Bears GM Ryan Pace’s next coach to skew younger than John Fox — but by how much?
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John Fox was three weeks away from his 60th birthday when the Bears paired him with Ryan Pace, the youngest general manager in the NFL, in 2015.
“The fact that he’s about to turn 60 — there’s a lot of benefits with that, don’t get me wrong — but I look at John Fox as being my age,” Pace said then. “He’s a youthful personality, and I think it’s great because he has the experience, still with the energy, so it’s a perfect combination.”
Chairman George McCaskey agreed.
“You saw his energy,” McCaskey said. “He’s got the fire in the belly. If he wins at 61 or 62 or 63 or 64, that’ll be fine with us.”
He didn’t, leaving Pace to hit the road this past week to seek his next head coach. All six candidates he has interviewed have been younger than Fox. The last two he met with — including Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy on Sunday — are younger than Pace himself.
In just three years, the Bears figure to pivot from touting the May-December relationship between their two top football minds to praising a smaller age gap. The reason: Pace doesn’t need hand-holding any longer. Empowered by the two-year contract extension he received this week, he’s more likely to find an offense-first candidate who shares his high-energy approach.
Pace met with his second 39-year-old candidate in as many days Sunday after traveling to Kansas City to speak with Nagy, whose Chiefs blew a 21-3 lead late Saturday night and lost to the Titans in the wild-card round of the playoffs.
The loss spoiled what had been a magnificent six weeks for Nagy. Head coach Andy Reid ceded play-calling duties to Nagy at the start of December. The Chiefs won four of their last five regular-season games, averaging 28.6 points, to reach the playoffs.
Nagy is familiar with Mitch Trubisky because the Chiefs pored over quarterbacks leading up to last year’s draft. That he’s tutored their first-round pick, quarterback Patrick Mahomes, while guiding starter Alex Smith to perhaps his best season is considered a point in Nagy’s favor. Nagy is a former quarterback, having starred at Delaware, where he teamed with Chiefs general manager Brett Veach. Last summer, Veach took Pace’s title as the NFL’s youngest GM.
The Bears’ GM, traveling with McCaskey and team president Ted Phillips, interviewed Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, who is 12 days older than Nagy, on Saturday morning. The son of an athletic director — Gene DeFilippo worked at Villanova and Boston College — he actually has more play-calling experience than Nagy. He was the Browns’ offensive coordinator in 2015 under Mike Pettine.
If the Bears choose Nagy or DeFilippo, their inexperience would manifest itself when trying to assemble a coaching staff. Pace can help in that respect, particularly if he can convince 59-year-old Vic Fangio to return as defensive coordinator and keep some of his assistants. The Bears value the continuity that comes with retaining Fangio, whose defense has improved in each of the last three seasons.
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who met with the Bears on Friday night, is two years older than Nagy and DeFilippo but has much more experience. He was the Broncos’ head coach for two years and has been the Patriots’ play-caller for nine. A former Browns head coach, 52-year-old Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who spoke with the Bears on Friday morning, has the connections to assemble a quality staff, too.
As the Bears approach the end of their search’s first week, they aren’t known to have requested any more coaching interviews. They’ll weigh the experience factor when contemplating their next move. And, perhaps, plan their next coach’s 40th birthday party.
Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley