There were many missteps by Matt Nagy that led to his firing as Chicago Bears head coach. His deteriorating relationship with Mitch Trubisky. A stubborn refusal to adjust his offense to the talent he had. Reclaiming play calling duties despite clear evidence he wasn’t any good at it. Yet the one decision that seems to stand out the most when it comes to decisive moments in his tenure was choosing to start Andy Dalton over Justin Fields going into the 2021 season.
Now the simple choice of going with the veteran over the rookie wasn’t so bad. It makes sense in many ways. No, the blunders came from how Nagy handled the entire process. He never even made it a fair competition. Dalton got all the first-team reps in training camp while Fields was relegated to second-team. Fans and media alike felt this was a huge mistake. Not only because the rookie was significantly more talented than Dalton, but also because it ran the risk of him being unprepared if the veteran should, say, get injured. Turns out plenty of people in the Bears locker room knew it too as Adam Jahns and Kevin Fishbain of The Athletic found out.
“They shot themselves in the foot when they decided to go with Dalton, especially after the Dolphins preseason game,” one source said. “This (city) wants the kid to play.”
Fields was the backup throughout camp and the preseason but was forced into action — and “set up to fail,” according to one team source — after Dalton suffered a knee injury in Week 2. The rookie made his first career start in Cleveland the following week, and the Bears put together one of the worst offensive displays in NFL history.
It was about as ugly as it could get.
Fields was sacked nine times in the game. He looked overwhelmed by the Browns’ aggressive pass rush. Making matters so much worse was Nagy’s nonsensical gameplan. David Montgomery ran the ball just 10 times all afternoon while the rookie stood behind near-constant five-man protections despite clear evidence the offensive line couldn’t block Myles Garrett or Jadeveon Clowney.
When the carnage was over, Fields had gone just 6-of-20 for 68 passing yards. All but one of those yards were erased by all the sacks he took. It was Nagy’s big chance to prove that he was the right guy to make this talented young man a big success. Instead, it was an unmitigated disaster. While not a true death blow yet, most can look back and say that game started Nagy’s downfall.
Bears must find coach who can succeed where Matt Nagy failed
George McCaskey said the overall goal for the team’s head coaching search is to find the best leader for the organization. There is nothing wrong with that. It is the right mindset to have. However, don’t be fooled. The Bears owner and his search team know they need to find a coach that can get the most out of Fields. This is why names like Brian Daboll, Nathaniel Hackett, and Byron Leftwich might be considered quiet favorites for the job. Not because of their leadership qualities but because they’re experts at developing QBs.
Daboll just got done throttling the Patriots 47-17 with his pet project Josh Allen throwing five touchdown passes. Leftwich won a Super Bowl last year in Tampa Bay. Hackett has Aaron Rodgers on the cusp of a second straight MVP award and also got Blake Bortles to an AFC championship back in 2017. This league is driven by the quarterback position. Matt Nagy knew that. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the capability of getting the most out of what he had.
A reminder that no coaching tree is free of rotten apples.
Andy Reid has helped produce several quality head coaches in his long career, but Nagy always felt like a bit of a risk. He’d only been an offensive coordinator for two years. He only called plays for a quarter of that time. With the benefit of hindsight, it is fair to say he probably wasn’t ready to be a head coach. Sadly the Bears didn’t realize that until it was far too late.