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Bears’ firing of Matt Nagy comes only after costly delay, wasted time

The Nagy firing finally kicks off a much-needed rebuild for the Bears. But instead of doing it when it was prudent — after the 2020 season — they’ve wasted at least one more season (maybe more) with a needless delay.

The Bears were 22nd or worse in scoring each of Matt Nagy’s last three seasons.
The Bears were 22nd or worse in scoring each of Matt Nagy’s last three seasons.
Quinn Harris/Getty Images

It was the most obvious move in the world for the Bears to fire Matt Nagy after four seasons of his offense sputtering, his explanations falling flat and his team sliding through season-killing losing streaks.

It was the right call. But as is often the case with the Bears, it was late and lacking vision.

They’re at least a year behind on this move, and even more overdue on general manager Ryan Pace, and the cost of delaying it is hefty. They’ve needlessly squandered this season, as well as the season before it, arguably, and set themselves up for trouble next season, too.

They needed more decisive action from chairman George McCaskey, who couldn’t see that the brilliant 2018 season was a mirage even after it evaporated in 2019. Instead, the Bears spent two more years trying to recapture glory that was an illusion in the first place.

Let’s debunk this once and for all:

  • Other than his monster game against the lowly Buccaneers, Mitch Trubisky had an 89.0 passer rating that season.
  • The Bears played what turned out to be the NFL’s weakest schedule that season.
  • Defensive touchdowns and turnovers that set up the offense already in field-goal range pushed their scoring average from 22.4 to 26.3 points per game.
  • Also thanks to the defense, Nagy won three games in which the Bears scored 16 or fewer points.

If the Bears hadn’t lost their playoff opener to the Eagles on the Double Doink while mustering just 15 points, their offensive shortcomings surely would’ve undone them soon after.

Those kinds of details often call Nagy’s supposed success into question. He leaves as one of the few recent Bears coaches with a winning record, but he went 7-12 against teams that made the playoffs over his first three seasons and was 1-6 against teams that were in the 2021 playoff field heading into Sunday.

His firing seemed cemented after the Week 11 loss to the Ravens this season, and at that point he had lost 15 of 21 games, including a playoff appearance against the Saints.

The Bears collapsed with a four-game losing streak in 2019, six straight losses last season and a five-game skid this season. Nagy got them back to .500 mostly by feasting on lightweight opponents, but they were effectively buried at the end of each of those losing streaks.

But the 2018 success artificially inflated expectations, and the Bears clung to it as hard as they could. They’ve been making moves the last few offseasons as though they’re a contender, and that lack of self-awareness has been hugely counterproductive.

When they followed their 12-4 record in 2018 by going 8-8 the next season, Pace and chairman George McCaskey insisted the roster was closer to the former than the latter. Even accepting that as a reasonable opinion, after going 8-8 again in 2020, it was inarguable that the Bears needed an overhaul.

Blowing up the roster at that point would’ve certainly set the Bears up for a nightmare season with a mountain of losses in 2021. But they arrived at that outcome anyway — only without the central benefits of freeing up salary-cap space and accumulating a stockpile of draft picks that would’ve come with intentionally sacrificing this season with an eye on the future.

Rather than shedding as much cap money as possible and trading away any players who could bring back draft capital, the Bears spent every dime they could and even kicked some money down the road.

And they do not have a first- or fourth-round pick this year, which will make the upcoming rebuild very difficult. They’re currently slotted for No. 8 overall, but that goes to the Giants as part of the trade to move up and draft quarterback Justin Fields.

The Bears would’ve been out of reach for the top five quarterbacks in the recent draft at No. 20 — another residual effect of their perpetual mediocrity. They were bad, but not bad enough to get an impactful draft pick out of it.

As for Nagy, he never delivered on the two projects the Bears hired him to accomplish: He did not install a functional offense, nor did he develop a quarterback. He left with a 34-31 regular-season record and sat 0-2 in the playoffs. The Bears scored 21 or fewer points in 33 of his 67 games overall.

As he exits, the most generous view of his effect on Fields is that he did more good than harm despite unnecessarily slowing his development from Day 1 and dedicating his first eight months on the job to learning an offense that he’ll hopefully never need again.

There were red flags on Nagy before and after Fields. He gave up play calling to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor each of the last two seasons, and the offense immediately made modest improvements. Nagy’s plans seemed to lack adjustments and innovation during games, and he made alarming repeat mistakes.

One of his biggest hang-ups was an aversion to running the ball. He set the Bears’ all-time record for fewest rushing attempts in a game with seven in a blowout loss to the Saints in 2020. Meanwhile, he called for 54 passes from fledgling Trubisky.

“I know we need to run the ball more,” he said then. “I’m not an idiot. I realize that. I totally understand that. You need to do it. I never go into a game saying I want to throw the ball 54 times. I would love to go into a game and say I want to run the ball 54 times. But that hasn’t happened. This is what I have to answer.”

He never had answers, though. For anything. And that was clear a long time ago, but McCaskey didn’t want to believe it.