The fat lady isn’t singing yet, but she is warming up her vocal cords backstage.
Matt Nagy is not known for transparency. Sure he’ll wear his heart on his sleeve in-game, on the sideline, and sometimes in the post-game locker room, when the Bears were fortunate enough to score more points than the other team once the clock read all zeroes. He might preach the hows, the whats, and the whys to anyone willing to listen.
But he never divulges any more relevant details than he’s willing to let on. The man is the epitome of a human word salad: always insisting he has the answers when he’s failed while intentionally withholding information, without ever revealing what those solutions are.
With the Bears three games under .500 and two games out of a postseason spot, it’s possible we might be watching the last few faint gasps of the Matt Nagy era. The ensuing two months could be the last we ever hear of those obfuscating rhetorical questions. (Thank goodness on that note.) For once, Nagy doesn’t have to tell anyone what he’s feeling or how he views his team for everyone to be in on the gag. You don’t have to be a mind reader to know either.
It’s pressure. Unrelenting, nerve-wracking, fingernail-biting, pressure. A pressure that will only see reprieve through a few choice scenarios. His head-coaching career in Chicago is on the line, and there are a few select doors that Nagy and the Bears may walk into with time.
Scenario 1: The Bears go undefeated in the second half, Justin Fields plays like a consistent star quarterback, the Bears win a postseason game.
Nagy retention: Likely
There’s no better place to start this fortune-telling than with the least likely outcome. I could buy Fields lighting it up and having more than a few dynamite games through the rest of his rookie year. But if anyone thinks the Bears will not lose another game, with the remaining schedule they have and the glaring flaws they have not only as a roster but as a coaching staff, then I have a bridge to sell you over water in Arizona. (Psst, it’s scorched in Arizona.)
It’s not going to happen. I will eat every hat and scarf and pair of gloves I own if the Bears don’t lose another game this season.
Unfortunately, given the corner he’s painted himself into, I think this is the only potential scenario where Matt Nagy keeps his job. Even finishing undefeated doesn’t guarantee a future in Lake Forest if the Bears don’t advance past the first weekend of the playoffs. Nagy is too far in as a head coach, Year 4, not to show any significant progress in sudden death football.
If it’s any consolation, the Bears have played like a team that could, feasibly, win eight straight before in Nagy’s tenure. That would be none other than the now unfathomable 2018 season where from Halloween weekend on, the Bears won nine of 10 games. The difference is that the team was better in every phase and well-coached with some fancy New Coach Energy.
Nagy’s last saving grace three years later is an unmistakable fantasy now. But he needs it to happen if he wants a chance to continue wearing Bears-branded clothing on live camera every Sunday.
Scenario 2: The Bears lose a few more games and are eliminated but are competitive in the playoff picture until late December. Fields does not play like a consistent star but continues to show marked progress.
Nagy retention: Unlikely
Remember that corner I mentioned that Nagy was all-too-eager to paint? I was mainly referring to his handling of the quarterback.
On the whole, Fields has unquestionably been one of the NFL’s worst quarterbacks, statistically, this season. But after a few early rough patches, punctuated by a beatdown in Tampa Bay, it certainly looks as if Fields has begun to turn a corner following performances against San Francisco and Pittsburgh. He’s started to resemble the quarterback the Bears traded up to select last May, someone they could build around.
Unfortunately for Nagy, his:
A. Insistence on holding Fields off as a full-time starter until Week 4. and B. His offensive scheme that leaves a lot of easy plays off the field means he very likely won’t be able to enjoy the fruits of his labor long-term.
If Fields does begin to blossom more as the weather turns cold, I think it would be safe to say that no one above Nagy in the Bears’ hierarchy would give much credit for that performance. Despite making the public rounds on every talk show he could find in the spring to sing Fields’ praises, he later distanced himself too much from Fields for anyone to believe this is or can be a productive quarterback-head coach relationship.
We’ll never know what was going through Nagy’s mind in the late summer. But if he earnestly loved Fields as a player and still seriously thought he could make him go through with an entire redshirt season because of Andy Dalton, with this roster, with what he needed to accomplish as a coach in his fourth year, then his judgment isn’t sound. He’s not fit to coach the player that Fields can become or coach the Bears into a serious contender.
Fields playing well in most of the Bears’ remaining games is not enough to keep Nagy in a Bears headset.
Scenario 3: The Bears lose all steam and extend their four-game losing streak into or close to double digits by mid-December. Fields maintains a sense of competence here and then but is utterly overwhelmed.
Nagy retention: Unlikely
You’ve heard the oft-smug if biting refrain: The Bears have never fired a coach while there were meaningful games (tickets to be sold) still to be played. In over 100 years of existence, despite all of the unimpressive football minds that have stalked the Soldier Field sideline, they have never been let go until the regular season was definitively over.
Matt Nagy will not be the person to make infamous history, to break the mold of the Bears’ unearned politeness streak. Given their consistent ineptitude and desperation, I posit that Bears ownership views his 31 wins in 3.5 seasons as something of a modern Golden Era. No one in that mindset would ever fire a Golden Era coach prematurely.
The Bears would have to be an absolute disaster throughout the second half of the 2021 season for Nagy to be fired with games still on the docket. Wait, let me walk that back. They would have to be even more of a disaster for Nagy to be fired with games still on the docket.
If this is an outcome that you’d like to see especially, I will caution that the arguable worst Bears team of the modern era, the 2014 Bears, were a complete embarrassment on and off the field. They were humiliated week in and out and rife with internal controversy. A defensive tackle made death threats to active team employees and teammates! Marc Trestman was still not fired until Black Monday.
A few years later, the 2017 Bears won a mere five games for a more contemporary example. They were as listless, uninvested, and uninterested as their Football Guy coach, John Fox. Fox was, still, not dismissed until Black Monday.
The performance or internal controversy, in other words, has never been enough for the Bears to begin their search for a new head coach early. Nagy does have one interesting wrinkle that could go against him: Teetering offensive performances that start to border on long-term harm for Fields. This outcome didn’t happen with Fox and Mitchell Trubisky. If it happens with Fields, if there are more Cleveland or Tampa Bay outings where Fields is thrown to the pass rusher’s den because of a coach out of his wits, then I could see Nagy getting the pink slip around Christmas.
The Bears don’t have many things going for them right now, but Fields is their talisman. They are all-in on the player he could become and the heights he can help them climb. Nagy only survives to the end of the year with 100 percent certainty if the talisman doesn’t take too many scratches that leave an impression.