Why put off the inevitable? Time for the Bears to say goodbye to Matt Nagy
There’s no point in keeping a failing coach around for the rest of the season in the name of continuity.
I’ve often wondered how an NFL owner who secretly plans to fire his coach after the season interacts with a man who’s on the employment version of death row. Does he pretend that everything’s OK? Does he offer his coach regular pats on the back? Reminders that they’re in this struggle together? Tender looks that say, “I hurt for you in ways you can’t begin to understand”?
Or does he avoid eye contact? Does he act as if he has an incoming call whenever the coach is walking toward him? Does the coach show up for work one day and find that the coffeemaker that was in his office is now in the offensive coordinator’s office?
How all of this applies to the Bears is a massive question mark because this isn’t a franchise that plays by the book, the book being “Common Sense’’ (by Thomas Paine, a former Patriot). In most other organizations, coach Matt Nagy would have worn out his welcome by now. There has been too much uninspired football and too little progress by too many players. Also, his offense stinks. And his team is disorganized and undisciplined. It had 12 penalties, several of the truly boneheaded variety, in a 29-27 loss to the Steelers on Monday night.
But these are the Bears, and for all anyone knows, Nagy was studying the club’s contract-extension proposal to him on the flight home from Pittsburgh.
But if the McCaskeys have finally had the epiphany that almost everyone in Chicago has had – hey, this Nagy guy, he doesn’t really know what he’s doing! – why not get it over with now? What’s the point of keeping him around for the rest of the season? Continuity? Continuing to take the same approach with the same people seems like a really dumb idea. So does 115 penalty yards, which Nagy’s players amassed Monday.
“We’ve got to be smart,’’ he said.
The 3-6 Bears have lost four straight games. It’s time.
Getting rid of Nagy (and general manager Ryan Pace) now would give ownership more time to find new people to research whom to hire next. There’s a benefit to being in position to jump on a No. 1 candidate immediately after the season ends. That doesn’t remove the distinct possibility that the McCaskeys would pick the wrong coach again, but it would in theory increase the odds of a good outcome.
If they’re worried that firing Nagy now would be viewed as a sign of surrender, it certainly wouldn’t be viewed that way by the fan base. It would be viewed in much the same way a sudden inheritance from an uncle you didn’t know you had would be viewed.
Whatever happened on the field Monday night in Pittsburgh was going to have no positive effect on Nagy’s body of work, a flabby, pasty thing. The McCaskeys’ instinct is to point to the coach’s 31-26 record and two playoff appearances in 3½ seasons as a shield against the naysayers’ naying. But that defense is a big lie, and anyone with an ounce of football knowledge knows it.
Here are some Bears rankings (out of 32 teams) under Nagy, hired for his offensive expertise:
Total offense: 29th (2019), 26th (2020) and 32nd (2021).
Points: 29th (2019), 22nd (2020) and 31st (2021).
Passing yards: 25th (2019), 22nd (2020) and 32nd (2021).
Passing touchdowns: 25th (2019), 18th (2020) and 32nd (2021).
Nothing about those numbers says, “Retain this football genius!’’ Those numbers say, “And he’s still the head coach?” Some of you will think it unfair to exclude the 2018 season, when Nagy won NFL Coach of the Year honors for helping the Bears to a 12-4 record. That season is so far removed from the past three years of mediocrity that carbon dating is necessary to establish its age. And even during that “special” season, Nagy’s first as a head coach, the Bears finished 21st in total offense.
So what are the McCaskeys holding on to, exactly? The chance for a miracle turnaround in 2021, led by rookie quarterback Justin Fields? The first half of the season seemed to prove that whatever success Fields was going to have the second half of the season was going to be because of him and in spite of Nagy. The coach hasn’t put the kid in the best position to succeed. He has been slow to react to defenses during games. When Nagy sat out last week’s game because of COVID-19, Fields had his best game as a pro, rushing for 103 yards and a spectacular touchdown on 10 carries. Imagine that – a fast, athletic quarterback being allowed to take advantage of being fast and athletic.
The McCaskeys simply don’t make in-season changes, you say? So forget about it? Their history doesn’t make their inaction less a sin.
It’s obvious that they find firing people distasteful. Here’s something more distasteful: one Super Bowl appearance (a loss) since the 1985 Bears’ title and a list of failed head coaches that makes it appear as if ownership randomly opens up a phonebook and, eyes closed, jabs a finger at a name every three or four years.
What the McCaskeys deem the best route too often is the one that comes with the least pain for them. They usually like the people they hire. That’s nice, but friendship should never get in the way of doing what’s right for the franchise. This isn’t a book club or a play date.
It’s the NFL, where sooner or later, everyone gets hurt. Why not make it sooner and get it over with?