The Matt Nagy era in Chicago is nearing its end. It's not a matter of "if" -- it's more of "when" at this point. Will it be the end of the season or will it be mid-season? It's never been the organization's style to remove a head coach mid-season. However, there should always be an exception to the rule and Matt Nagy might be that exception.
Sure, worse Bears' head coaches in years past have had the luxury of finishing the season. Marc Trestman immediately comes to mind. How can it get any worse than him? One can argue there's more at stake now. The Bears have probably their best quarterback prospect in decades in the building and his development is critical. It's evident after a few games that Nagy and his coaches are not the ones to bring Justin Fields along and take him where he needs to go.
That is the main focus now for the Chicago Bears organization. Get the most out of Justin Fields. The Bears have been in quarterback hell since Sid Luckman. Yes, they've had a few decent QBs here and there, e.g. Jim McMahon, Erik Kramer, and Jay Cutler. But that isn't good enough, especially in the modern-day NFL where the QB is everything. Just look at the Bears' rivals 200 miles to the north. The Packers have enjoyed three decades of elite QB play, which helped flip the script in the rivalry.
The Matt Nagy Era
The visor-wearing, smooth-talking, happy-go-lucky head coach was hired on January 8, 2018. The Bears brought him in to be an offensive guru. General manager Ryan Pace tabbed Nagy to develop a raw Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears' offense into a 21st-century product. Nagy also received the task of putting a rebuilding roster over the top after three years of John Fox and Dowell Loggains.
In 2018, Nagy found success. He led the Bears to a 12-4 record and an NFC North title, Chicago's first division crown in eight years. Although, just a week later he fell flat in the Wild Card game as his offense could only muster 15 points. Nagy was primarily carried by a Vic Fangio-led defense, one which was historically good.
Here is where the 2018 Bears ranked in DVOA:
- Total DVOA: 5th
- Offensive DVOA: 20th
- Defensive DVOA: 1st
- Special Teams DVOA: 26th
Additionally, here is how the 2018 Bears stacked up in significant team stats:
- Offensive Points: 9th
- Offensive Yards: 21st
- Defensive Points: 1st
- Defensive Yards: 3rd
In 2019, Nagy's team saw a significant drop-off. First, Fangio left to become a head coach in Denver. As a result, Nagy hired Chuck Pagano as a replacement after nearly landing Todd Bowles. Nonetheless, the 2019 Chicago Bears struggled mightily on offense and saw a slight decline on defense. Those factors resulted in a four-game losing streak mid-season. Consequently, the Bears finished the season with an 8-8 record and missed the playoffs.
Now, here is where the Bears ranked in DVOA in 2019:
- Total DVOA: 18th
- Offensive DVOA: 25th
- Defensive DVOA: 10th
- Special Teams DVOA: 13th
Likewise, here is where the 2019 Bears ranked per Pro-Football-Reference:
- Offensive Points: 29th
- Offensive Yards: 29th
- Defensive Points: 4th
- Defensive Yards: 8th
Entering his third year and coming off a down season, Nagy and co. traded for veteran quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles. The head coach also fired his offensive line coach and offensive coordinator. These moves reeked of desperation and a head coach attempting to save himself.
When the season got underway, it did not take long for Nagy to pull the plug on Trubisky -- only two and a half games and a 2-0 record, to be exact. However, Nagy did not have the courage to tell the quarterback himself. He sent in Bill Lazor to do his dirty work. Ultimately, the Foles experiment was a disaster and Nagy was forced to go back to Trubisky thanks to an injury. Despite starting 5-1, the Bears hit a six-game skid. But they were able to salvage their season after the offense dominated three woeful teams and made themselves look like world-beaters.
The Bears finished the season 8-8 once again but snuck into the playoffs this time around thanks to some help from the Los Angeles Rams in Week 17. Nevertheless, the Bears were bounced in the Wild Card game by the New Orleans Saints, a contest in which the offense looked lifeless.
Here is where the 2020 Bears ranked in DVOA:
- Total DVOA: 15th
- Offensive DVOA: 25th
- Defensive DVOA: 8th
- Special Teams DVOA: 8th
In addition, here is how the 2020 Bears stacked up in major team statistics:
- Offensive Points: 22nd
- Offensive Yards: 26th
- Defensive Points: 14th
- Defensive Yards: 11th
2021 Offseason Changes
Entering the fourth year of the Matt Nagy era, he and Ryan Pace went all out in the offseason to find their quarterback after letting Mitch Trubisky walk in free agency. All in all, the Bears looked near and far and left no stone unturned in their search. Ultimately, they settled for Andy Dalton, which pushed Nick Foles aside after trading for him a year prior and taking on his contract. A few months later, they swung big yet again. They traded up from pick No. 20 to 11 in the draft and selected Justin Fields.
Additionally, the defense saw a new but familiar face. Following Chuck Pagano's retirement, Nagy hired longtime Bears assistant coach Sean Desai to run the defense.
2021: Andy Dalton
From the get-go, Nagy botched the handling of Justin Fields. He announced that Andy Dalton was going to be the starting quarterback from the moment the veteran signed and doubled down after drafting Fields. Nagy gave Fields the necessary snaps and reps during training camp and preseason, but hardly any with the first-team offense.
Then, the fourth-year head coach officially deemed Dalton the starter but gave Fields a few plays in a specific package. Ultimately, Dalton suffered a knee injury and Nagy was forced to go with Fields but remained non-committal about the starting QB going forward. At this point, Nagy said that Dalton would resume his role as starting QB once he was healthy.
2021: Justin Fields
Now, in a total 180, Nagy finally gave Fields the keys to the car and named him the starter going forward. Since then, Nagy has hardly done anything to help Fields grow and develop. Actually, he's done more harm than good. Instead of catering an offensive around Justin Fields' strengths, Nagy is trying to make Fields fit his version of the offense -- a classic case of the square peg in a round hole.
But that's not all. Nagy has done seemingly nothing positive in a critical phase of Fields' development. Since taking over as the starter, Fields has looked worse and worse every week. Meanwhile, Nagy continues to spew hot garbage and word salad week in and week out when pressed about the shortcomings.
Now through seven games, the Bears are 3-4 with a gauntlet of a schedule. The cherry on top was Aaron Rodgers telling the Bears and their fans that he owns them. As a follow-up, Tom Brady laid a lopsided beating on Chicago after backing Rodgers and his smack talk.
To make matters even worse, the Bears have scored only 101 total points in seven contests for an average of 14.43 points per game. This doesn't bode well for fourth-year head coach Matt Nagy. Despite handing over play-calling duties to Bill Lazor, the offense still looks anemic. But the issue isn't just play-calling. In fact, the struggles are a product of Nagy's system and offense.
So far this season, here is where the Bears stand in terms of DVOA:
- Total DVOA: 24th
- Offensive DVOA: 29th
- Defensive DVOA: 8th
- Special Teams DVOA: 10th
Furthermore, here is when the 2021 Bears rank so far this season according to Pro-Football-Reference:
- Offensive Points: 30th
- Offensive Yards: 32nd
- Defensive Points: 11th
- Defensive Yards: 14th
There's no doubt Nagy has not been what the Bears were hoping him to be. The offensive guru has been anything but one. If anyone needs evidence of it, look at the scoring breakdown from his first three seasons. Matt Nagy's ego and stubbornness have clouded his assessment of the actual issues. Thus, he keeps searching for the "why" behind his team's struggles. Spoiler alert: it's always been him.
Overall, the Nagy era of Bears football has been downhill since 2018. The dysfunction and incompetency have been a slow burn. However, much of it gets masked by Nagy's smooth-talking nature and ability to word salad his way out of blame. Furthermore, Nagy has constantly led us to believe everyone is to blame except for him. But the proof is in the pudding. He's had two offensive coordinators (Helfrich, Lazor), three defensive coordinators (Fangio, Pagano, Desai), and five quarterbacks (Trubisky, Daniel, Foles, Dalton, and Fields). Despite so much turnover, nothing has changed. If anything, it's gotten worse.
Here is a recap of how Nagy's teams have ranked in each phase by season.
Special Teams DVOA
Matt Nagy is 31-24 overall as head coach of the Chicago Bears. Not included is his 0-2 record in the playoffs. However, his record is misleading since his expertise is offense and he has failed miserably on that end. It's no secret that the defense has carried the Bears since 2018. With that being said, Nagy's fool's gold of a record might be a saving grace for him, especially when it comes to the McCaskeys and Ted Phillips.
However, if Ryan Pace was smart and wanted to save his job, the best course of action would be to distance himself from Nagy as soon as possible. He got a second chance at drafting a quarterback and it's very likely he wants a second chance* at getting the head coaching position right.
*We're not including John Fox in this discussion. Pace was a rookie general manager and Fox was a safe, stopgap pick as a bridge head coach, though he happened to help rebuild the culture.
As things currently stand, firing Nagy is inevitable. It's just a matter of timing.
It's not customary for the Bears to fire a head coach in the middle of a campaign, but do they want to waste an entire season of Justin Fields on a rookie deal only to have him start over again with a new offense and coach next year? Have they not learned their lesson with Trubisky?
When Can They Do It?
The Bears have a golden opportunity ahead of them to part ways with Nagy. Following a Week 9 contest in Pittsburgh, they have a bye week. That would be the perfect time to cut bait. That arrangement would provide the team with two weeks to figure out and prepare the interim head coach. Justin Fields would get two weeks to reset and work with the interim coach to sort out an idealized game plan. Furthermore, it still gives Fields half of a season to learn, grow, and develop heading into 2022 rather than having to waste an entire season under Nagy and start from scratch.
As for the Bears, it would be a courageous move that breaks the norm they're accustomed to. It would be a fantastic PR move for the team. While proving they're seriously invested in Fields and the future, it would also allow them an entire week to go silent without addressing it due to the bye week.
Of course, Bears fans want Matt Nagy gone today. Who doesn't? But realistically, that won't happen. The next two games are crucial. Wins over the 49ers and Steelers might change things in terms of Nagy's future. However, if the Bears lose those games? A bye-week firing becomes a lot more feasible and palatable.
At the end of the day, focusing on 2021 is short-term thinking. It doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. It's really all about Justin Fields, 2022, and beyond. If Aaron Rodgers leaves the Packers this offseason, then the door is wide open for the NFC North and the goal is to be the team reigning supreme over the next 10-15 years.