The life of an NFL coach is never easy. It’s an emotional rollercoaster predicated on wins and losses. For some, it’s a week-to-week existence in a “what have you done for me lately” league. In the case of Matt Nagy, his standing as the Chicago Bears head coach seems to fluctuate from play to play.
Nagy’s rise and fall (and rise again?) in Chicago have been equal parts remarkable and excruciating. In 2018, Nagy’s first season on the job, he led the Bears to a 12-4 record, an NFC North championship, and a home playoff game. He was the NFL’s Coach of the Year that season. It looked like Chicago had their guy; a long-term coach capable of steering the league’s oldest franchise into a new brand of winning football. He created expectations that we now know were unreasonable.
Remember: Nagy took over a team that was coming off of back-to-back horrendous seasons. In 2016, the Bears finished 3-13. They were rewarded with Mitchell Trubisky for their efforts. In 2017, the year before Nagy’s arrival, Chicago won just five games. Nagy looked like a wizard when he flipped the Bears into an NFC contender in just a few months.
So, yeah, he raised the bar. And he raised it to a level that he failed to meet in 2019 and 2020, seasons where the Bears weren’t terrible but weren’t great either. Chicago finished 2019 with an 8-8 record and sat home for the playoffs. In 2020, Nagy backed into a playoff berth as the seventh seed and final wild-card team from the NFC with, again, a .500 record.
Nagy entered the 2021 season as one of the coaches whose seat was, at the very least, warming up, but the selection of quarterback Justin Fields in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft felt like a get-out-of-jail card for him. Even if the Bears underperform in 2021, he’s going to get at least another year to work with Fields, right?
Nagy shredded that free pass with his handling of the quarterback situation in the first few weeks of the season. He refused to elevate Fields above veteran Andy Dalton on the depth chart, causing the loudest of talk show hosts and analysts to call for his job. It was ugly. But the twists and turns of Nagy’s tenure took another hard left when Dalton suffered a knee injury in Week 2, opening the door for Fields to start against the Browns in Week 3 and eventually earn the gig for good after Chicago’s win over the Detroit Lions in Week 4.
Nagy gave up play-calling duties along the way, too, which earned him a hat-tip of sorts from critics who assumed he was too stubborn to admit his game plans are terrible. With Bill Lazor calling plays and Fields’ role as the starting quarterback solidified, Nagy’s been able to do what he does best: build culture.
We’ve seen Nagy’s rah-rah style over the last few games and it’s infectious. Dare I say, he’s winning back the fans with every fist pump and emotional response.
Sure, Nagy hasn’t been the offensive guru he was hired to be, and the Bears have had some embarrassing performances on that side of the ball under his watch. But it could be worse. His career record sits at 31-22, and his winning percentage (59%) ranks third in franchise history among coaches with at least 50 games on the sidelines.
The calls for Nagy to go haven’t been as loud amidst the Bears’ two-game winning streak, but they haven’t completely gone away either. There’s still a large—very large—faction of the fan base that wants him fired regardless of how this season plays out.
Maybe that’s a bit unfair, but so too is the career Nagy’s chosen.