Can Justin Fields make a coach out of Matt Nagy?
It could end up working out that way, although all bets are off at this point. In three-plus seasons as the Bears’ coach, Nagy has lost virtually all of the aura of hope that came with him when he arrived at Halas Hall as a disciple of Andy Reid.
In fact, Nagy’s strongest suit as an NFL head coach has been his role as culture-building CEO rather than any offensive genius. And even that effect has waned in recent seasons. Culture and leadership are vastly overrated on mediocre and bad teams. Those intangibles can take a good team to the playoffs and push a playoff team to the top. But teams that are spinning their wheels need good players more than anything else.
And since that first season of 2018, when Nagy rode the wave of a dominant defensive performance to produce an offense that was more promising than productive, he has been a disappointment as an offensive developer.
His tenure has been marked by Mitch Trubisky’s regression, the lack of an offensive identity, no consistent running game, an inability to get receivers open, losing the game-day chess match, being unable to adjust on the fly and just being out of sync as an offensive coach — too often being aggressive when he should be conservative and playing it safe when he should be going for it.
So it was no surprise that the best move Nagy has made as coach of the Bears — making Fields his No. 1 quarterback — elicited a general vote of no-confidence in him from frustrated Bears fans.
Nagy has lost the benefit of the doubt. When Fields made his first start against the Browns, Nagy seemed to set up the rookie to fail with a protection-light game plan that would’ve forced even Aaron Rodgers to pull a rabbit out of his hat to execute.
That episode exposed Nagy’s inflexibility.
“Obviously we have mechanisms to help the protection,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said after that nine-sack game. “Whether it be throw the ball faster, move the pocket more, help on the edges, turn the line and help with more guys, use tight ends more in protection . . . they’re all in the offense.”
It wasn’t until the next week — with Lazor calling the plays — that those mechanisms were put in place, against a Lions defense that helped make them work.
So now Fields is the full-time starter, and we’ll see how much Nagy has learned. More than an opportunity to see if Fields can be the quarterback the Bears expect, it’s an opportunity to see if Nagy is the guy the Bears thought he was.
For now, getting to this point is his biggest victory.
“I give all the credit to Matt — how he handled the week,” Lazor said. “Everything from private conversations he and I had to the way he laid out to the staff and the team how he wanted to go forward. That’s really where it started. I thought the key to the week was really Matt’s vision of how he wanted everything to go.”
To those who have been confounded by Nagy’s handling of the Andy Dalton-Fields conundrum, “Matt’s vision” is a breakthrough for a coach whose vision on the quarterback front seemed clouded from the day Fields was drafted.
Now Nagy needs to be just as clear-headed on game day. With Dalton in the background, the obligation over and done with, Nagy can concentrate on the job he was hired to do — develop an offense that can make a quarterback out of Fields. Or develop a quarterback who can make a coach out of Nagy.