Are the Chicago Bears just a few wise moves away from being as legitimate a contender as they were in 2018? Or are they in a potentially fatal slump that is threatening to spin out of control?
Both could be true, and clearly it is too early to say with certainty which it is.
Listen, whether you agree with me or not, I believe Ryan Pace and his front office staff have the talent and know how to build championship teams, and I believe Matt Nagy and a handful of his assistants may possess similar abilities.
The problem is three years in (I’m addressing just the Pace-Nagy era as John Fox was part of the problem, not the solution) the jury is still out on whether it’s ever going to happen for them in Chicago, and yet they are acting with a confidence and indifference to outside observation they haven’t earned, leaving many to worry the sky is indeed falling.
Obviously the six-game losing streak and 3-8 finish raised enough red flags to fully adorn a meeting of the Chinese Communist Party.
Then came the “Press Conference.”
As I’ve already written based on all I know of Pace and Nagy, the realities of what they accomplished in the NFL’s “COVID-19 season” and the special challenges of the next six months before even getting close to a 2021 season that would be magnified tremendously by a new G.M. fresh to that landscape, keeping them was the correct decision.
But that George McCaskey arrived on Zoom with basically no explanation as to why it was the correct decision, Pace and Nagy offered no answers whatsoever as to what they’re thinking about quarterback, Allen Robinson, offensive line and pass rush needs, etc., and that Ted Phillips was invited at all – to the Zoom that is – was an unmitigated disaster.
Quickly thereafter came the news that defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano was retiring, a decision Nagy and Pace must at least have had some inkling was coming and yet by all appearances they were totally unprepared for.
Why, you ask?
Sean Desai may very well prove to be the next Bill Belichick, and I really I hope he does because he seems like a really bright, engaging, quality young man. And we all want what’s best for good people and for Bears fans.
But do six seasons as a defensive quality control coach and two seasons as the safeties coach really scream top candidate?
At the time Pagano retired there were a bunch of excellent candidates including Dan Quinn, Gus Bradley, Raheem Morris, Matt Patricia, Dean Pees, Wade Phillips, Lovie Smith, etc., and by all accounts the Bears showed interest in none of them.
Names we did hear, including James Bettcher, George Edwards and Mike Singletary, were about as exciting as Wonder Bread.
So here is the real question:
Are Nagy and Pace just smarter than most or are they acting with an arrogance and nonchalance that there is simply no reason to trust?
Look at last years offensive coaching overhaul. This is nothing against Bill Lazor, Juan Castillo, Clancy Barone and John DiFilippo, all fine football coaches. But there was at the time when the first three were actually out of the league. There is now nothing to suggest they were better than the people they replaced or that they were the top candidates.
Add that in the case of “Flip,” the guy he displaced, Dave Ragone is now the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons.
Even more disturbing than losing “Rags,” – a super guy for whom I wish nothing but Super rings – quality coaches like Jay Rodgers and Charles London are leaving to make lateral moves to other staffs.
What does it tell us about what in this case Nagy is doing?
It appears he may be more interested in surrounding himself with people he’s comfortable with, steeped in “his system” than seeking out the best talent best suited to improve his team, systems be damned.
I could be wrong. I really hope I am, but what I think I’m seeing is a Bears hierarchy acting with a comfort and confidence it’s done nothing to earn, that is unlikely to yield the results they yearn for, and best case, does little or nothing to offer hope to the fan base they are supposed to serve.