The Bears’ decision to put Kyle Long on injured reserve was not arrived upon lightly.
This was a former three-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman who played for quite a few bad teams, only to have his body fail him once the Bears became playoff contenders. He’s now been on injured reserve in four consecutive seasons, and this time, it might end his career in Chicago.
The conversation from management to player could not have been easy. But having Matt Nagy around to deliver it probably made things a little less difficult.
“I feel like personally, that’s one of my strengths is dealing with these players and where they’re at and how they feel,” Nagy said. “There’s a connection there that you need to have. The part of it that makes it easier is when you run into these situations, you want to be able to have strong relationships with your players so when there are tough decision that have to be made, it’s natural and it doesn’t feel scripted — it doesn’t feel like this is the first time I’m talking to you in months.”
Nagy’s genuine ability to be the leader and tone-setter inside Halas Hall helps when such a tough decision has to be made. The same may go for the IR-or-no-IR decision awaiting the Bears with defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who suffered a significant elbow injury in London against the Oakland Raiders.
But those leadership qualities extend well beyond dealing with injured players or setting next-man-up expectations. When the Bears re-convened in Lake Forest for practice on Monday, they did so with positive vibes — which aren’t necessarily a given for a team that’s encountered more issues than expected through the first five games of 2019.
And those begin with Nagy.
“We know this isn’t just some regular head coach that’s here just because he’s the head coach of an NFL football team,” outside linebacker Aaron Lynch said. “Like, he’s here, he’s got a purpose and he’s giving that message to us that we can buy into.
“… Because he’s genuine, we know everything he says comes from his heart. It’s so much easier to buy into something like that when you know what he’s saying, he means and he’s not just saying it because there’s cameras around.”
Nagy’s leadership abilities are unquestioned. But what about his ability to scheme and call an offense?
Those haven’t matched the success he’s had as a leader. Consider there to be two different versions of Nagy, the head coach: Nagy the leader, and Nagy the offensive mind.
Nagy’s scheme hasn’t yielded the sort of fruits expected from a branch of Andy Reid’s Kansas City offense, with the sixth-lowest points per game average (17.7) in the NFL. His playcalling — be it a tepid commitment to the run, or being too predictable in certain situations — has come under scrutiny, and a larger observation has been he’s had fewer answers in Year 2, when the rest of the league has a full season of tape on his offense.
Nagy needs the players within his offense to play better, but he also needs to coach better, as he admitted after the Bears’ Week 5 loss at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. So part of the time he spent during the Bears’ off week was on self-scouting himself, from play design to playcalling tendencies.
“There’s some things that just aren’t going to change, but then there’s some that are pretty glaring,” Nagy said. “And I think those are the ones where you say, okay, how do I maybe break that just a little bit, so that the defenses can’t always just say every time they’re doing this or that, to help us.”
What’s clear is that the Bears will be competitive in every game they play because of Nagy’s leadership. But for this team to deliver on its sky-high preseason expectations, it needs Nagy the offensive mind to match Nagy the leader.