In the days after he tested positive for the coronavirus Monday, Bears coach Matt Nagy began preparing special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor for the possibility that he’d be in charge Sunday at Soldier Field. They ran through different hypothetical situations, from how to deal with assistant coaches and players to how to navigate moments and mindsets during the game against the 49ers.
‘‘Just different scenarios and different things, so I can help him out as much as possible,’’ Nagy said Friday. ‘‘Some things he might not think of on game day.’’
Nagy also began preparing himself for the fact that one of the most important games of his Bears tenure will take place with him nowhere near Soldier Field. On Saturday, it became official: Nagy, who is vaccinated, could not pass two coronavirus tests in a 48-hour span before kickoff and will not coach in a critical game against the 49ers.
The difference between a victory and a loss Sunday is the chasm between a .500 record and a three-game losing streak, between the Bears being part of the playoff conversation during the Week 10 bye or, if they also lose to the Steelers in prime time Nov. 8, being stuck in yet another months-long free fall.
The Bears have yet to lose a game in which they were favored this season. If that changes Sunday, it will affect the tenor of the season — and Nagy’s job security by the end of it.
Nagy ran team meetings on Zoom last week and watched practice film, but the quarantine was enough to sour Nagy’s sunny-side-up disposition.
‘‘I don’t think frustration’s a good word,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘I think you’re eager and you want to be able to be there with your guys. And probably the biggest challenge as you go through this is just making sure that everybody is doing everything as best as they can. And that’s where just talking through things, it’s easy to [use] technology now to do that. . . .
‘‘But there’s just — you don’t have that feel, right? Because you’re not there.’’
Tabor said earlier this week he’d be ready to lead the team. As the acting head coach, he’ll run the Saturday night meeting and make in-game decisions Sunday.
‘‘You’ve always been preparing yourself your whole life to do that,’’ said Tabor, whose head coaching experience spans the 2001 season at NAIA Culver-Stockton. ‘‘I’ve watched a lot of football games and have thought about those types of things.’’
The irony is that, after Nagy delegated play-calling to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor in the wake of the Bears’ blowout loss to the Browns in Week 3, he leaned hard into a personality-driven coaching style. In the dreary days after the loss, Nagy gathered his offensive players and actually asked them for advice about how to retool the playbook.
The night before the game against the Buccaneers, Nagy held an emotional team meeting in which, according to running back Khalil Herbert, he showed ‘‘how much he cares and what he means to this team and how he wants to bring us together.’’
The Bears then lost 38-3.
Nagy has said all month that not calling plays allows him to be more connected to everyone — from the quarterback to his defense — on game day. Rather than bringing the team together this past week, however, Nagy was apart from it.
He’s left in a lose-lose situation. If the Bears win without him, fans pushing for Nagy’s ouster will claim he’s unnecessary. If they lose, the same people will paint the Bears as a sinking ship without a leader.
At various points last week, Nagy described the possibility of becoming the first Bears head coach to miss a game since Mike Ditka had a mild heart attack in 1988 as ‘‘strange,’’ ‘‘unique’’ and ‘‘weird.’’
‘‘I wish I could tell you,’’ he said, ‘‘but I have no idea what it will be like.’’
Sunday, in front of a television, he’ll find out.