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Housecleaning at Halas Hall: Bears get it wrong even when they get it right

The Bears finally fired Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace, but it was a year late, and chairman George McCaskey’s plan to move forward raised many questions.

Ted Phillips (left) and George McCaskey (right) will interview candidates along with Bill Polian, Soup Campbell and Tanesha Wade.
Ted Phillips (left) and George McCaskey (right) will interview candidates along with Bill Polian, Soup Campbell and Tanesha Wade.
Charles Rex Arbogast, AP Photos

Bears chairman George McCaskey sat on a Zoom call a year ago and said everything would be fine.

Don’t worry, he assured, he saw the same problems everyone else did and was just as mad. But he insisted general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy could fix them. The collective culture of the Bears would get this right.

It still hasn’t. And any optimism that sprouted from the Bears resetting the organization by firing Pace and Nagy on Monday morning wilted when McCaskey laid out plans to find their replacements in the afternoon. He will lead a hiring committee that includes president/CEO Ted Phillips and former executive Bill Polian.

In McCaskey’s decade of running the organization, the Bears have hired Marc Trestman, John Fox and Nagy as coaches. The GMs have been Phil Emery and Pace. Not a winner in the bunch.

Phillips puts the ‘‘party’’ in search party. He has done such a great job of overseeing the GMs that McCaskey said the Bears’ biggest change going forward is that he won’t. The next GM will report directly to McCaskey. So Phillips supposedly is removed from the chain of command but still will be influential in the new hires.

And while Polian is a Hall of Famer who won Executive of the Year six times, he is 79 years old, hasn’t worked in an NFL front office since 2011 and infamously said eventual MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson should switch to wide receiver. He also has no personal stake in whether the upcoming moves work out.

Those three, vice president of player engagement ‘‘Soup’’ Campbell and senior vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion Tanesha Wade will be the five people in the room for interviews.

That process started rolling Monday, when the Bears requested permission to speak with Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, ESPN reported. Frazier was a cornerback on the 1985 Bears, has 12 years of experience as a coordinator and was the Vikings’ head coach in 2011-13.

The Bears also submitted a request to the Colts to interview director of college scouting Morocco Brown, NFL Network reported. Brown was in the Bears’ front office in 2001-07.

Firing Pace and Nagy were the right decisions after a 6-11 season in which the offense made none of the progress McCaskey demanded last January, but they were a year late and exposed his lack of vision.

When pressed about whether the Bears would have been better off doing this at the end of the 2020 season, when they had gone 8-8 for a second consecutive year, McCaskey couldn’t justify it except to say he thought he owed it to Pace and Nagy.

‘‘At the time, we thought the continuity was the best route forward,’’ said McCaskey, who saddled them with the conflicting mandates of winning now but acting in the best interest of a future they knew they might not be part of.

Continuity is for good teams. The Patriots and Packers should prioritize continuity. But why would the Bears want more of the same from a GM who made many costly personnel flubs and a coach who was always just another week away from his offense finally clicking?

Blowing up the roster and cleaning house at that point would have set the Bears up for a nightmarish 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 have come with doing it on purpose.

The closest McCaskey came to an explanation was that Nagy had a winning record and that the Bears had made the playoffs in two of his first three seasons — never mind that everyone involved said at the time the 2020 playoff berth was meaningless for an 8-8 team that lucked its way in and got blasted out of the first round.

Nagy left with a winning record — barely — at 34-31 in the regular season and 0-2 in the playoffs, but he never delivered on the two projects the Bears hired him to tackle: He didn’t install a functional offense, nor did he develop a quarterback.

As he exits, the most generous view of his effect on prized rookie quarterback Justin Fields is that he did more good than harm. But there’s sure to be some unlearning under the new coach.

And Pace steered the Bears to a 48-65 record — tied for the seventh-worst in the NFL — during his tenure. Three-quarters of the league won a playoff game during that span, but the Bears didn’t.

That underscored his failed run as GM, but the details are equally exasperating. Pace made what likely was the biggest draft mistake in franchise history by trading up to pick Mitch Trubisky No. 2 overall in 2017, when Patrick Mahomes went eight picks later. He also missed on first- or second-rounders Kevin White, Leonard Floyd, Adam Shaheen and Anthony Miller.

And Trubisky was far from his only mistake at quarterback. There also was the subsequent trade and contract for Nick Foles and the convoluted mess caused by promising Andy Dalton the starting job when the Bears were recruiting him, then drafting Fields six weeks later.

‘‘The hiring of Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy, I don’t regret that,’’ Phillips said. ‘‘They both brought a lot to the Bears. Ultimately, on the field, the results weren’t [what] we wanted, but I think they checked a lot of the boxes.’’

In this business, victories are far and away the biggest box to check.

It’s strange the Bears keep failing to see that. They talk about culture, for example, but truly great cultures lead to substantive success.

In the end, just like the pledge Monday to finally get this right, it’s just talk. And the Bears saw clearer than ever this season what that’s worth.