Is there anything worse than a lame duck? The person who everyone knows it’s just a matter of time before they’re out of whatever position they hold? In football, being a lame-duck head coach is about as bad as it gets, especially for a team like the Chicago Bears that have quality young players to build a roster around yet no clear leader on the sideline capable of getting the job done.
It feels like Matt Nagy is in that lame-duck season right now. At 3-6 and with little chance at qualifying for the postseason, the Bears need a miraculous second-half surge for Nagy to keep his job. But think about it: Chicago has to go 6-2 over the final eight games just to finish one game above .500. And unlike the last two years, 8-8 isn’t an option in 2021. With the uneven 17-game schedule, there’s a strong likelihood that the Bears will finish with a losing record for the first time in Nagy’s tenure.
That losing record couldn’t come at a worse time for Nagy, who’s in his fourth year as the Bears’ head coach. There are several quality head coaching candidates waiting for an opportunity this offseason, and if Chicago wants to hit the reset button around Justin Fields, they’ll have to strike on their next coach sooner than later.
Let’s get this out of the way: I don’t want Nagy to lose his job in the same way I don’t want anyone to suffer through that scary and anxious feeling of being unemployed. But this is the NFL and coaching hirings and firings come with the territory. Nagy is trending in the wrong direction this year and it’s time to start considering who the top potential candidates will be if the Bears’ decision-makers decide it’s time to make a change.
Here are three coaches who’d make fantastic hires.
Brian Daboll, OC, Buffalo Bills
Daboll, 46, cut his coaching teeth in the Bill Belichick system with the New England Patriots in 2000, initially on the defensive side of the ball before moving to offense in 2002 as the wide receivers coach. He left for the New York Jets in 2006 where he served as quarterbacks coach and had his first stint as an offensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns in 2009. He held the same position with the Miami Dolphins in 2011, the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012, and then back to the Patriots in 2013—albeit not as the OC—and was part of New England’s coaching staff during their 2017 Super Bowl run.
Daboll left the NFL to work as Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator at Alabama for the 2017-18 season before returning to the pros as the Bills’ OC.
Daboll’s learned from some of the best football minds in the game. What’s most impressive about his resume, however, is the work he’s done with Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who under Daboll’s tutelage has matured into one of the NFL’s top talents. The Bears need a coach who can make a similar impact on Fields, making Daboll a logical top choice.
Byron Leftwich, OC, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Leftwich, 41, is a former quarterback and first-round pick of the 2003 NFL draft (Jacksonville Jaguars) who parlayed a solid playing career into a coaching career that’s ascended into the head coach conversation.
Leftwich’s coaching career didn’t begin until 2016 when he joined the Arizona Cardinals as an intern, but he’s quickly moved up the ranks since. He was hired by Bruce Arians to be the Cardinals’ quarterbacks coach in 2017 and was promoted to the team’s offensive coordinator in 2018. He lost his job after the season but reunited with Arians in Tampa Bay as the Buccaneers’ offensive coordinator. Paired with Tom Brady in 2020, Leftwich was calling plays for Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl win.
Leftwich is an intriguing candidate because he’s proven he can orchestrate a successful offense whether he has Jameis Winston or Brady behind center. His on-field experience as a former first-round quarterback certainly won’t hurt his ability to connect with Fields, and his aggressive style of play-calling would fit the rookie quarterback’s personality, too. He’ll be on the shortlist of candidates if Nagy gets axed.
Kellen Moore, OC, Dallas Cowboys
Moore, 33, will be one of the hot coaching names this offseason because let’s face it, the Cowboys garner more national attention than most teams, so if they’re successful, the coaches involved with that success will be elevated. But Moore won’t be an undeserving beneficiary of that success; he’s been a big part of it.
Moore retired as a player in 2018 and immediately became a critical piece of the Cowboys’ coaching staff. He was named quarterbacks coach following Wade Wilson’s retirement and was promoted to offensive coordinator just one season later in 2019. Now, two years later, Dallas’ offense ranks first in yards per game and first in points per game. For a team like the Bears that’s searching for help on offense, a candidate with Moore’s resume of production will be hard to resist.
Moore is the least experienced of the candidates on this list, however, and there’s a good chance Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will do whatever it takes this offseason (big pay raise) to make sure Moore knows he’ll be Mike McCarthy’s eventual replacement.