A few minutes before 9 a.m. Monday, Matt Nagy gathered his players for a team meeting at Halas Hall and gave them the news himself: he was being fired as Bears head coach after four seasons. General manager Ryan Pace was, too.
“They took a chance on a poor kid from Cincinnati who people looked at as if he wasn’t going to be good enough to even get a chance to play,” running back David Montgomery said soon afterward. “That’s why it’s emotional for me. Because they stuck their neck out on the line for me …
“It’s unfortunate what happened. But at the same time, you understand this is a results-driven league and we want to do what we have to do so we can handle business.”
Montgomery, who has been particularly close with Nagy over their three years together, talked to his coach privately, too. It was hard. The next few weeks figure to be, too, while the Bears conduct coach and GM searches.
“It’s definitely going to be difficult not knowing what’s going to happen,” Montgomery said. “I guess you can say everyone fears the lack of knowledge.”
Bears players who spoke during Monday’s locker cleanout day painted Monday morning to be a somber affair. Some weren’t surprised — guard James Daniels said he found out on Twitter before the meeting — while some, like cornerback Jaylon Johnson, were.
“Just hearing the news and seeing (Nagy’s) body language change a little bit, I mean, it hurts,” Johnson said. “He spent a lot of time here. He put a lot into the organization, so having that taken away from you is never easy.”
Ultimately, neither Nagy nor Pace won enough. The players understand that — and their role in it. Daniels painted the Bears’ losses as the fault of both players and coaches. He gave one example: he watched film of 49ers left tackle Trent Williams, the league’s most expensive player at the position, getting blocking help during pass protection even when facing off against an undrafted rookie. He contrasted that with the Bears’ Jason Peters having to face star edge rushers — he hinted at the Browns’ Myles Garrett — not getting blocking help from Nagy’s scheme.
“It’s just situations like that where I think coaches could have helped ... coaches could have put the players in a better situation,” Daniels said. “But at the end of the day the players are the ones out there, so it doesn’t matter what the coaches are really doing.”
Now the coaches are gone.
“For some of us in the organization, all we know is Coach Nagy, all we know is Pace,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be a different transition for us versus other guys who have been to different teams.”