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Pressure, urgency prompt Bears coach Matt Nagy to decisiveness

For all the well-earned criticism of Nagy this season, he clearly grasps that it’s a make-or-break situation as he tries to push the Bears into the playoff field.

Matt Nagy is 25-16 as Bears head coach.
Matt Nagy is 25-16 as Bears head coach.
For the Sun-Times

Even as his moves have made minimal difference so far, the fact that Bears coach Matt Nagy was willing to make them illuminates the urgency he senses in what appears to be a make-or-break season.

The thrill of his debut season, when the Bears went 12-4 and won the NFC North in a landslide, evaporated with the thudding crash of going 8-8 last season. With the offense plummeting, the franchise quarterback sputtering and Nagy grasping for answers, he had to know it’d be tough to survive another flop in 2020.

So after more than a year of preaching patience and staying the course, he’s had a quick trigger for change this season. He benched quarterback Mitch Trubisky for Nick Foles in Week 3, and rather than wait for the logical timing of the bye week, he had no hesitation changing play callers ahead of the Vikings game Monday instead.

For everything Nagy doesn’t seem to understand — like how to use timeouts — he has grasped one important thing: There’s no time to waste.

That perceptiveness is one of the qualities that gives people reason to believe Nagy can still be a successful head coach even as this season drifts dangerously close to another disappointment.

ESPN broadcaster Louis Riddick — a longtime friend of Nagy’s from their shared time in Philadelphia but someone who criticized him openly when he thought it was merited — still thinks Nagy can salvage this season with a playoff berth and be what the Bears need for the long term.

“I know his competency level,” Riddick told the Chicago Sun-Times. “He’s been trained in this game at the highest level. He has the tools in his tool belt to give players what they need in order to succeed. I know he has the competency.

“He has the kind of football and personal character that will enable him to be very self-critical and evaluate what he’s doing right and what he’s doing wrong, how he can change his approach to best serve his players and ultimately make the kinds of changes and sacrifices that he [made by giving up play calling].”

That’s all true.

Nagy has been excellent in many aspects of his job, and the Bears have been well served by his relentless positivity, masterful management of personalities and simply being a good boss. It’d be hard to find a player at Halas Hall who doesn’t enjoy playing for him.

The organization appreciates that, but it hired him primarily to do two things:

1. Develop Trubisky into a game-changing star.

2. Give the Bears the offensive excitement they’ve lacked since as long as anyone can remember.

Nagy can’t check either of those boxes after two and a half seasons.

Trubisky’s time ran out in Week 3 and he’ll get his next opportunity somewhere else as a free agent. Nagy hasn’t done much to make it work with Foles, either.

Foles, by the way, isn’t going anywhere. He might very well be the Bears’ starter again next season, considering this defense is too good to let them get a top draft pick and Foles’ contract is virtually guaranteed for 2021 and ’22 unless he opts out.

Foles has been brutal to watch, and while that’s not all his fault, the Bears could’ve signed just about anybody to give them this level of production. Would it be any worse if they rode it out with Trubisky instead? Either way, it surely was unnecessary to trade a fourth-round pick and commit $24 million over three seasons when quarterbacks of equal or more talent were available for far less.

As for the overall offense, Nagy has engineered an “attack” that went into the Vikings game ranked 30th in scoring and yardage. That’s not one bad season, either. Cumulatively, the Bears are 23rd and 29th, respectively, over Nagy’s tenure.

The offense doesn’t seem to be good at anything this season, ranking 30th in yards per carry (3.7) and 29th in yards per pass (5.4).

Nagy has played his part in that failure and he was involved in the decision to acquire Foles, but the Bears’ biggest problem on offense seems to be the shaky offensive line general manager Ryan Pace handed him.

That group has been hit by injuries, losing starters James Daniels and Bobby Massie, but it wasn’t good when fully healthy, either. That’s a problem they’ll have to address after the season.

And it might be up to a new general manager and coach to solve it. For as much potential as Nagy has and the strong leadership he showed by humbling himself to give play calling to Bill Lazor, the Bears can’t commit to him if they’re changing general managers.

So regardless of the many limitations of the roster, Nagy knows it’s up to him to save his job. The first step is realizing that, and the next is being decisive. Regardless of where the Bears sit going into the bye week, he sees his situation clearly.