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Matt Nagy Couldn't Recapture the Magic of His First Season in Chicago

He was lauded for creativity during the Bears' 12-win 2018 season. But after a downturn with Mitchell Trubisky and one season with Justin Fields, the Bears were ready to move on.

The Bears parted ways with coach Matt Nagy on Monday after four seasons, a 34–31 record and two trips to the playoffs, neither of which produced any wins. Nagy came to Chicago as one of the first high-profile branches from the Andy Reid Midwestern tree and won the NFL’s Coach of the Year award in his first season. Early on, Nagy earned praise for his unorthodox, creative play-calling methods and creative usage of role players who had stagnated under previous staffs in Chicago. Mitch Trubisky, believed to be a failed prospect, played his best career football under Nagy, completing 65% of his passes over three years, with a touchdown to INT ratio of 57:30.

Nagy’s tenure certainly had its high points, riding the tailwind of a Vic Fangio defense and the newly acquired Khalil Mack to some early success. Despite a painful missed field goal in his first season, which ended a 12-win regular season campaign in the wild-card round, the Bears managed to stay relevant in the NFC North over the following two seasons, finishing 8–8 in 2019 and ’20, and backing into the playoffs last year before losing to the Saints.

WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG?

Ultimately, it was Nagy’s scramble to balance a woefully undermanned roster with the demands of developing rookie quarterback Justin Fields that did him in. That, and the loss of Fangio, who left Nagy’s staff to become the head coach of the Broncos. The Bears were never truly the same team after losing Fangio, but maintained enough competence to steal some notable wins and make another playoff appearance. When a team trades up for a franchise quarterback, it immediately starts a countdown clock on a coach’s tenure. History may prove Nagy a better coach than he received credit for given the state of the roster, but optically, we tend to place all of the player development burden onto the head coach.

Matt Nagy coaches vs. the Seahawks.

Matt Nagy couldn't build on a successful first season in Chicago.

WAS IT THE RIGHT MOVE?

Maybe? I don’t think, at our core, any of us are fans of watching someone lose their job. But the timid response here is more of an honest reflection on the situation. Could Nagy have overcoached a bad roster with a developing offensive line and a serious lack of playmaking talent on offense? Maybe. Could Nagy have mismanaged certain situations, left his team dangerously unprepared to support the needs of a rookie quarterback and locked his team into a downward spiral this season? Maybe. This could be one of those jobs where the general football world didn’t quite understand the depth of the issues until the next coach also comes in and struggles, a little like Todd Bowles and the Jets before Adam Gase took over. This could also be a job like the one Sean McVay inherited in Los Angeles, where we all look at the roster and wonder how the hell they were .500 for so long.

Nagy is going to land somewhere immediately as a quarterbacks coach or a coordinator, and with Doug Pederson staffing up for a head coaching run, could prove to be a valuable piece of a big-time hire elsewhere. Regardless of his reputation with the media, he seemed to project as someone who cared about his staff and players. His shielding of Trubisky after an in-game benching a few years back showcased a particularly tender moment where Nagy looked gutted having to make a change. If I’m a player, that goes a long way with me.

WHO WILL REPLACE HIM?

While Bears Twitter seems to be obsessed with the idea of bringing in Sean Payton, I wouldn’t dream that big. It is highly unlikely Chicago will land a home run hire here, especially if Ryan Pace maintains a hold on the front office job. Coaches have so much power now, and few of them are going to waste what may be their only shot at a head coaching gig on a job that comes with an already embattled general manager. Ohio State coach Ryan Day has also been tied to this role, but based on conversations with power brokers inside the coach hiring world, it would be quite surprising to see another collegiate hire coming out this year. The issues with Matt Rhule’s Panthers and the spectacular collapse of the Urban Meyer Jaguars make it highly unlikely that a franchise would dip into the NCAA ranks again.

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I would have put Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels No. 1 on this list but McDaniels is so, so cautious about what will be his final head coaching opportunity. If he was scared off by the Colts a few years ago, the organizational setup in Chicago would absolutely give him pause.

A first guess here? Colleague Albert Breer floated Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier as a potential name. It’s about time Frazier gets another chance, having piloted a quarterback-less Vikings team to some success in Minnesota before getting fired. Frazier is beloved by ownership in Buffalo and would come highly recommended elsewhere.

Here are some other directions we might take it:

Patrick Graham, defensive coordinator, Giants: I realize you’re all throwing things at your computer screen right now but … BUT … Graham is coaching really well on a bad staff. Plain and simple. The Giants are in a tough spot right now, but Graham was up for jobs in 2020 and has done his best with the bare minimum in East Rutherford. The Bears’ ownership group could think past the obvious and buy low on a coach who had an interview opportunity last year, worked under Bill Belichick and Brian Flores and has gotten the most out of a roster that appears to be completely flaming out right now in New York. Graham, a Yale graduate, had one of the best run defenses in the NFL last year.

Byron Leftwich, offensive coordinator, Buccaneers: This would be a tough first job for Leftwich, and perhaps he’d be advised against taking it. However, the Bears need someone to steer Justin Fields, and while many are panning Leftwich’s candidacy because of his association with Tom Brady, shouldn’t they see it as an advantage? Brady almost has a coaching tree unto himself. Say what you will about the results, but I would like to work with McDaniels right now. I’d probably let Bill O’Brien coordinate an offense if I had an opening (and the Jaguars are considering him for their head coaching vacancy as we speak).

Raheem Morris, defensive coordinator, Rams: Despite a consistently tough schedule and an implodable set of star players, Morris has kept the Rams’ defense as one of the league’s better units. While there was a noticeable drop off after the departure of Brandon Staley, Morris had a different set of variables to contend with. His ability to right the ship as an interim coach for the Falcons put him back on the radar for 2022 vacancies. Time with Sean McVay should further his candidacy and send him along with a viable and exciting OC candidate.

More NFL Coverage:

Mike Zimmer and the Vikings' Era of What Could Have Been
Vic Fangio Firing Highlights Broncos' Biggest Flaw
Mac Jones’s First Impression
Why Sean Payton Should Consider Moving On From the Saints