It might seem unfair to dig up quotes about what the Bears saw in Matt Nagy when they hired him in 2018. When an NFL team names a new coach, love isn’t just in the air. It is the air. Owners gush. General managers become bards. There’s no room for descriptions of a regular guy who favors earth tones. No one finds a former neighbor of the coach who says, “He always struck me as unremarkable.’’
Team officials are trying to sell the new coach to the fan base, if not to themselves, and what you get is a spigot of sweet nothings turned on full blast.
So, yeah, we probably should forgive the Bears their embellishment and ignore everything they said about Nagy in the moment.
On the other hand, what the hell.
Here’s some of what the principals said in a 2018 Sun-Times article about the interview process with Nagy:
Team chairman George McCaskey had told general manager Ryan Pace to go into the sessions prepared: “But that’s like telling the Pope to make sure he says his prayers before he goes to bed. [Pace is] the epitome of thoroughness.”
McCaskey: “I was very happy with the result. I was very happy with the process. The thing I was thinking is that Bears fans are going to love this guy.”
Team president Ted Phillips, on what he had hoped for from candidates during the interview process: “God, it’d be nice if, when we’re talking to these guys, one of them or all of them say — and they say it with conviction — ‘I really want to be the coach of the Bears, and here’s why.’ ”
McCaskey: “[Nagy] said, ‘I really, really want to be the head coach of the Chicago Bears.’ ”
Phillips: “He just always came across as real.’’
Phillips: “Ryan came up to my room. It was 10:30 at night. He goes, ‘Hey, he’s our guy. There is no doubt.’ ”
Almost four seasons later, Nagy seems to be on his way out of Chicago. The Bears have underperformed during his tenure, and their offense, Nagy’s supposed area of expertise, has been a running joke. Many fans couldn’t be more disgusted with him.
How could the Bears have missed so badly? The easy answer, the answer that’s never wrong, the answer that covers every organizational screw-up, is that these are the Bears. They do dumb like a skunk does stink.
But we’re thorough people who demand deeper answers than that. The bottom line is that the Bears fell in love with a person, not a football coach.
Nagy’s job interview with McCaskey, Phillips and Pace lasted 4½ hours. Pace arrived with 15 pages of questions. I wouldn’t be able to come up with 15 pages of questions to ask Jesus. It wasn’t a due-diligence problem. It was an eyesight problem. The three men saw something in Nagy that wasn’t there and, worse, they didn’t see what was right in front of them — Nagy’s almost complete lack of experience calling and designing plays. He had been the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator in name only for most of two seasons. Coach Andy Reid called the vast majority of plays for the team.
So what did the Bears see? They saw nice.
“He’s a natural leader, highly intelligent, he’s got outstanding character . . . a great person,’’ Pace had said at Nagy’s introductory news conference.
And that’s it, isn’t it? The Bears ended up hiring somebody who made them feel good, just like Pace had made McCaskey comfortable three years earlier. Here was another guy who wouldn’t make the chairman’s life difficult.
I’m nice, you’re nice, let’s be nice together. That approach would be absolutely wonderful if this were Lions Club International. The Bears could spread their nice-guy-ness around the world. But this is the NFL, where nice has about as much use as soccer balls do.
The very thing that’s held in highest esteem in professional football — hard work — is a problem when it comes to identifying true coaching ability. A coach who watches tape until his eyes fall out is looked upon with admiration. But that’s not talent. That has nothing to do with being able to devise a good offense. Being only vaguely acquainted with your family because you’re always at the office won’t help a coach know the right play to call on third-and-five with a game on the line.
The Chiefs had Reid and a rejuvenated Alex Smith. That erroneously informed Pace what kind of head coach Nagy could be. Everybody loved Nagy the man. A coach was needed.
The scariest part of all of this is the very good possibility that Pace will still be employed when it’s time to find Nagy’s replacement. What will he see in the next coach that’s not there?