So first of all, I’m back.
My course at the school where I work is wrapping up and I’ve got a bit more time to write than I have had for most of this season. I will probably have to go through the same thing in August and September next year when I am course director of another new course but then after that I hope more time will be available to have some fun during the year.
Since my last post, the Bears have fired John Fox and hired new head coach Matt Nagy. Here are some thoughts.
Why Not Someone with a Little Experience?
I wasn’t overly happy about this hire. I don’t have anything against it but at the same time I’m not too thrilled with it or the process by which it came about, either.
What I see here is manifestation of something that I see a lot around the league. When you have a change in leadership in a front office and/or in a coaching staff you go out and hire the exact opposite of what you had before. I don’t know if that was exactly called for here.
I don’t mind that they hired an offensive head coach (as opposed to the defensive Fox) and I think it is generally a really good idea to hire a head coach with a background in coaching quarterbacks. It’s quarterback-centric league. But I wouldn’t have hired yet another first time head coach who is super young just because the last guy was experienced and older. It has all the markings of an over-reaction to the problems of the previous situation.
John Fox was on his third head coaching job and he’d already gotten the simple mistakes out of the system before the Bears hired him. That’s not to say that all of the decisions that he made were good ones. It probably didn’t help that he was a conservative head coach and that was, debatably, hurting the development of rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky. But the decision that really hurt him the most was his choice of offense coordinator. Dowell Loggains, as Mike Mulligan at the Chicago Tribune put it, ran an offense with plays but little in the way of scheme. That, along with the lack of talent at wide receiver on that side of the ball, resulted in a fairly low offensive output.
So I’m not saying that experience is everything. But it certainly can help avoid a lot of the problems that Matt Nagy is likely to run into in his first head-coaching job.
So if it were me, I’d have preferred to go with someone with more experience like Josh McDaniels or Pat Shurmur. Whether McDaniels wanted to come Chicago and leave a plum job with the Patriots is debatable. But my gut is telling me that they could’ve persuaded Shurmur to come here if they tried and had been willing to wait a little bit (see below).
Are All the Wrong Things All the Right Things? We’ll Find Out.
As it is the Bears have got a 39 year old head coach to go with an inexperienced, 40 year old general manager who is frankly doing many of the things that over the years I have been told are all of the wrong things for general managers to do.
The first prime example of that is falling in love with Trubisky to the point where in the 2017 draft he arguably traded away picks to move from #3 overall to #2 overall when he actually didn’t have to. Pace fell for Trubisky so hard that he felt that he had to do that if there was even the smallest chance that he might not be able to get him.
Conventional wisdom says that you don’t fall in love with draft prospects. First rounders are a 50:50 proposition whether you have fallen in love with them or not. To some extent, you have to let the chips fall where they may and do the common sense thing.
So it was somewhat disconcerting to see Pace do the exact same thing again when hiring his head coach. Pace obviously felt that he had to rush to hire Matt Nagy in part because the Indianapolis Colts might have been interested. Colts general manager Chris Ballard has a history with Nagy through his Kansas City connections so this does make some sense but at the same time, conventional wisdom says that you take your time when you’re hunting for a head coach. You make your move only after you’re absolutely sure that you got the right guy. You don’t rush it.
My guess is that the Bears also hurried this hire in part they wanted to get first crack at the assistant coaches that they wanted. Again, conventional wisdom says not to do that. Whatever else you say about John Fox, he assembled a pretty good staff in Chicago. He was able to do it, not because he rushed the process, but because he’s been around the league a lot and knows a lot of people. He has a lot of connections.
Assembling a staff is probably the most important thing you’ll do as a head coach. If you hire the right guy, he’ll do it right. On the other hand, does a young guy like Nagy who has only been a coach since 2008 (and even then it was it as an intern) and who has only worked for one organization going to have the connections to hire the right people to to get onto the staff? We’ll find out when the boys hit the field.
The Good: Copying the Rams Model
On the generally positive side, there are a lot of similarities in this hiring to what the Rams did when they hired Sean McVay last year.
Part of the plan in Los Angeles was to get a really good, experienced defensive coordinator to pair with him. In the case of the Rams, that was Wade Phillips, arguably the best there is right now.
In the Bears case, that guy is Vic Fangio and that’s probably another reason for rushing this hire, perhaps the only legitimate one. Fangio was under contract with the Bears until Tuesday and getting Nagy hired quickly gave them a chance to get an offer to Fangio on the record before he started titling to other teams. The end result was that he was hired, presumably as head coach of the defense.
Could they have found a good offensive coordinator if Fangio had turned them down? Probably. And probably they shouldn’t have rushed this hire just to get him. But having said that, it will be nice for the players to have the continuity and presumably it keeps much of the defensive staff intact. If nothing else, its a proven group.
Finally, and most importantly, they got a good young quarterback-centric head coach. A guy who, presumably, will be Chicago’s McVay. Pace almost certainly had a picture in his mind of what he was looking for and that picture presumably looked allot like Sean Payton. Certainly their backgrounds are similar as each was a borderline professional quarterback, Payton as a replacement during the NFL strike in 1982, Nagy as an arena league quarterback. But the similarities end there as Payton was far more accomplished as an offensive coordinator when the Saints hired him as their head coach than Nagy is now. We shall see if Nagy has Payton’s “fire in the belly.”
Hiring Nagy could be as good for Trubisky as hiring McVay was for Jared Goff. Assuming that Nagy runs an offense similar to what Andy Reid does in Kansas City, we’re looking at a highly structured West Coast offense where a lot of the quarterback’s decisions will be mapped out. Its a quarterback friendly offense where Trubisky will always know what to do and will have options to get the team into the right play.
Trubisky came to the Bears with a reputation for being very accurate and we have seen flashes of that on occasion. The football cognoscente believe that if he develops consistent mechanics, he’ll be a good, accurate, precision passer that will hit many of the easy, short passes that the West Coast offense can provide consistently.
Nagy’s also got a reputation for being able to adapt to the characteristics of his quarterback. He should be able to do better job than Loggains did of taking advantage of Trubisky’s mobility. We’ll probably see a lot more will roll outs and boot legs that will allow slower developing pass plays to take place and Trubisky to take off and run if he needs to.
Nagy did a nice job with Alex Smith and, probably more to the point, Pat Mahommes in Kansas City. We can hope that he brings that same expertise here and that Trubisky becomes all that the current regime thinks he can be.
If he does, then the process of hiring Nagy will be characterized as “decisive” by future critics. But for now, it feels like the Bears are going to have to be a lot luckier than usual to have found the right guy in such a rushed manner.