Bears coach Matt Nagy returns to play-calling

The progress the Bears made wasn’t enough to stop Nagy from snatching back the keys to the car. On Friday, Nagy said he’ll call plays in 2021. He immediately tried to downplay the decision.

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Bears coach Matt Nagy will call plays in 2021.

Bears coach Matt Nagy will call plays in 2021.

James Gilbert/Getty Images

Coach Matt Nagy gave up play-calling duties after nine games last year, and the Bears were better for it.

In the next eight games with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor calling the plays — seven regular-season games and one playoff game — the Bears improved in yards per pass (6 vs. 5.4) and yards per rush (4.5 vs. 3.7).

They averaged almost a touchdown more per game, 25.4 vs. 19.8. When Lazor took over the play-calling duties, the Bears had the league’s 29th-best scoring offense. The rest of the regular season, it ranked eighth.

With Lazor, the team scored 30 points or more in four consecutive games for the first time since 1965 — albeit against inferior competition. And the Bears finally seemed to find an identity as a run-first, tempo-driven, physical football team.

The progress they made, though, wasn’t enough to stop Nagy from snatching back the keys to the car. On Friday, Nagy said he’ll call the plays in 2021.

He immediately tried to downplay the decision.

“When we look through the scheme [evaluation meetings], where we’re at, it was for me just something that I feel good about,” he said. “That’s a minor deal for us right now. We’re just going through all this stuff, this film, and seeing where we’re at.

“We have bigger things to worry about than that.”

They do?

For three years, Nagy struggled to find a steady running game. On Oct. 20, 2019, against the Saints, Mitch Trubisky dropped back to pass 56 times but handed the ball off on only seven occasions, prompting Nagy to say the next day that “I know we need to run the ball more — I’m not an idiot.” By contrast, David Montgomery ran for 95 yards or more in half his games with Lazor calling the plays.

Nagy was doomed by poor quarterback play for three years. Lazor seemingly just got his guy — Andy Dalton, whom he coached for three years with the Bengals.

It made sense for the Bears to stick with Lazor. It was hardly a surprise, though, that Nagy took his play-call sheet back. He left the door open to do just that toward the end of last season. And he maintained, whether he or Lazor was dubbed the play-caller, that it wasn’t some binary choice. Even when Lazor called plays, Nagy had input.

The Bears didn’t finish the season strong, either, mustering a total of two touchdowns in the finale against the Packers and the playoff loss to the Saints. One was a pass to Jimmy Graham as the gun sounded in a 21-9 loss in New Orleans.

It was difficult for Nagy to finally yield his duties after nine games last year, but he’d run out of options.

‘‘It’s not easy, but it does get easy the more you think about it,’’ Nagy said then. ‘‘If our team can be better because of this move — and I don’t know that, but if we can — then darn it, that’s what we need to do. And what I need to do.’’

If Nagy fails this season, there probably won’t be a next year. Perhaps that’s the argument for Nagy calling the plays that makes the most sense: If he’s betting his career on someone, he wants it to be himself.

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