CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Bears fired general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy on Monday, hoping new leadership in the front office and on the sideline will lift a struggling franchise.
Nagy's fate seemed sealed as the Bears struggled through a 6-11 season that ended with a loss at Minnesota on Sunday. But it was not clear if Pace also would be let go or retained in either his role or a different capacity.
Whoever the Bears hire will need to develop rookie quarterback Justin Fields and surround the former Ohio State star with more talent to help him develop. They will have to address a defense that has slipped in recent seasons. More than anything, it will be their jobs to turn around a franchise with just seven playoff appearances in the past 30 years.
The Bears went 48-65 with one winning season and made the postseason twice in the seven years since Pace was hired out of New Orleans' front office in 2015 to replace Phil Emery. Nagy went 34-31 in four seasons.
“They took a chance on me. They took a chance on a poor kid from Cincinnati who people looked at as if he wasn’t going to be good enough to even get a chance to play,” said running back David Montgomery, who's from the Cincinnati area and played at Iowa State. “That’s why it’s emotional for me.”
The Bears have not won in the postseason since the 2010 team advanced to the NFC championship game.
Pace's tenure was marred by his inability to settle the quarterback position. He whiffed when he traded up a spot to draft Mitchell Trubisky over Patrick Mahomes with the No. 2 pick in 2017. He also signed Mike Glennon, traded for Nick Foles and paid up for Andy Dalton. And Fields' future is an ongoing question.
Nagy led Chicago to a 12-4 record and NFC North championship in 2018 after the Bears hired him off Andy Reid's staff in Kansas City. But things fizzled after that.
Chairman George McCaskey opted to stick with Pace and Nagy last January after Chicago went 8-8 in the regular season for the second year in a row. He seemed to tie them together at the time when he cited a culture they set that allowed the team to bounce back from a six-game losing streak to make the playoffs — as the seventh and final seed in an expanded field. Chicago lost in convincing fashion at New Orleans, but McCaskey insisted Pace and Nagy were “the best people to lead us in 2021.”
The Bears were never really in contention this season.
They dropped eight of nine games before winning two of the final three. Frustrated fans made their feelings clear, chanting “Fire Nagy! Fire Nagy!”
“I thought we underachieved," cornerback Jaylon Johnson said. "We have the players to be a contending team, and then for us not to get to the playoffs, it’s definitely disappointing.”
Nagy was a breath of fresh air when he arrived. The Bears made a worst-to-first leap in his first year after John Fox led them to a 14-34 record over three seasons and the second-worst winning percentage by a Chicago coach.
Nagy was chosen as the Coach of the Year. Pace, who made a blockbuster trade with Oakland for star pass rusher Khalil Mack just before the 2018 season, took top executive honors from The Sporting News.
Mack’s arrival transformed a solid defense into one of the NFL’s best and helped catapult the Bears to their first playoff appearance since 2010. Trubisky made the Pro Bowl as an alternate.
Nagy helped energize the fan base with a fun-loving demeanor, turning the locker room into “Club Dub” to celebrate victories and running trick plays with names like “Santa’s Sleigh.” The season ended with a gut-wrenching loss to Philadelphia in a wild-card game at Soldier Field, punctuated by former kicker Cody Parkey’s double-doink miss off the left upright and crossbar.
Things declined from there.
“I feel like Coach Nagy did a really good job of trying to make us have fun,” offensive lineman James Daniels said.
But was Daniels put in the best position to succeed?
“I can’t answer that question,” he said. "How I will answer that question, I do feel like no matter what position the coach has put us in, I think for like (me) personally, I could have played better in the situations."
Chicago never finished higher than 21st on offense under Nagy, and that was in his first year. The Bears were 24th overall and 27th in scoring this season. Nagy handed off play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor each of the past two years in an effort to jolt a struggling unit.
The new coach will have to unlock the potential in Fields after an uneven rookie season for the No. 11 overall draft pick. Though he flashed the physical skills, he had more interceptions (10) than touchdown passes (seven) and an unimpressive 73.2 passer rating. The Bears were 2-8 in the games he started.