It seems the Bears are at a crossroads. Fresh off a 26-6 complete beatdown in Cleveland where Chicago resembled anything but a contender, Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy are firmly in the crosshairs.
It's the first time the Bears have seen such potential for managerial turmoil since, well, a few years ago with John Fox. And a few years ago before that, with Phil Emery and Marc Trestman. And a few more years to precede that with Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo. And several more—oh, well, you understand the idea. The Bears are nothing if not consistent in their inconsistent ability to seemingly find anyone capable of running a standard professional football team.
Still, Pace and Nagy present an interesting problem for the powers that be. They are, currently, trying to develop the first worthwhile modern quarterback prospect the Bears have ever drafted in Justin Fields. These two have an undoubted belief, in their heart of hearts, they have bought themselves goodwill as Fields goes through rough rookie patches (if a "rough rookie patch" is his coach letting All-Pro pass rushers tee off on him) before becoming a hopeful star.
But there's a sizeable difference between taking a player and selling development and taking a player and squandering a gift. It is fair to question whether Pace and Nagy are up to the task of making Fields a household name while turning the Bears into a consistent contender they haven't been in decades in the process.
If they're not capable of such an immense responsibility, then it might behoove the McCaskey's to consult
Ernie Accorsi Retired Football Executive, before it's too late.
In today's roundtable, the fine minds of the Windy City Gridiron staff consider what to do, if anything, with Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy, following another embarrassing pasting at the hands of a good team.
If you owned the Bears, would you fire Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy today (this week?)?
Nagy: If I had any say in the matter, Nagy would have been fired before the team got home from Cleveland. He certainly would have been fired after he admitted that he didn't change his plans based on his personnel. There is no justification for how he failed to adjust to his players (and lack thereof).
Pace: I see no way to let Pace stay on the team without either removing his power or allowing him to compromise the future in some way. That means he's gone. This team's limitations are ultimately on him. Even if Fields works out, that's not a mark in his favor—because he drafted a quarterback in the first round when he lacked a franchise quarterback. That's a "chalk" move, except he traded up to do it. He's gone. Supposedly he's so well respected around the league that he won't be out of work long. Great.
Hopefully, he'll stay in the NFC, then.
Nagy: This one's easy. Yes.
There is enough analysis to demonstrate that he doesn't know how to scheme or call plays that put his players in a position to win. Any goodwill he had has evaporated. Maybe he hasn't lost the locker room yet, but it sure looks like it's teetering. Nagy's run through quarterbacks and chances to get it right and hasn't. It's not "Be You," it is you, Matt.
Pace: I'm handing out pink slips like I'm a drag racer—a complete house cleaning.
Champ Kelly has been the No. 2 since Pace got here and is widely respected, so I'd bump him up to interim and let him run the show. Surely he should be able to oversee scouting and the roster until January.
I don't take this lightly. I understand that the Bears have never made an in-season firing, and I get that it's always awkward to be the first team to pull the trigger and fire the coach and or GM. But Sunday was a travesty, and I do not see how you can trust Nagy to develop the most critical quarterback draft pick in the last 70 years. Pace has built this roster and put the team in cap hell. He has an entirely different roster-building philosophy to me.
Lester Wiltfong Jr.
Nagy: Hell yes. That game plan on Sunday was terrible, so I'd not only fire Nagy, but I'd fire any offensive coach that had anything to do with it. Anyone who signed off on that uninspired, horsecrap plan that seemed more likely to kill Fields than to complete a pass needs to go. If that means John DeFilippo, Bill Lazor, and Juan Castillo all get sprung, then so be it. The offensive line struggled, but not giving them help with a sixth offensive lineman, tight end, or running back is a fireable offense.
Pace: Hell yes.
Pace and Nagy are a package deal, so why fire the head coach and not the man that hired him? Start fresh. That means fire Ted Phillips, too. And while we're cleaning the house, the board needs to put George McCaskey into a figurehead role with zero input to the football side of things. Hire an experienced executive and give him the keys to the franchise.
*Takes a deep breath*
Nagy: As someone that has been a strong Matt Nagy supporter over the years, the time has come. In the past, I have stated that Matt Nagy is the fourth-best head coach the Bears have had in the last 50 years (I still stand by that despite what's unfolded) and that I won't entirely pass judgment on the "Nagy offense" until he has a quarterback to run it.
At this point, there's no defense to keep his job because the bottom line is this season is about Justin Fields' development. If Nagy isn't going to be here in 2022, and he shouldn't be, then there's no point in being here in 2021. Move on, let Lazor and DeFillippo run an offense that keeps Fields upright and allows him some reps and develop and marry him to a new head coach in 2022.
In January, I said that George McCaskey created a toxic situation for the team this season, and that's what's developing. You have a coach and GM that are desperate to win games to save their jobs and try to develop a rookie quarterback at the same time. Those two ideas cannot exist together.
Pace: Pace should have been fired when he stopped looking at what was best for the Chicago Bears and started looking at what was best for Ryan Pace.
Entering the 2020 season, the window that Pace opened up in 2018 was slammed shut in 2019. The Bears needed to create a transition plan at quarterback and start reloading the roster. What Pace did was start pushing money into the future to try to put the best team on the field to get the team back into the playoffs so he could keep his job. He then had to repeat the same poor cap management in 2021 to save his job again.
Pace has done some good things in Chicago. He was the one that built a tremendous defense, bringing every piece in but Kyle Fuller. He also got the franchise Justin Fields, who I still believe will be a good NFL quarterback. He is arguably the best middle round (4th/5th round) evaluator in the entire league. But his draft day trades that constantly leave the team short on draft capital, his poor cap management, and his overall neglect of the offensive line is enough for me to say it's time for a change.
Jack R. Salo
It's a terrible look to let a coach go mid-season when his career win-loss is 29-24, including the postseason, where you've been twice with him at the helm. We can talk all day about how the defense has consistently bailed him out, which it has, but we're trying to attract an excellent head coaching candidate, and there won't be one available mid-season. Know in the back of your mind that Nagy is an interim coach until the off-season, when he will certainly be fired. The offense won't be better with an interim coach; they still lack in almost every area.
Pace: Thank you for your service and for bringing a stellar quarterback to the team after six years of not doing so. There's the door. Your team-building is awful, your trade-ups rarely work, and your hand-picked head coach won't be here much longer.
Nagy has been given over three years and has seen five different quarterbacks start at least one game. He came to Chicago originally because of his excitement to coach Mitchell Trubisky, which sounds contrary to popular belief and recent results, but is the truth.
Nagy was also not ignored by Ryan Pace when it came to the players he wanted his offense built around. Especially at quarterback. Matt Nagy wanted Chase Daniel as his backup, and he got Chase Daniel. Nagy wanted Nick Foles to compete with Trubisky, and he got Nick Foles. Nagy wanted Andy Dalton this off-season after the Bears missed out on Russell Wilson, and Nagy got Andy Dalton. Nagy, then, pounded the table for Justin Fields. The Bears traded up nine spots to get him. Fields would be the first to work.
As for his coaching and delegation, the construction of the Bears' receiving corps and its implementation makes no sense. Nagy has yet to hold Mike Furrey accountable for their lack of development. The offensive line is, well, bad. Yet he insisted on leaving Jason Peters and Germain Ifedi on islands against two All-Pro caliber pass rushers as they zipped by to wreck Fields all day long.
Nagy is out of excuses. He's been out of excuses since 2020. He doesn't learn from his mistakes. He keeps making the same errors, over and over. Your best coaching staff continuously adapt their philosophies to the players on their roster, and Nagy's doesn't.
Let Nagy go and send a message. Focus on making the players the stars. Not yourselves. "Be You" needs to "Be Better."
Pace: Too easy. Not only does Pace need to be fired after just one winning season in seven years, but Ted Phillips, the fool who's on his third different GM and fifth head coach, has long deserved to join him. Pace is on his second head coach and doesn't deserve a third opportunity. I want a GM who'll face the music and answers questions with thoughtfulness during open pressers. Not someone who hides behind a door and peaks through to see if anyone is in the room. I want a GM who makes realistic evaluations, not someone who makes decisions based on assumptions. I will credit Pace with the additions of Khalil Mack, Allen Robinson, Justin Fields, etc. I will also hold him responsible for the countless bad decisions he made in between those additions.
It's time to give someone else a chance to build a proper team around Fields.
Nagy: Fire him. He's earned it.
Everyone's talking about scheme and play-calling, so I'll bring up some other reasons to let Nagy go: throughout the last three years, the Bears have endured constant pre-snap penalties, constant blown offensive assignments, constant pre-snap confusion, constant unnecessary timeouts, constant horror-show plays coming out of said timeouts, and that's indeed just getting started. Nagy has trotted out several different schemes throughout his four-year tenure, and the Bears have never run any of them well — at this point, Nagy's got to own his offense's results, and that means owning the 29th, 22nd, and 31st ranked offenses in his last three years.
After all this time, there's still not one thing you can name that the Bears do well on offense. Everyone else has already seen blame.
Pace: Yes. I don't care when either — tomorrow, next week, after the season, get him out of Halas Hall. I'd argue Pace is an even bigger problem than Nagy, given his total incompetence when managing the cap and constant frittering away of draft resources via trade-ups, and hold him just as culpable for the offensive line's failures than anyone in the coaching staff. Max-protect sets would've helped, no doubt, but the Bears' honest-to-god plan for 2021's offensive line was a rookie (Teven Jenkins), Cody Whitehair, a UDFA, an underwhelming former second-round pick, and a Seattle Seahawks castoff.
How he thought that would ever be successful, I'll never know. Can him (and send Jimmy Graham with him).
Nagy: I would've fired him last year. This three-game stretch has done nothing to change my mind.
Pace: See above. The holes in the secondary and the offensive line? That's Pace.
If it were me, Pace and Nagy would have "lost" their key fobs last January, let alone a month into a death march of a regular season. The Bears, on the field, are never well-prepared and always seem to have a chasm of talent deficiency across multiple position groups, instead of one or two manageable flaws, like competent teams. They have no meaningful or reasonable way to address the latter quickly, save for home run after home run with limited draft picks and cap space. They are closer to a rebuild, with a team that never overachieves or progresses forward, than a group that can hang multiple rounds in the primetime ring.
Hmm, which two people to blame?
It's Year 4 for Nagy and Year 7 for Pace (holy shit). I somehow see no discernible identity on offense or defense with such continuity, only buzzwords and excuses for cheap flattery. How many seventh-year general managers and fourth-year head coaches have managed to make it look as if they have no positive imprint on their franchise? The roster Pace built is still peeling itself off the cement in Cleveland. The oil is hot; beware. The culture and respectability Nagy has supposedly instilled hold little merit when you're breaking offensive putridness records set by the Bears of all teams.
I'm not one for rampant conspiracy theory. But I have never seen a football brain trust so obviously go all-in on drafting a legitimate quarterback to seemingly only buy time for themselves. Nagy and Pace didn't want to play Justin Fields early not because they don't think he's ready, but because they tried to justify their employment, Their Long-Term Plan, to a football ownership family that knows precisely nothing about football. They thought that taking a quarterback in the first round would be enough to carry on this chatterbox charade until 2022.
For a time, they were probably correct.
Newsflash: Taking a quarterback, regardless of pedigree, in the first round while surrendering potentially valuable future assets is the cost of entry for a lousy team in 2021. It's the bare minimum. If they hadn't done it, they'd be selling you on Andy Dalton's innate leadership and ability to throw four yards before the first-down marker on third down. They know it.
This pair embodies the Peter Principle—Pace is no better than an overwhelmed scout with a gelled-up haircut. Nagy is no better than a coordinator who would otherwise be helpless if he wasn't attached to the hip of one of the greatest football minds ever. They rose the ladder to roles they cannot handle.
My advice to the McCaskey's (because heaven knows they won't sell) would be to simply try for another roll of the dice at a GM-HC and hope they finally get lucky. Anything is better than throwing away a legitimate shot with Simon & Garfunkel—if both men had the individual talent of Garfunkel. If this is not set into motion soon, or at the end of the 2021 season, I have to assume this is a successful long con by two snake oil salesmen somehow employed in the NFL. They certainly have the talk-in-circles-about-nothing-with-sweet-nothings part down!
Failing to develop a player like Fields into a star would be a new low even for an afterthought like the Bears. Nothing Pace and Nagy have done to this stage inspires confidence they won't fail. I hope that depressing thought lingers somewhere in the McCaskey private family group chat.
Nagy: I would fire him instantly. It's not that he's a horrible overall coach. He isn't. I would like him because he had some success last year after he fired himself and turned over the play-calling to Bill Lazor. This year, he re-hired himself, and the results have been, frankly, awful—time for him to carry his stuff from his desk to his car in a box.
Pace: This one's a little different. I would fire Pace, but not today, because firing Nagy would create enough chaos, and there's essential scouting between now and the draft. I would give Pace until the end of the season and fire him then. I would, however, step in and remove the permission to spend future draft picks or cap without approval from ownership (me).
Nagy: I guess I'll be the one to say no. I don't know that there's a benefit to firing him at this point in the season. I'm 100 percent out on him as a play-caller and offensive game planner, but I still think he has value as a leader. The best hope for the Bears this season is he gives up play-calling, Bill Lazor does an average job, and Justin Fields can develop while the defense continues to get comfortable in Desai's scheme. If Nagy doesn't make a drastic change on offense after this week, I'll quickly change my mind.
Pace: Go ahead and let him go any time. If you think there's a candidate you want to target before other GM openings eventually open up, then fire him mid-season. I like Pace more than most. I see the logic behind most of his decisions, and he's made some great late-round draft pulls. But he has too much faith in his guys. He overestimates the value of the right attitude in a mediocre player (see Mustipher, among others), and he's consistently failed to get appropriate value out of his resources (draft capital and cap space).
Smooth talker, though. Great hair.