Bears coach Matt Nagy pushes ahead confidently, calmly after ‘failures’ of last two seasons
He survived a lot in the last two seasons. But the point is that he survived at all. Weathering the losses has given Nagy confidence going into 2021.
It’s hard to imagine a coach coming across as confidently and comfortably as Matt Nagy did Tuesday after surviving two seasons of tumult and swirling pressure on the Bears to fire him.
He plunged from Coach of the Year to the hot seat and saw his offense dwindle to the point where he conceded someone else should be calling the plays.
But surviving all that is exactly why Nagy feels so emboldened going into this season. For all that has gone wrong, he’s still here.
‘‘We’ve been through a lot,’’ Nagy said as players reported for training camp. ‘‘I’ve failed in a lot of different ways in my first three years as a head coach. I shouldn’t say ‘fail,’ but I’ve learned things. So for me, with those setbacks or those failures or those chances for me to learn, I’m trying to make myself better and learn from those.’’
The accountability was genuine, a refreshing change from coaches who say, ‘‘Put it on me,’’ as a diversionary tactic when things go wrong without really meaning it.
The Bears hired Nagy as a first-time head coach when he was 39, with only two seasons of experience at the coordinator level, and there were sure to be some stumbles.
Errors were masked, in part, by an elite defense in 2018, when the Bears went 12-4. But they stood out as Nagy went 16-16 in the next two seasons and presided over an offense that scored the seventh-fewest points, rushed for the seventh-fewest yards per carry and posted the ninth-worst passer rating.
Everything the Bears hired him to fix still is broken. But he knows that. And rather than denying reality or shifting blame, Nagy accepts he has played a part in this disappointment. That’s a significant step toward turning the Bears around. He spent the last seven months analyzing what’s wrong with his scheme, his play-calls and his personnel.
He also adjusted the tone he wants to set. The goal going into this season is that there isn’t one. Nagy isn’t giving players a rah-rah speech about the Super Bowl, the playoffs, a winning record or any other ambition. Taking the big picture out of the conversation simplifies life for a team that has a mountain of work to do.
‘‘Our message for our team is about being in the moment,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘In ’18, no one knew what they didn’t know. We had some success. Came in the next year, had some higher expectations, didn’t do well.
‘‘Every year that goes by, you start worrying about, ‘How’s it gonna go this year?’ Let’s just . . . not worry about what could happen in the future. I think we’re in a really good place right now.’’
Staying in the moment is tough after the Bears drafted quarterback Justin Fields 11th overall and tilted everyone’s attention to 2022, when he’ll be the full-time starter. But if Nagy wants to last long enough to see that era begin, he has to make this season worthwhile.
It’ll be a tough job. Nagy simultaneously must attempt to revive quarterback Andy Dalton at 33 and steer Fields toward his eventual takeover. He has to assemble an offensive line that might feature rookies at both tackles. He will sift through a host of skill players to ascertain which ones legitimately can contribute.
And that’s just on offense. He mostly will leave it to new coordinator Sean Desai to reverse the decline of the Bears’ defense.
With all of that unsettled, this is no time to talk about the playoffs. Every day of practice will test the structural integrity of general manager Ryan Pace’s roster and Nagy’s plan. That will be a lot of pressure, but Nagy doesn’t seem to mind.
‘‘Anybody that you ask who’s come through our building in the last four months, there’s a really positive vibe right now,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘It’s healthy.’’