get to be ourself out here...a lot of guys walking around like robots the last couple years." @WBBMNewsradio— Jeff Joniak (@JeffJoniak) June 5, 2018
“Obsessed,” a key phrase heard several times in different interviews with Bears players. This is in regards to Nagy’s attitude about demanding his players to be obsessed with bettering themselves. And the final statement about guys “walking around like robots” is a very telling message about how dry it seemed to be under the previous regime. He means business, and he demands obsession in improvements from within; without taking the fun out of football. I found a phrase from a fairly important figure in Bears history that compliments such a strategy.
Nothing is work unless you’d rather be doing something else. (George Halas)
Oh, and it’s not like Nagy decided to make wholesale changes to every phase of the game, just for the sake of change. In another stunning move, he successfully retained Vic Fangio and his entire staff on defense. Depending on where you look, it has been suggested that Fangio and Fox didn’t exactly get along with each other at times. It was even suggested that Fangio was destined to depart for a new home, with the Green Bay Packers no less.
Instead, Fangio became the first defensive coordinator since Bud Ryan to be retained by the Bears during a coaching change. Whatever egos Matt Nagy ever has or had, if any at all, were clearly tossed out the window when he sought to retain the guru for a top ten ranked unit. As David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune has suggested in this article, Nagy is keeping an open mind with every aspect of the game. It is likely that Fangio has been granted complete autonomy over his defense.
The offensive staff, on the other hand, saw a great amount of change. Shortly after he was hired, Matt Nagy deemed it necessary to clean house. I created a table below that displays the changes made to his offensive staff.
Chicago Bears Offensive Staff Turnover
|Position||2017 coach||2018 coach|
|Position||2017 coach||2018 coach|
|OC||Dowell Loggains||Mark Helfrich|
|QB||Dave Ragone||Dave Ragone|
|RB||Curtis Modkins||Charles London|
|WR||Zach Azzanni||Mike Furrey|
|OL||Jeremiah Washburn||Harry Hiestand|
|TE||Frank Smith||Kevin Gilbride|
|Assistant OL||Ben Wilkerson||Donovan Raiola|
|Assistant/quality control 1||Ben McDaniels||Mike Snyder|
|Assistant/quality control 2||John Dunn||Brian Ginn|
Not mentioned in the table is Brad Childress, who is serving as a senior consultant for their offensive staff. His role will end shortly after training camp is finished, as he is set to begin his career as a head coach for the new start up Alliance of American Football League. Childress will be coaching the Atlanta team, of which hasn’t been named yet, and the league will open in February of 2019.
As you probably have noticed by now, Dave Ragone is the lone holdover from John Fox’s staff on offense. One noticeable similarity in all of Nagy’s staff, is that every single member has coached within the collegiate ranks. That will play a big role in how their game plans on offense will change over time. This construction of the staff also concentrates on coaching up Mitchell Trubisky. He will be closely monitored by Nagy, Helfrich, and Ragone. One may suggest that the entire coaching staff’s development is based on what the Los Angeles Rams did just over a year ago.
Rams general manager Les Snead finally let go of Jeff Fisher after witnessing four consecutive seasons of futility. Fisher was replaced by Sean McVay, who then hired Matt LeFluer and Wade Phillips as his offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively. McVay built his offensive staff to expedite the growth of former 1st overall pick Jared Goff. Phillips took complete control of the defense, as McVay made all the calls on offense. They went from basement dwellers, to conference contenders in just one season.
The topic of future strategies will be discussed in my final part of this planned trilogy.
Back on topic, the Bears also made wholesale changes to their special teams staff, and both of their athletic training and strength and conditioning (STC) staves.
Jeff Rodgers and his assistant Derius Swinton II are out on special teams. In are Chris Tabor as the coordinator, his assistant in Brock Olivio, and another assistant in Shane Toub. Given all the attention on offense, special teams also needed a change in plans. It is worth noting that Tabor was an assistant under Dave Toub with the Bears, and Shane is Dave’s son.
The changes in the athletic training staff, and the STC staff, might be the most underrated aspect of this off-season. Not a single person will ever be able to identify exactly what went wrong, at least when it comes to us casual fans. The sheer amount of injuries reported over the past three years, and how those injuries were handled, was a giant problem.
If you want to look at just how many injuries were reported, then I have found lists for 2015, 2016, and 2017.
Needless to say, something had to change. Jason Loscalzo takes over for Jason George as the new STC coach. As for the training staff, Andre Tucker assumes the title as head athletic trainer, a position formerly filled by Nate Breske.
Loscalzo brings with him a brand new series of concepts and techniques for strengthening/conditioning, recovery, and a successful track record of building up athletes in various colleges. He is widely known for implementing a sandpit to utilize for certain periods. Having such a soft surface to condition on actually lessens the chances of injuries, especially from the waist-down. It’ll also create an intense workout; I will be the first one to say that you’ll certainly feel the burn after running around in the sand for a while.
Andre Tucker, meanwhile, has plenty of NFL experience. He’s made stops with the Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons, and most recently the Cleveland Browns. An emphasis on handling soft tissue injuries will likely be on display in the coming months.
The entire series of moves, just in the coaching staves alone, is revolutionary. Given the stability on defense, it should make for an easier transition for offense and special teams. If both of the later phases improve even slightly, this Bears team will be far more fun to watch.
And we haven’t even introduced the new players yet!
Part two of the series will detail all of the latest free agent signings and draft picks the Bears acquired during the 2018 off-season. Stay tuned for more here, on Windy City Gridiron.