Matt Nagy was back at Halas Hall on Monday morning, still at the job he has held for four seasons and again behind a lectern, this time to discuss Sunday’s entertaining 25-24 upset of the Seattle Seahawks at Lumen Field.
Nagy acknowledged immediately after the game that one sugar high from a victory over another sputtering opponent won’t change the big picture — for him or his 5-10 team. But there was a level of fulfillment and appreciation that came with Sunday’s late rally and the adrenaline surge it produced.
“One thing you can always evaluate is the effort from your players,” Nagy said Monday. “And we saw that yesterday. … It speaks to who the players are in this building. The players deserve that feeling to win.”
Across the league, the belief remains that Nagy’s days in Chicago are numbered, that he will be removed from his post at some point within the next 16 days. The writing seemingly has been on the wall for five weeks — since the Bears collapsed in the final minute against the Baltimore Ravens for their fifth consecutive loss and fell to 3-7, with “Fire Nagy!” chants amplifying inside Soldier Field and then all across Chicago.
At this point, it would take an incredibly surprising twist for Nagy to flip the script and retain his job. Nagy did affirm Monday that he is working under an assumption he will be allowed to coach the Bears’ final two games against the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings before his superiors complete his evaluation. Nagy said his discussions with general manager Ryan Pace, President Ted Phillips and Chairman George McCaskey continue with that tone.
“Nothing has changed there,” Nagy said. “We’re in the present right now. And (as coaches and players), we all owe that to each other.”
So what now? With two games remaining in another wayward season, what is the Bears’ overall appetite for change? And how will the leaders at Halas Hall proceed as a new NFL provision affords them an opportunity to jump-start their coaching search?
Here are eight key questions facing the Bears during this pivotal period.
1. What are the details of the new rule that gives the Bears an opening to accelerate their coaching search?
Starting Tuesday morning, NFL teams seeking a new head coach will be allowed to begin interviewing prospective candidates who currently are coaching with other teams. The first prerequisite, however, is that the coaching position must already be open. As of now, only the Las Vegas Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars are in that boat.
The Raiders dismissed Jon Gruden in Week 6 and have gone 5-5 with Rich Bisaccia as their interim coach. The Jaguars, currently playing under interim coach Darrell Bevell, fired Urban Meyer on Dec. 16.
As both teams set out to find a new coach, interviews with assistant coaches from other teams are allowed to occur in Weeks 17 and 18. But those conversations have to be virtual with a time limit of two hours. They likely will serve as introductory sessions that precede a more formal, in-person interview if a team wants to move forward with a candidate.
2. So are the Bears eligible to conduct such interviews over the next two weeks?
Yes — but only if they break from tradition and fire a coach in season for the first time in team history. They would have to dismiss Nagy, promote an interim coach to oversee the final two weeks and be ready with a short list of candidates they want to speak with.
Conversations with prospective coaches who aren’t currently employed — such as Doug Pederson or Jim Caldwell — can occur at any time but are unlikely.
The Bears also could proceed with interviews if they at least inform Nagy he will be dismissed while allowing him to coach the final two games. But that, too, seems like an unlikely scenario.
3. Who might be leading the Bears’ next coaching search?
That’s the million-dollar question right now. Will general manager Ryan Pace have any hand in selecting a new coach? Will that task be given to a new GM? Might the Bears conduct the search with a new GM being supervised by a new president of football operations?
If the Bears intend to keep Pace in his current role — and to this point, they haven’t given any indication which way they’re leaning — Pace could fire Nagy at any point in the next week or so and conduct virtual interviews while that window is open.
But if Pace is going to be fired or moved to another role within the organization, it’s hard to see what the Bears would gain by firing Nagy with two games left, leaving them to conduct interviews with prospective replacements without knowing who their 2022 GM would be.
Who would spearhead those early conversations? Phillips and McCaskey together? McCaskey alone? In that setup, those sessions might become surface-level information-gathering meetings for whoever is given the responsibility to hire the next coach.
In essence, if the Bears intend to make significant changes higher up the chain of command, they would be wise to get the wheels turning on those moves before they devote their full attention to a coaching search.
4. But won’t the Bears fall behind in their coaching search if they don’t take advantage of this window in Weeks 17 and 18?
Maybe. Maybe a little bit. Maybe not at all.
Some made that argument four years ago — well before this new rule was in place — when John Fox’s fate had become clear in the final month of a 5-11 season. If the Bears didn’t fire Fox before the season ended, some argued, they would be setting themselves back and playing catch-up in their coaching search when the eventual move came.
But at that time, Pace had already begun doing extensive research and legwork on the coaching candidates he wanted to meet with and was ready to jump into action as soon as Fox’s firing was announced the day after the 2017 season ended.
The Bears were behind three other teams in firing their coach at the tail end of that season. But they were the second of seven teams to hire a new coach that winter. Only seven days elapsed between Fox’s dismissal and Nagy’s hiring.
Plus, as previously mentioned, only the Raiders and Jaguars are currently in the market for new head coaches. So the race hasn’t fully picked up steam yet.
Other teams likely will join that party soon. The Seahawks, Vikings, Broncos, Giants, Panthers and Steelers might be eyeing coaching changes. But the Vikings, Broncos and Steelers aren’t likely to make significant moves with their teams still in playoff contention.
Teams also considering GM changes — the Raiders, Jaguars, Vikings and Giants — also likely would want to figure out their needs higher up the chain before intensifying a possible coaching search.
5. Is there any correlation between how fast an organization begins its coaching search and how quickly it reaches the end?
Not really. Here are the 27 coaching hires made since the end of 2017 and the timeline of each search.
- The Raiders hired Jon Gruden on Jan. 6, six days after firing Jack Del Rio.
- The Bears hired Matt Nagy on Jan. 8, seven days after firing John Fox.
- The Titans hired Mike Vrabel on Jan. 20, five days after firing Mike Mularkey.
- The Cardinals hired Steve Wilks on Jan. 22, 21 days after Bruce Arians retired.
- The Giants hired Pat Shurmur on Jan. 22, 49 days after firing Ben McAdoo (in season).
- The Lions hired Matt Patricia on Feb. 5, 35 days after firing Jim Caldwell.
- The Colts hired Frank Reich on Feb. 11, 42 days after firing Josh McDaniels.
- The Packers hired Matt LaFleur on Jan. 7, 36 days after firing Mike McCarthy (in season).
- The Buccaneers hired Bruce Arians on Jan. 8, nine days after firing Dirk Koetter.
- The Cardinals hired Kliff Kinsgbury on Jan. 8, eight days after firing Steve Wilks.
- The Browns hired Freddie Kitchens on Jan. 9, 72 days after firing Hue Jackson (in season).
- The Jets hired Adam Gase on Jan. 9, 10 days after firing Todd Bowles.
- The Broncos hired Vic Fangio on Jan. 10, 10 days after firing Vance Joseph.
- The Dolphins hired Brian Flores on Feb. 4, 35 days after firing Adam Gase.
- The Bengals hired Zac Taylor on Feb. 4, 35 days after firing Marvin Lewis.
- The Redskins hired Ron Rivera on Dec. 31, 86 days after firing Jay Gruden (in season).
- The Cowboys hired Mike McCarthy on Jan. 6, one day after firing Jason Garrett.
- The Panthers hired Matt Rhule on Jan. 7, 31 days after firing Ron Rivera (in season).
- The Giants hired Joe Judge on Jan. 8, nine days after firing Pat Shurmur.
- The Browns hired Kevin Stefanski on Jan. 12, 14 days after firing Freddie Kitchens.
- The Jaguars hired Urban Meyer on Jan. 14, 10 days after firing Doug Marrone.
- The Jets hired Robert Saleh on Jan. 14, 11 days after firing Adam Gase.
- The Falcons hired Arthur Smith on Jan. 15, 96 days after firing Dan Quinn (in season).
- The Chargers hired Brandon Staley on Jan. 17, 13 days after firing Anthony Lynn.
- The Lions hired Dan Campbell on Jan. 20, 53 days after firing Matt Patricia (in season).
- The Eagles hired Nick Sirianni on Jan. 21, 10 days after firing Doug Pederson.
- The Texans hired David Culley on Jan. 27, 114 days after firing Bill O’Brien (in season).
Loosely translated, the connection between the formal starting date of a coaching search and the resulting hire is nonexistent.
6. Who are some candidates the Bears might include on their short list for a possible GM opening?
Eliot Wolf and Joe Schoen are hot names who should get chances to interview around the league during the next hiring cycle. Wolf is currently a consultant in the Patriots front office and was the Browns assistant GM in 2018 and 2019. He is the son of former Packers GM Ron Wolf and spent 14 years in that organization.
Schoen is the Bills assistant GM and worked his way up through the Panthers and Dolphins organizations. He played college football at DePauw University in northwest Indiana.
Also keep tabs on Chiefs assistant GM Mike Borgonzi, Patriots director of player personnel Dave Ziegler, Colts director of college scouting Morocco Brown and Buccaneers vice president of player personnel John Spytek, four talented young leaders with plenty of buzz surrounding them.
7. Who are some of the attractive coaching candidates?
If the Bears fire Nagy and are intent on uniting quarterback Justin Fields with a bright, offensive-minded head coach, their list of targets should include offensive coordinators Eric Bieniemy (Chiefs), Byron Leftwich (Buccaneers), Brian Daboll (Bills), Josh McDaniel (Patriots), Kellen Moore (Cowboys) and Greg Roman (Ravens). Pederson, who coached the Eagles to a Super Bowl win in the 2017 season but has been out of coaching this season, can be added to that list.
If the Bears are open-minded to hiring a head coach who specializes in defense, Bills coordinator Leslie Frazier should be near the top of a list that also includes defensive coordinators Dennis Allen (Saints), Wink Martindale (Ravens) and Matt Eberflus (Colts).
Frazier, who is as respected as they come in the coaching ranks, was a starter on the 1985 Bears defense and has a passion for the team and the city of Chicago.
Two up-and-coming prospects whose names continue to circulate within league chatter are Press Taylor, 33, a senior offensive assistant on Frank Reich’s Colts staff; and Bubba Ventrone, 39, the Colts’ energetic special teams coordinator.
8. So what’s next for the Bears?
That’s anyone’s guess, in big part because of the low profile the team’s most influential decision makers keep.
It has been nearly a year since McCaskey and Phillips last spoke with Chicago media, expressing an optimistic vision for 2021. In the 11-plus months since, the Bears drafted Fields, purchased property in Arlington Heights for a potential new stadium and lost 10 of 15 games.
Yet through all of those things and so much more, McCaskey and Phillips opted to keep their perspectives and visions to themselves, declining standing interview requests for months and eschewing the opportunity to communicate more openly with Bears fans about their direction.
Who knows when either executive will speak up next? That leaves the process of determining the Bears’ next steps as a guessing game for the outside world to play.
The last time McCaskey and Phillips fielded questions in a news conference setting was Jan. 13, the day they expressed unwavering confidence in their decision to retain Pace and Nagy.
“I want to take a moment to tell Bears fans, we understand your frustration,” McCaskey said that day. “We’re frustrated too. And it would be a perfectly natural reaction to say, ‘Back up the truck, major overhaul.’ … After one particularly dispiriting loss this season, a season ticket holder sent me an email that read, ‘Fire somebody. We deserve better.’ I get it. You deserve your Bears being winners.
“The decisions we’re announcing today may not be the easiest or most popular. But we believe they are the best decisions for the Bears.”
Yet here we are again, awaiting McCaskey’s next moves and his explanations behind them.