It’s never healthy to dwell on past failures. To revel in sustained doldrums because of what you’re used to. The Bears haven’t been to the postseason since 2010 and will start the 2018 season with their fourth head coach since then in Matt Nagy. They’ve continually sold optimism with fresh faces at every turn, most notably with Marc Trestman and John Fox. And, they’ve been burned quite badly each time.
But they’re never firmly defined by their past. Just like any individual. Our past experiences are mere reflections of what’s gone wrong or right as we push forward to consistently improve. These experiences become lessons to protect ourselves or to let ourselves be completely vulnerable. Because that’s the only way to really experience anything: when you’re open.
You’re also only as good as what you’ve done for me lately and what you can offer in the future. That’s where “Not For Long” stems from the NFL’s acronym. Your future and what you strive is who you are when proven. You’re not defined by your past as much as how that’s the prism through which others see you until offered a new perspective. That’s why the past is the past for a reason.
That goes for life, and football especially: for as much as the city of Chicago can often disagree with the recently, perennially disappointing Bears. Matt Nagy is supposed to be a fantasy. A dream come true. A shift away from the Bears’ depressing defeats over the approximate past three decades.
Nagy, as a symbol and at his core, is a culmination to finally climb out of one of the worst periods in Bears’ franchise history. He’s hope, a fresh face, and he’s a different perspective in one. Sometimes that’s all you need.
In my favorite television show Scrubs, protagonist and doctor John Dorian is known for his episode-concluding monologues that tie messages he’s learned neatly together. The viewer learns about relationships and adversity with every short Dorian speech. How to deal with similar situations in their own life. Of these monologues spanning over eight years where Dorian goes from wide-eyed intern to a battle-tested veteran, he saves his best for last. A monologue that’s made me think a lot about Nagy’s Bears.
In the finale, after a promising and standout start to his medical career, Dorian is set to walk away from the fictional Sacred Heart Hospital. He muses about the direction his life is headed. He ponders how his romantic experiences have evolved with the proposed girl of his dreams. He reflects on the changes he’s went through professionally and personally at Sacred Heart. And he embraces the fear he feels in leaving, failures and successes together, for a greater opportunity to chase his dreams. About being vulnerable again.
As Dorian steps outside the hospital for the last time after literally walking through a hallway of every person he’s met during his stay at the hospital, he comes to a necessary conclusion. The conclusion that resonates with how these Bears are being built under Nagy. How the ghosts, happy, and dark memories of his past have to stay in the past for him to live his life with a glass half full and ultimately keep his lofty promises to himself.
“As for the future ... it didn’t seem so scary anymore,” says Dorian, moving through his fear. “It could be whatever I wanted it to be.”
After these lines, a short movie plays out with Dorian marrying his dream girl. It shows them having a family together. It’s unrelenting joy through precious moments. It’s triumph after every previously insurmountable obstacle the immature doctor once faced.
The movie concludes, wiped away from his mind. It’s here Dorian says something that’s always stuck with me. A sentiment that holds true with what Nagy hopes to accomplish in Chicago.
“And who’s to say this isn’t what happens?” reflects Dorian on his envisioned successes. “Who can tell me that my fantasies won’t come true just this once?”
The Bears have been an emblem of failure for years. When you’re used to losing and mismanagement, it’s easy to think same old Bears as soon as anything goes off-kilter. That they’re selling the same recognizable cannon fodder with a fresh-faced coach before the chickens inevitably come to roost. They always do.
No, instead: who can tell you that your fantasies won’t come true just this once?
It’s standard practice to “let things play out” when an NFL team hires a new head coach. A new face means a chance to start over. A clean slate with the world and league as your oyster. That period before a coach actually has games under his belt has been affectionately coined the “honeymoon period” where nothing can go wrong. Where the organization is on track for a dynasty and unquestioned brilliance because the coach is merely saying the right things.
The Bears are no stranger to beginning anew. Nothing screams a lack of continuity like the primary leader of your team being jettisoned summarily every few seasons. They’re here once again on a honeymoon with not a care in the world. Nagy is their dream coach who supports them until death do them part.
Never mind that Nagy hasn’t coached an NFL game yet. He doesn’t have to. He’s the perfect coach for the Bears until (necessarily) proven otherwise. The orange-colored glasses never lie as the Bears have been through this dance before.
Is it true that in Nagy singing the praises of his team in what feels like every possible media appearance this off-season, he might be inflating what his Bears are capable of?
Absolutely and unequivocally yes.
Is there any other tried and true approach to such a difficult undertaking like being an NFL head coach? Or, for that matter, moving into what looks like a thrilling era for the Bears?
Absolutely and unequivocally no.
When the Bears hired Marc Trestman in 2013, it was called “a bold move.” For a time, the quarterback guru had his mojo going. The Bears were on the verge of an NFC North division title in the 2013 season at 8-6 before falling in the last two games. In retrospect, the peak of optimism for the Trestman era. Two years later, after losing control of the locker room and Chicago going into an irreparable tailspin, Trestman was fired.
When the Bears hired John Fox, general manager Ryan Pace said Fox showcased “obvious confidence, charisma, discipline, and leadership.” Fox never had a chance to entirely show those personality traits as Chicago slowly unraveled over the next three years, winning a total of 14 games. That led to Fox’s ouster this past January. The optimism was fleeting.
Extend this feeling to any failed Bears’ coach over the last quarter century. It’s always been the same story of hope and endorsements until it wasn’t.
Nevertheless, Fox’s departure was the needed opened door for Nagy. His main tagline was that he’s the best assistant Andy Reid has ever had after his hire. Somehow, this descriptor feels like it has more weight and meaning.
I know it can be difficult to fully buy in to what the Bears have accomplished in talent acquisition and an obvious identity being imprinted until they prove it on the field. Nagy is only appropriately contrasted from his failed predecessors until he wins games. That’s what this boils down to and that’s fair.
But for once, the Bears have a vision with a potential franchise quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky leading the charge. They have a coach eager to unlock that talent in Nagy. That coach is similarly chomping at the bit to galvanize the rest of a young, hungry team mired in the NFL’s cellar. They have more balanced organizational talent than they’ve possessed in awhile. They’re prepared to strive for something special the Bears aren’t used to, but should become accustomed to with time. The arrows, from all directions, are decisively pointing up.
With training in Bourbonnais on the horizon, the easiest stance to take is that you’ve seen this movie before with the Bears. Everything that’s happened in the past half year is sunshine and rainbows, but empty calories. Once they have to come together as a football team, it’ll come apart at the seams because that’s what the Bears do. That’s what Bears coaches do by extension: gradually lose the reins. They’re all fluff and no substance.
For once, let yourself be open to a clear direction for the Bears as a franchise. For once, be rightfully skeptical, but buy in until they show you it’s truly not worth it. Give the energetic Nagy and his braintrust a chance as they embark on this tremendous challenge to bring the Bears back into relevancy. This is football, and in football as it is with everything: it’s okay to dream.
Who’s to tell you your fantasies won’t come true just this once?
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron and Inside The Pylon, and is a contributor to Pro Football Weekly and The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.