Remember when we were all celebrating the Associated Press’s decision on naming now former Chicago Bears Matt Nagy as the Coach of the Year for his stellar debut season in 2018? Remember when the future looked incredibly bright with what appeared to be the next great Bears defense taking its place alongside what should have been a young offense on the rise?
I sure do.
All those feelings and memories are now replaced with frustration and bitterness towards a coach who just could not sustain any meaningful success past year one. The problems do not start or end with Matt Nagy - the entire organization deserves blame. But it sure as hell looks like Matt Nagy is the first one out.
For any Bears fan in general, coming off the John Fox and Marc Trestman eras were exhausting enough. The rise and fall of Matt Nagy has been an emotional rollercoaster few people saw coming. What, with the endless debates and blame games played between the decision makers above him, and Matt Nagy’s own decisions on the field.
Failure to Sustain Superior Performance Over His Peers
The biggest failure to me was his inability to maintain such a high standard and performance past 2018. He went 12-4 and clinched the NFC North with relative ease in his rookie season as a head coach. Since then, he’s posted an overall record of 22-27. This includes back-to-back .500 seasons of 8-8 records, and one wildcard playoff appearance in 2020, then ending with a pathetic 6-11 record for the final 2021 season. He is 0-2 in the playoffs as well.
The NFL does not just stand for the National Football League. That acronym also stands for “Not For Long.” The average career as a player or as a coach in the NFL barely lasts 3 years. Once the 2018 season concluded with the notorious Double Doink, it was also the end of the honeymoon between the Bears organization and Matt Nagy. Adjustments needed to be made as any coach entering their second season should know.
Well... where were the philosophical or strategic adjustments? That question has been the largest crutch in Matt Nagy’s career in Chicago. Not only has their overall record steadily declined from 2018 to present times. Their offense has looked worse with every passing year. Including the 2021 season, the Bears finished dead last in passing offense (32nd overall) for the 2nd time in 3 years.
And it’s not like changes didn’t happen at the QB position either.
Failure to Adapt to Their QB and Best Talent
Following the 2019 season the discussion quickly turned into how the Bears needed to fix their QB position. Little blame was placed on what appeared to be a bad marriage between Matt Nagy and Mitchell Trubisky, and instead, the blame was shifted to the player almost entirely. In hindsight that was a major overlook on the Bears’ part.
I’m not here to be a Trubisky Truther. Rather, the failure of his development was shared between a young QB who didn’t show any progression, and a coach who didn’t know how to use him or develop him. In all Matt Nagy has seen 5 different players start at the QB position: Mitchell Trubisky; Chase Daniel; Nick Foles; Andy Dalton; and Justin Fields. The results on offense have largely remained the same.
Matt Nagy essentially cleaned house from his offensive staff. Out were the likes of OC Mark Helfrich; O-Line coach Harry Heistand; and several others. In 2020 the Bears traded for Nick Foles — a QB that Matt Nagy very much wanted — and had an “open competition” during training camp. Mitchell Trubisky wound up holding his starting job through training camp and up to the 3rd week of the regular season.
Then the inevitable benching of Mitchell Trubisky happened. Nick Foles entered the game at Atlanta and wowed everyone with a 3-TD performance in the 4th quarter to bring the Bears all the way back to winning the game. Yet the offense still never sustained that kind of energy. Rather, once Nick Foles entered the starting lineup, a strong aversion to running the ball revealed itself. There was never any real balance in the offense no matter who was the QB.
Let’s not forget the constant squabbling and quarrels we would witness between Matt Nagy and Nick Foles on the sidelines. Or the recent reports of the veteran QBs not buying into what Matt Nagy has been trying to sell.
The story of 2020 didn’t end there. After a major 5-game losing streak was in full motion, Nick Foles was benched for Mitchell Trubisky. And the Bears later squeaked into the 7th and final seed of the NFC Playoff Picture. A catalyst was the realization David Montgomery was (and still is) the Bears’ best player on offense. Bill Lazor’s more balanced approach to play-calling set the Bears offense up for success. The Bears would lose their wildcard matchup against the New Orleans Saints thanks to another dismal effort on offense.
Mitchell Trubisky was let go and eventually signed with the Buffalo Bills as the backup behind Josh Allen.
Now we fast forward to 2021. Originally, the Bears aimed for the moon and made a historic offer to the Seattle Seahawks in an effort to land Russell Wilson. When that didn’t happen, the Bears brought in Andy Dalton. He was pegged as “the guy” for the 2021 season. Until Justin Fields was drafted, and the Bears made a considerably larger investment with landing Fields as opposed to Dalton. Following that there was no competition permitted between the two QBs.
Excuse me? You get the QB you pounded the table for in the draft, and you don’t let them compete with a veteran who isn’t someone to be confused with Brett Favre? I want to know why you ever thought that was good idea to begin with? And, please, don’t try to use the comparison to the transition between Alex Smith to Pat Mahomes. These situations are polar opposites.
Meanwhile, an absolute gift has been received by the Bears in landing Justin Fields. A player who has the legit attitude and talent to finally make a difference for a QB starved franchise. Only to execute the absolute worst plan for developing any young QB.
The plays called and lack of separation in routes ran by receivers forced Justin Fields to play hero ball in each week he’s healthy enough to suit up. He’s not used to losing, and he’ll do everything imaginable to win a game. His coach, on the other hand, won’t change things up to help his young QB.
And what about the positions around the QB? Almost no meaningful development has been seen from their receiving corps. Pass protection has largely been an unorganized mess. But we keep seeing plays designed that go against the players strengths.
I mean... hitches and curls for a bunch of dudes brought in at receiver who can run between a 4.2 and 4.3 forty? Identical HB dives up the middle behind a Center who can’t push off the LOS and a group of RBs who do their most damage off the tackles? Where is the common sense here? Does Matt Nagy think every receiver he has on his roster is Tyreek Hill? Why would you call a hitch route for Tyreek Hill anyway???
Any way you slice this burnt pie and you’ll see it’s still a burnt pie. This all appears to be the result of a coach who just cannot teach the concepts floating within their head.
Failure to Hold Themselves — Or Players — Accountable
Here we enter the territory that separates the bad coaches from the mediocre ones. As pictured above, the 2020 and 2021 seasons featured some of the least disciplined teams we’ve seen in Chicago. Not simply in terms of penalties, but in terms of players ejected from the game as well.
Three (3) different players — Javon Wims; Anthony Miller; and Bilal Nichols — were all tossed for fighting in separate incidents. It’s more infuriating when two players from the same position group (receiver) get ejected by the refs for fighting in the same season (2020). Against the same team (New Orleans Saints). Involving the same player (C.J. Gardner-Johnson).
There’s also the sea of yellow laundry that has covered the turf at Soldier Field and every road visit the Bears have made. Since 2019, the Bears have been one of the most penalized teams in the league, especially in procedural penalties (false starts, illegal shifts, etc.) on offense. The weekly routine included a false start or an illegal shift following a time out called on offense. That’s how bad it’s been.
Yes, Matt Nagy has turned over play-calling to OC Bill Lazor twice. There’s also been a reluctance to ever be transparent with such changes. At one point, it was Bill Lazor making a play call, and Matt Nagy had to approve it. Nobody wanted to answer even the simplest of questions. All we got were endless servings of word salads and “figuring out the why’s.” Rubbish.
Football is an incredibly emotional sport. I don’t mind the occasional fight whatsoever. When you couple the fights with the consistent penalties that kill drives before they ever begin, or chauffer the opposing offense into the endzone, I take exception. It’s an insult to coaching. A complete insult.
Failure to Achieve Complementary Football
We’ve seen plenty of strong individual efforts from the past four seasons. Justin Fields has looked like THE guy at QB from time to time. Robert Quinn had himself a marvelous bounce-back season. Khalil Mack is Khalil Mack (a monster). So is Roquan Smith. Jakeem Grant and Cordarrelle Patterson had ridiculous moments on occasion. David Montgomery and Jaylon Johnson are pieces to build with at their respective spots.
So why can’t Matt Nagy ever get this team to play as such - a team?
It’s almost another weekly game played at Halas Hall and with these Chicago Bears. Each side of the ball chooses the week of which they struggle, and depend on everyone else to pick up their slack. The offense would be stuck in the mud, so the Mack truck would be called in to tow them out. Then the passengers of that Mack truck decide they want to take a break, and a miracle is expected on offense. There’s no teamwork here. No complementary football.
The whole team failed on a regular basis these past three years. Whether it’s because of the lack of takeaways on defense, or the lack of scoring on easy opportunities on offense, it was a show directed by Matt Nagy that needed to be canceled. You have to have all phases of the game clicking to win consistently.
What Happens Now?
George McCaskey has already began to clean house. Restructuring of the front office and coaching staffs at Halas Hall had been rumored for months. So far he’s already fired Ryan Pace along with Matt Nagy.
The bottom line is this. The Bears need to hire a coach who can guide this team to consistent success on the field. Again, the problems do not start or end at the coaching staff. The whole organization needs an overhaul.
From a distant 3rd person perspective, it appears the early success went to Matt Nagy’s head. The arrogance, excuses, and nonsense we would hear in weekly pressers could be summed up with one statement - “I’m not an idiot.” This is a house that he couldn’t sell to a fanbase and a franchise demanding a whole lot more than what has been delivered.
To Matt Nagy - Be You. Continue being you. Do whatever you want. But the Bears need to Be Better.