Hoge: Good and bad, Matt Nagy was Matt Nagy to the end


MINNEAPOLIS — To his credit, Matt Nagy was himself all the way to the end — both on the field and off it.

It's what got him hired as the Bears' head coach four years ago. And it's what will get him fired in the next 24 hours.

On the field, the Chicago Bears blew a 14-0 lead and lost 31-17 to the Minnesota Vikings Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. The offense continued to be futile in the red zone and on fourth down, with numerous puzzling fourth down calls that resulted in three sacks and a pick-six.

But after the game, Nagy talked to his team about life lessons. He told his players to “let this stuff right here refine you, not define you.” He spent nearly 16 minutes taking questions from reporters, a stark contrast to John Fox’s final press conference in Minneapolis that barely lasted a minute four years ago. 

Nagy’s charisma and positivity won’t be enough to save him when he is ultimately fired by Monday morning, but it is who he is. He really was the same guy for four years as Bears head coach, both to his credit and as a detriment. He leaves the team with his dignity and respect in hand and that will bode well for him in the future as he undoubtedly gets more opportunities to coach at a high level of football. 

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“You look back and you say, did I stay the same? What did I change and then how do I make myself better moving forward? It’s important,” Nagy said.

But Nagy’s four years in Chicago will also be defined by a failed offense and a somewhat directionless plan at quarterback the last two seasons. It will be defined by wasted timeouts because of personnel issues and pre-snap penalties coming out of those timeouts. It will be defined by puzzling play calls in fourth-and-short situations, from sideways pitches out of the shotgun to not even having David Montgomery — the team’s best offensive player — on the field. And if/when Nagy gets another job in the NFL, those are the things he’ll have to correct as he rebuilds his offensive reputation.

“You've gotta use it to make yourself better,” Nagy said. “Regardless of what happens, whether it's with another player or with myself, I promise you I'm gonna do that. I'm going to let this refine me not define me.”

Nagy’s call sheet famously said “BE YOU.” and he truly followed that to the very end. But going forward, he can continue being himself while adapting better as an offensive coach. In the end, Nagy never found the whys. And no one really ever understood where the offense was at.

As for what’s next, Nagy seemed to understand his fate, acknowledging, “I’ve never been in this position before.” Most likely, he will meet with team chairman George McCaskey Monday morning and will be informed that he will not be retained as the Bears’ head coach. 

But Sunday in Minnesota, Nagy still clung to some positivity. He tried as best as he could to hype up a flawed roster, referencing linebacker Roquan Smith — his first draft pick in 2018 — and the promising future of Justin Fields.

“There’s a really good franchise quarterback that’s here that’s going to be good for a long time, and both Ryan (Pace) and I were a part of that,” Nagy said. 

That statement will surely earn a hard eye roll from fans and critics, but the selection of Fields is certainly something to be proud of. Unfortunately, the handling of the rookie quarterback from the moment he was drafted is a big reason why Nagy won’t be in Chicago to see out the rest of Fields’ development. 

"I think when you switch quarterbacks, there's things that go into that,” Andy Dalton said Sunday about the revolving door at quarterback in 2021. “There’s a lot of time that was spent in training camp with guys that they didn't get with Justin, (and then) it went to Justin, and then when he got hurt and I'm back in there and then Nick gets to play — I think there's just a lot of things that go into that.”

Dalton never should have been promised the starting quarterback job or paid $10 million, but he was and thus was frustrated when that starting job was suddenly taken away from him due to injury. He certainly isn’t the only player frustrated with the offense, as Fields was shortchanged in his development by not receiving reps with the starters in training camp, while Allen Robinson had a bust of a season while playing under a franchise tag.

Even wide receiver Darnell Mooney, who eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards on the season in Sunday’s loss, let some frustration leak out while talking about the team’s endless red zone struggles: "We just didn't score. I don't know. I don't call the plays or anything like that.”

Ultimately those struggles fall on Nagy, a reality he understands and acknowledges. Some of his postgame comments Sunday stretched beyond reality — notably, claiming “There’s a good thing going here right now” — but that’s part of the incessant positivity that keeps Nagy going. That positivity should be appreciated, but at some point it also qualifies as something that likely blinded him from some of the Bears’ problems. 

It’s all over now though, as Nagy will become the third straight Bears head coach to lose his job following a meaningless game in Minneapolis. 

And when the news becomes official, no one will be searching for “why” it happened. 

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