In a stunning development, Bears coach Matt Nagy publicly admitted to calling some bad plays against the Packers last week. We’re so used to coaches either lying or kneading the facts into an unrecognizable blob that the truth, when it arrives, is met with dropped jaws.
Nagy did not get struck by lightning, which people in his profession apparently believe is going to happen for being honest. If anything, that openness cast a favorable light on him. Reporters and fans were impressed that he had enough respect for them that he didn’t offer a ridiculous explanation for some weak, underdeveloped, sand-kicked-in-the-face screen passes in Green Bay.
He said he blew it.
That makes him the antithesis of the guarded John Fox, and that makes him good. I’m generally not one to praise the new coach at the expense of the former coach. It’s too easy, especially one game into Nagy’s head-coaching career. NFL franchises, being the reactionary enterprises they are, often hire a coach who is a contrast to the previous one. So if the last coach was defensive-minded, the new one usually is offensive-minded. If the last coach was a drill sergeant, the new one usually runs a Montessori classroom.
And if Fox was the Bears’ public look of dismissiveness toward their audience, it follows that Nagy is a brand-new offering of accountability and inclusiveness, right? Again, too easy. But if you’re asking if that’s what I want, do I have to say pretty please?
Let’s see what happens when the franchise’s institutional aversion to transparency tries to lasso him.
(What did Fox get for the heaping helping of nothing he gave us? A job with ESPN as an on-air analyst, of course. A coach looks you in the face and lies repeatedly. He does it in a raspy voice that leads you to believe that his larynx has been dragged behind a car for miles. And then he gets hired to tell football fans what’s right and wrong with NFL teams. It’s starting to occur to me that I might have this whole life thing all wrong.)
It became fashionable a long time ago for coaches to speak a lot of words and say nothing. Press conferences are a non-contact sport. Nobody gets hurt. Players don’t have to worry about their coach publicly calling them out (the horror!), and coaches don’t have to worry about admitted mistakes costing them their jobs. Has there been a coach who lost his job because he was honest about his weaknesses? That’s beside the point. Coaches have come to believe it can happen, and therefore walls have been erected.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick wins, and he hasn’t said anything truthful since the seventh grade. The latter is not a reason for the former, but try persuading NFL coaches of that. All they know is that the Patriots have won Super Bowls and that Belichick believes that misleading everyone on everything is a competitive advantage. They have connected dots only they can see.
Nagy, then, might end up being a great experiment and our great hope. What if a coach is forthcoming with the public — or at least not obstructionistic — and his team wins? What if he’s open with the media about his and his team’s shortcomings, and the victories pile up? I’d love to predict a revolution of honesty, but I don’t see it happening. Coaches are people who, when ordering food at a McDonald’s drive-through, instinctively put laminated play charts over their mouths so opponents can’t read their lips.
It wasn’t just Fox who refused to be in the same room as truth. By the time Lovie Smith was done describing what had happened on a five-yard loss by the Bears, it would look like his players had raised a flag at Iwo Jima. If you asked him which player had made a mistake on a play, he would says something like, “We all need to get better.’’ He’d spread the blame so broadly that no one was ever accountable, especially himself.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon is in a different category. His brain is wired in such a way that admitting a mistake is almost impossible. So when it was obvious to everyone last week that having closer Pedro Strop hitting in the 10th inning of a game was a very bad idea, especially with top pinch hitter Tommy La Stella available, Maddon couldn’t see it that way. Not even after Strop pulled a hamstring while trying to beat out a double play. Not even after news came out that Strop would be lost for the rest of the regular season.
Maddon believes that if a decision is well thought-out beforehand, it can’t be declared a bad idea later. You don’t need body armor with that approach to life.
I hope Nagy stays true to his forthright self. I hope he proves to the rest of the NFL that games aren’t going to be lost, people aren’t going to die and land masses aren’t going to fall into the sea if the truth finds the light.
However, my belief level in his continued candor is listed as doubtful. I don’t see his frankness lasting. I hope I’m wrong. You know, like Maddon never is.