When Bears chairman George McCaskey fired general manager Ryan Pace on Monday, he gave in to the facts — as much as it pained him.
The McCaskey family respects Pace, whom they hired in 2015. They’ve trusted him to trade up to draft a quarterback twice and to lead a $100 million remodeling of Halas Hall. While the firing of coach Matt Nagy had been likely for two months, Pace’s future was in doubt until Monday morning.
‘‘The decisions we’re making today are especially difficult because Ryan and Matt are outstanding men,’’ McCaskey said Monday afternoon. ‘‘They have high character. They have always represented the Bears with dignity and class.’’
In the end, none of the personal affection McCaskey has for Pace outweighed what the Bears accomplished — or failed to — under his watch. Consultant Bill Polian undoubtedly compared Pace to his counterparts when helping McCaskey evaluate whether to fire him.
The Bears have a .425 winning percentage since hiring Pace in 2015. Only seven teams have a worse record: Washington, the 49ers, the Lions, the Giants, the Jets, the Browns and the Jaguars.
During that same span, the Bears have played in two playoff games. Only six teams — the Bengals, Dolphins, Giants, Raiders, Lions and Jets — have played in fewer. Only four teams have scored fewer points since the start of 2015.
A 6-11 record in a win-or-else season was the last straw. The first was Pace’s decision to trade up one spot to take North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky in 2017. In doing so, he passed on future NFL most valuable player and Super Bowl winner Patrick Mahomes and Texans star Deshaun Watson, who since has been at the center of a sex scandal.
McCaskey’s decision to stick with Pace and Nagy last year gave the GM a chance to do something similar. To move up from 20th to 11th, Pace traded the Giants his first-round picks in 2021 and 2022, among other things, and drafted Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields.
The argument for Pace to stay went as follows: He was bold enough to trade up to draft Fields in April and shouldn’t be punished for making a decision that he — and his bosses — knew wouldn’t yield immediate results. Fields is the most talented college quarterback the franchise has drafted.
But what evidence do the Bears have that Fields can be a surefire star? He went 2-8 in 10 starts this season, and his most promising moment came in the fourth quarter of the Bears’ 29-27 loss to the Steelers on Nov. 8. He started and finished two games since, hampered by an ankle injury and a trip to the reserve/COVID-19 list last week.
Pace leaves the Bears with some impressive moments. He stunned the football world when he traded for outside linebacker Khalil Mack in 2018, citing a ‘‘no-regrets mindset.’’ He made some colossal first-round mistakes in the draft — Kevin White went seventh overall and caught only 25 passes for the Bears — but shined in the later rounds. In the fourth round or later, he found Darnell Mooney, Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen and Bilal Nichols.
Pace tore down former GM Phil Emery’s aging team and built it back via the draft — only to have the oldest NFL team on opening day this season.
The mutual admiration between Pace and Nagy extended into their team-issued statements Monday.
‘‘Together the last four years we built a culture that persevered and a foundation that will catapult the organization into the next phase of success,’’ Pace said of himself and Nagy.
On Sunday, with Pace’s future in doubt, the two walked off the field at U.S. Bank Stadium and toward the team bus together, collaborating until the end.
‘‘To Ryan Pace — Your passion and commitment towards this franchise was contagious,’’ Nagy said in the statement. ‘‘You gave it everything you had, every single day. It was always teamwork and togetherness with us. No regrets.’’