Bears have no reason to wait to fire Matt Nagy until after the season

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  • Matt Nagy
    Matt Nagy
    American football coach

If the Chicago Bears have made up their minds on the fate of head coach Matt Nagy, there's little reason for them to delay what feels like the inevitable.

Let the man go.

No, this isn't a snow-blinded suggestion after Sunday's late, spirited comeback win over the Seattle Seahawks. And it's not a reactionary take for a coach who won 15 of his first 20 regular-season games but has gone 18-25 since.

Nagy had to feel like he was coaching for his life when he made the decision to go for two after the Bears cut it to a one-point game with just over a minute left. Clutch Nick Foles came through, too, hitting Damiere Byrd for one of the wildest two-point grabs you'll see, giving the Bears the one-point edge that stood as the winning margin.

Good for Nagy. He deserved that. He has had a rough few years. He got to knock Pete Carroll out of the playoffs and know that his guys fought really, really hard for him with his fate at a flashpoint.

In the end, however, this game shouldn't matter for his fate. If you wanted to fire Nagy yesterday, you should still want to fire him tomorrow. Beating a 5-10 team can't carry that much weight. The Bears brought Nagy back mercifully last year after they backed their way into the playoffs. All that move did was kick the can down the road. We're essentially in the same spot with Nagy that we were then.

Would it spell out how brutal this business is, firing Nagy immediately after their best win in recent memory? Absolutely. But there's a competitive advantage to doing so Monday. 

The new NFL rules this season governing head-coaching interviews, enacted at the owners meetings this offseason, allow teams with vacancies to conduct those interviews as soon as Tuesday (with a few stipulations).

The bottom line is any team wishing to take advantage of those new rules must not have their head coach in place anymore. Two teams — the Las Vegas Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars — currently meet those requirements.

The Bears need to join them, again if they've decided to move on. Others might follow suit. There could be, as there are most years, several head-coaching vacancies. Better to kick-start the process now than fall behind.

Why might the Bears drag their feet on this, you ask?

Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy heads toward the field against the Seattle Seahawks before the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)
Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy heads toward the field against the Seattle Seahawks. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Well, for one, say what you will about Nagy as a coach and his results on the field, but he's been a good ambassador for the franchise in many respects. He's a well-liked person by the club's employees and hasn't done anything embarrassing off the field — something you can't say about the two current teams with head-coaching openings.

Also, the Bears have never fired a coach before the conclusion of the season in their 100-plus years as a franchise. It's a source of pride in a way. They stuck with Marc Trestman during an embarrassing 5-11 season in 2014. They didn't can John Fox until after a brutal 2017 season. 

Perhaps there was nobility in that once upon a time. Times have changed. Waiting until Black Monday out of respect is now antiquated, and the Bears can't worry about doing Nagy wrong. Firing him after this game should help make the process of replacing him that much easier.

Plus, for Nagy, wouldn't he want to walk now with his over-.500 record (33-30) and a chance to get a head start on finding his own new gig? All parties benefit. Nothing that happens in Weeks 17 or 18 should change what we already know about Nagy in Chicago.

There also have been reports that the Bears might be considering other sweeping changes. Team chairman George McCaskey technically calls the shots, and that might include the fates of team president Ted Phillips and general manager Ryan Pace.

If they're going to go that direction, getting early legwork done on the head-coaching candidates might be even more important. Halas Hall could be a very busy place come early January.

There are limits on who the Bears could talk to this week

If the Bears decide to take advantage of the new rules — and they have until early Tuesday morning to do so — they might not be able to talk to everyone on their coaching wish list.

The Bears can talk to only assistant coaches or college coaches at this point. Current NFL head coaches with jobs will remain off limits until Jan. 10, the day after the end of the regular season. (Interim head coaches, however, are technically allowed to interview.)

They also can talk only virtually with the eligible candidates, and there's a two-hour limit to the online chats.

Teams also can deny head-coaching interviews for their assistants, so it's no guarantee that the Bears will be able to check off all the names on their list.

But again, why wait? Even if they can have only brief, getting-to-know-you chats with a few potential candidates, it behooves them to start the process. They can see how engaged the candidates are. They can gather their feelings on Justin Fields, their approaches to analytics, how much say over the roster and personnel decisions they'll seek (and whether they want to work with Pace and the rest of the front office if they're still part of the picture). 

They can compare answers to the next time they speak. Or perhaps they can eliminate potential options if they don't like what they hear, even in a brief session. There's quite a bit that can be accomplished, even in these limited interviews.

Whoever is doing the interviewing, it must be done better

The Bears' recent head-coaching searches have been strange and convoluted. This is something they should aspire to prevent happening.

Former GM Phil Emery crisscrossed the country in 2013 after the Lovie Smith firing, interviewing a whopping 20 (!) potential replacements before settling on Trestman. Before hiring Fox, the Bears talked about bringing in Gary Kubiak and (!!) Mike Shanahan; neither ended up making it to Halas Hall for interviews. 

And after Fox was canned, they spoke to five candidates — including then-defensive coordinator Vic Fangio — prior to sitting down with Nagy, who was the Kansas City Chiefs' offensive coordinator at the time. His interview came less than 24 hours that year after the Chiefs were upset at home in the playoffs against Tennessee. 

We don't know if it was the tipping point, or how much he emphasized it during that chat in K.C., but Nagy reportedly liked then-rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky, whom Pace had just traded up to draft less than nine months prior.

The symmetry here is undeniable. The Bears then, as it is now, were not the most attractive head-coaching opening that year. But they had a moldable first-year quarterback taken high in the draft, in whom the Bears had sunk a wealth of assets to land. They also had a front-office structure that not all the candidates were keen on.

Isn't that where we are now with Fields? The Bears have no reason to think Fields will turn out the way Trubisky did in Chicago, but it's fair to suggest the team's brass views Fields as one of the more attractive elements of this job opening.

Sure, some up-and-coming assistant could blow some smoke up the Bears brass' suits and say they love Fields and would do anything to work with him. Or perhaps there's a confident coach who gives Chicago an assertive roadmap on how to get the most out of its young QB after a frustrating but promising debut season.

Whatever the results, it's obvious: There's nothing gained by keeping Nagy past Monday — hard as a beat-up Bears roster seemed to play for its coach on the road — if the team has made up its mind on letting him go already.

The Bears might even be helping the guy by doing so. But the most fruitful part of his early termination, history be damned, is that they badly need to get the next hire right. That's the bottom line, and the century-long history of not making an in-season firing isn't worth keeping alit.

The Bears have always bathed in their history, and rightfully so to a degree. Tradition does matter, but only to a point. No Bears fan cares about holiday-season kindness. They care about finding a coach who can develop Fields and build another winner. That's it, and that's all that needs to matter.

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