Matt Nagy 2021 is starting to feel like John Fox 2017.
That’s not good for anyone, not for Nagy or Fox or rookie quarterbacks or Bears fans or innocent bystanders or warm-blooded vertebrates.
Nagy, the current Bears head coach, is trying to figure out how to get the most out of rookie quarterback Justin Fields, whom the vast majority of fans and media desperately want in the starting lineup ahead of veteran Andy Dalton. They’ll get their wish Sunday when Fields starts in place of an injured Dalton against the Browns.
Fox, a former Bears head coach, was tasked four years ago with getting the most out of then-rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky, whom the vast majority of fans and media desperately wanted in the starting lineup ahead of veteran Mike Glennon.
Fox couldn’t get much out of Trubisky in their one season together, which led the Bears to pluck Nagy from the Chiefs’ coaching staff. A new, offensive-minded head coach would solve everything!
Nagy couldn’t get much out of Trubisky in their three seasons together, and now it’s his job to get the most out of Fields. If he doesn’t, there’s a decent chance ownership will look for another head coach to solve everything. Unfortunately, history suggests that ownership wouldn’t know a football from a soufflé.
The scary part is the possibility, remote as it seems now, that Fields will be led down the same, sad path that Trubisky was. Couldn’t happen? Two different quarterbacks, one more of a gamble coming out of college (Trubisky), the other more of a sure thing (Fields)?
The offense that Trubisky ran during Fox’s tenure was bland, basic and not at all tied to the quarterback’s ability to run.
The sample size with Fields is small (a little more than one half as the starter in two games), but already critics are saying that Nagy doesn’t know how to take advantage of the kid’s athleticism. Translation: uh-oh.
It’s going to be very difficult for Nagy to shake the label of quarterback millstone. Three things are at work here: 1) His “failure’’ with Trubisky, though Trubisky had a bigger hand in that lack of success; 2) Nagy hasn’t been good at game planning the last two seasons; and 3) Nagy will never be forgiven for getting in the way of massive public support for Fields as the starter. Where lots of people see themselves as visionaries when it comes to the rookie, Nagy can’t see the light, his detractors say.
So he’s fighting a losing battle, public relations-wise. He’ll either be the idiot who couldn’t recognize Fields’ greatness and wasted the first two games of the season with Dalton, or he’ll be the man whose play calling was an obstacle to Fields’ development. Or both.
Just as Fox was viewed as an idiot and an obstacle at the beginning of the Trubisky era.
Can Nagy somehow reshape this storyline? It’s going to be extremely difficult, like bending a prison-cell bar. People have such an emotional investment in the idea of Fields succeeding that anything short of success is going to be viewed as Nagy’s failure, not the kid’s.
Trubisky got a free pass his rookie season and so will Fields. Fox didn’t, nor will Nagy.
Nagy was supposed to correct Fox’s mistakes. He was the one who would unlock Trubisky’s talents, first by allowing the rookie to use his legs to make plays and then by molding him into a big-boy quarterback. None of it happened.
You would think that Nagy has learned his lesson. The best way for him to keep his job is to let Fields play as freely as possible. It’s not in most coaches’ DNA to give up on their beliefs. You can argue that Nagy, having come from a system that helped develop Patrick Mahomes into a superstar, would be the perfect choice to make Fields into a modern, Mahomes-like wrecker of defenses.
But we saw how stubborn he was with Trubisky, calling the same weak, ineffectual plays game after game and refusing to use the quarterback’s speed as a weapon. He was trying to hide Trubisky’s considerable warts, but it’s still frightening when that history is put in the context of what he might do with Fields.
Fox and Nagy. Nagy and Fox.
I questioned the wisdom of putting readers through such a depressing comparison, but then I remembered that nightmares naturally blend into other nightmares when it comes to the Bears. You’re used to it. It’s pretty much all you know.
I’d say you were born for this, but that would imply a lack of free will. Friends, nobody is making you buy those season tickets.
Before you get down on me for the Nagy-Fox comparison, just know that several readers have told me that Fields reminds them of Cade McNown.
Even I have my limits.