MORRISSEY: Ryan Pace is rolling the dice big time on inexperienced Matt Nagy
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I’m working hard at trying to get excited about the Bears’ decision to hire Matt Nagy as their head coach. I really am.
But there’s not a whole lot to work with. Nagy’s first three jobs in the NFL were as a coaching intern (2008-09), coaches’ assistant (2010) and offensive quality control coach (2011-12), all with the Eagles. His first big-boy job was when head coach Andy Reid hired him as the Chiefs quarterbacks coach in 2013. He became offensive coordinator in 2016 but didn’t start calling plays until 11 games into this season.
That’s correct: The man the Bears are relying on to run their offense and develop quarterback Mitch Trubisky has been a play-caller for all of six NFL games, including a bad playoff loss Saturday.
That’s not to say he’ll join the list of Bears coaching washouts. It’s to say: Is it safe for me to open my eyes yet?
Let’s give the Bears this: They didn’t dawdle.
A week after they began their search for a new head coach, they hired Nagy to replace John Fox.
He will be tasked with turning Trubisky into a star and saving general manager Ryan Pace’s job.
The major question, besides “Who the heck is Matt Nagy?’’ is an inevitable knee-jerk one:
Was he calling the plays in the Chiefs’ devastating playoff loss to the Titans on Saturday, the loss in which Kansas City blew an 18-point halftime lead and for some reason went pass-heavy in the second half?
If so, how did he make it out of the stadium alive?
I’m not going to criticize the Bears for hiring someone whose last game was a complete catastrophe. But it is the Bears’ luck that what should be a shining moment for the franchise comes with a cloud.
Here’s what CBS Sports analyst Jason La Canfora wrote Sunday:
The young play-caller was part of blowing an 18-point lead at home to a middling opponent with no passing game of its own, and systematically ignoring the league’s leading rusher in the process. “You can’t hire him now,” one grizzled front office exec said. “No way.”
Whoever that grizzled front-office exec is must not be grizzled enough to know much about how the Bears do business.
Nagy didn’t start calling the Chiefs’ plays until early December, when Reid handed him the headset after the team had struggled to score points. And the Chiefs took off, winning four of their final five games and averaging 28 points.
The Bears obviously think that’s a large enough sample size. But it can’t be emphasized enough: Nagy has called plays in just six NFL games.
It’s hard to tell if Pace has incredible courage and vision, bad judgment or handcuffs on his wrists supplied by ownership.
It was inevitable that the Bears would turn to someone with no head coaching experience after breaking from tradition in 2015 and hiring Fox, who had led the Panthers and the Broncos to Super Bowl appearances. It seemed unlikely that they would want to pay big money to another pedigreed coach while still paying the previous coach.
A decent number of fans have reminded me that in 1982, George Halas hired a Cowboys assistant coach with no head coaching experience to be the Bears head coach. For a lot of still-genuflecting people, Mike Ditka is the answer to just about any question. But their point is taken.
If you’re looking for a more recent example of an NFL assistant coach with no offensive or defensive play-calling responsibilities, John Harbaugh got the Ravens job in 2008 despite having been the Eagles’ special teams coordinator and defensive backs coach for 10 seasons. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
If this feels like a roll of the dice, it’s because it is.
Monday’s news was an example of an NFL axiom: Whatever the previous coach was, do the opposite. So the Bears are replacing the 62-year-old Fox with the 39-year-old Nagy.
Older gives way to younger. Blander gives way to at least a bit more colorful.
Chiefs players have complimented Nagy for connecting with them on a personal level and for making Kansas City’s offense more innovative. Both those qualities will be valuable in dealing with Trubisky, who had an up-and-down rookie season and needs a bright mind to help him take the next step.
But there are other questions about Nagy that need answering:
Given his relatively short time in the NFL, does he know enough people to build a quality coaching staff?
What can he do with Trubisky that Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains couldn’t?
Wait, six games? Really?
The answers will come soon enough. In the meantime, man, does Nagy have a lot to prove to Chicago.