When the Bears burst out onto the NFL scene in 2018, they seemed primed to be competitive mainstays for years to come. Sure, they were bounced out of the playoff in the Wild Card round, but things were looking up. The defense was elite, the offense was led by a young QB and Matt Nagy was coming off a Coach of the Year award following an impressive and creative season.
But things didn’t work out that way. One year after great success, the Bears found themselves in the middle of the pack again, and they’re still trying to work their way out of the purgatory that is mediocrity now. Nagy joined Frank Thomas on “Hangin’ with the Hurt” on Friday and tried to explain where he thinks things went wrong, and why his team hasn’t hit double-digit wins since his first year as a head coach.
“When we went 12-4 and won the NFC North, man, it was rockin’.” Nagy said. “It was awesome. Our players believed in what we were doing, and we won games because they believed in each other. Going into 2019, there were these expectations from everybody, from the league, from the city, from our own players, and I think we didn’t handle that real well, including myself. And we didn’t play as well. We went 8-8 and didn’t make the playoffs. So that taught us, and taught me is, ok listen, you go from a team that is always hunting to now being the hunted. We realized that after 2019.
“We go into last year, 2020, different year with no fans, and we say, ‘Hey it’s time to get back on track.’ And I thought that we started out 5-1, and we put some things together. We were struggling a bit offensively, but we were winning games. It’s hard to win in the NFL. When you go 5-1 that’s a good thing. I wanted our players to understand, we’re 5-1, let’s take this thing and continue to grow. Unfortunately we went the other way and we lost six games in a row. We played some good teams, but we lost six games in a row.”
A six-game losing streak is a pretty damning thing to go through for any team or coach, but after the Bears’ Wild Card loss to the Saints, Bears chairman George McCaskey pointed to Nagy’s handling of that skid as a reason why ownership decided to keep him on board as the team’s head coach. To his credit, Nagy never did lose the locker room, and the Bears finished strong to qualify for the playoffs— albeit against some lesser opponents, and with some help from around the league.
“That’s where I say you get to a point where there’s a fork in the road,” Nagy said. “We either now, after six games in a row, just fold up shop and say, ‘You know what, the season’s over. We’re done and we’re going to be losers.’ Or we’re going to buckle up and say, ‘No, forget that. We’re going to pull together. Coaches are going to keep their doors open, they’re not going to close doors and get to the whisper zone. Players are going to say it’s my job to get better. And we’re going to come tighter together… We did that and we won three out of the last four games and made it to the playoffs. Was it good enough? No. But we are building something here.
“That’s probably the biggest thing for me as a head coach, is, things take time. You go back and look at these organizations that win in the NFL consistently, it’s not always something where it’s a one-year run or a two-year run or a three-year run, where everything’s 13-3, and peaches and roses all the time. There’s some adversity you’ve got to go through.”
That is true, to a degree, but it remains to be seen whether that one winning season for the Bears was a sign of things to come, or a one-year fluke. The Patriots under Bill Belichick, the gold standard for success in the NFL, won the Super Bowl in his second season as head coach, didn’t make the playoff the next year, but then won the next two Super Bowls after that. In the 16 years following that, they only missed the playoffs twice, and had a losing record once (last season). Andy Reid, Nagy’s oft-mentioned mentor, needed six seasons in Kansas City to make the AFC Championship game, and finally won a Super Bowl in his seventh season. But over his eight years with the Chiefs the team has never had a losing record, and has won 10 or more games seven times. Pete Carroll started out with two 7-9 seasons in 2010 and 2011, but since then they’ve never had a losing season and have only missed the playoffs once.
Fact of the matter is, when the longest-tenured coaches began having success in the league, for the most part they’ve been able to sustain it. Again, we’ll see soon if the Bears are able to refind their successful ways, or if the adversity will carry on next season.
“We’re going through (that adversity) right now,” Nagy said. “But we’re building a culture to be able to get through it so that we can win this year and get back on track. We’ve learned a lot in three years and we’re really excited about 2021.”