There are few things I have found more puzzling in all my years covering the NFL and the Chicago Bears than the narrative that developed among some members of the media and a surprisingly large and vocal number of Bears fans that head coach Matt Nagy’s job is in jeopardy.
One pundit has already predicted a 3-13 season, although what that might be based on is anybody’s guess.
Obviously coaches begin every season knowing it could be their last for a number of reasons – some under their control and others that aren’t – but reality is that barring a complete collapse this season, Bears management is quite happy with Nagy.
As well they should be.
Records of 12-5 and 8-8 and an NFL Coach of the Year Award in a first-time head coach’s first two years is an excellent start.
The reason Nagy takes a beating in some quarters is he was brought to Chicago as an offensive guru tasked with bringing the Bears long dormant offense into the 21st century, and the great bulk of his first 20 wins as a head coach have been earned primarily because of one of the best defenses in the NFL.
That slant is amplified by Nagy’s hands off approach to his defense, having turned it over almost completely to two of the games best defensive coordinators in Vic Fangio and Chuck Pagano.
There is also a perception in some quarters that Nagy’s insistence on calling his own plays and that the TV cameras most often catch him with his head buried in his play sheet could be affecting his performance as a game and clock manager.
Perhaps the biggest issue Nagy critics focus on though is a seeming disaffection for the run game.
While I know that is not true, and Nagy would gladly run the ball more if his team could do it more effectively, he has created plenty of doubt as to whether or not he knows how to blend the run with the pass productively.
All of those concerns would be fair if Nagy was the offensive coordinator, but he isn’t. He’s the head coach.
His team didn’t go 12-5 in 2018 because they were lucky or solely because they had the best defense in the NFL, – which they did – a huge part of it and perhaps the most important part was as a rookie he inherited a dead locker room that had tuned out his predecessor, John Fox, and created a culture that had his players dying to play for him and free agents around the league anxious to come and join them.
That hasn’t changed.
It played a large part in Nagy getting his team to rebound from a 4-6 start last year and significant injuries on both sides of the ball – something he didn’t have to deal with in 2018 – to salvage a .500 campaign with their only losses the rest of the way to the 12-4 Chiefs and 13-3 Packers.
In addition to having the culture-building part of the job down pat, he has also shown tremendous creativity, although at times he may try and get a little too cute.
The question now is what has Nagy learned from his first two seasons?
He has clearly realized some things will have to change immediately, starting with one of his most heavily criticized beliefs that his starters don’t need to play in the preseason.
Nagy told us all the way back at the combine that both Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles will play in preseason games if they are played this year, and a couple of weeks ago he told ESPN radio, “That's one of the things that I look back at from last year that I'm not happy about that I made a decision to do in the preseason.
"No. 1, I think it's good for them to have it, but No. 2, it sets the mentality. So that's not going to happen this year."
Nagy has also made significant changes among his assistants this offseason almost completely retooling the offensive side of his staff.
At the end of the day it is unlikely Nagy won’t be back in Chicago next year and beyond based on his body of work to date, and if he isn’t, it is a lot more likely to be a result of one or some of those things out of his control – more than anything that he can control.
The guy is a good football coach. Of course, good enough for fans and media alike is always a whole other question.