Nothing is certain in the NFL but when it comes to the status of Matt Nagy? Almost everybody is convinced that he is coaching his final season with the Chicago Bears. While reports of him being fired after Thanksgiving appear incorrect, the belief remains that he will be out once the season concludes. What nobody can say for sure is whether the man who hired him will follow. What about GM Ryan Pace?
In speaking to a source over the previous couple of weeks, the best way to describe his situation is fluid. While it isn’t accurate to call him safe, there is a belief that his seat isn’t quite as hot as Nagy’s. Both because of his strong relationship with the McCaskeys and also the recent solid performances of younger players he’s drafted. His case would be to sell them on the fact he has found good players. He just needs to find the right head coach.
Is that crazy?
Not entirely. The NFL has watched GMs go through multiple head coaches before. Often with surprising success in the long run. Tom Telesco of the Chargers went through Mike McCoy and Anthony Lynn before landing on Brandon Staley. Steve Keim of the Cardinals went through Bruce Arians and Steve Wilks before landing on Kliff Kingsbury. Jason Licht of the Buccaneers went through Lovie Smith and Dirk Koetter before landing on Bruce Arians.
So there is some evidence to support the idea that the Bears could be rewarded by keeping Pace in charge and letting him seek out another coach. Especially when one considers that John Fox wasn’t entirely his call back in 2015. It may not be what many fans want, but the possibility is real. That is why the question should be asked. If Pace survives, who might he target as the next head coach?
Five names that Ryan Pace may zero in on
Pace has ventured into the unknown twice on his previous head coach hires. Going with guys he had little familiarity with. I believe the possibility is strong he will seek somebody he has a relationship with. One name gaining steam of late is Lombardi. He arrived as an offensive assistant with the New Orleans Saints in 2007 when Pace was still a scout there. They worked together for the next seven seasons, winning a Super Bowl in ’09.
This led to Lombardi getting his first shot as an offensive coordinator for Detroit in 2014. While the Lions did make the playoffs his first year, the offense tended to struggle at times. Matthew Stafford didn’t perform at his best and their running game was too often neglected. So Lombardi was fired midway through 2015. He returned to New Orleans a year later and stayed through 2020 until the Chargers decided to give him a second chance.
It seems like he has learned some lessons. L.A. has the 11th best scoring offense and 8th offense overall. Justin Herbert is playing some terrific football, posting a 101.6 passer rating with 20 touchdowns in his last eight games. The grandson of the great Vince Lombardi himself, it feels like this man has coaching in his DNA.
It is genuinely surprising that Carmichael hasn’t gotten a head coaching look already. The man has coordinated the Saints offense since 2009. In that span, they have ranked top 10 in scoring a ridiculous 11 times. Sean Payton gets most of the credit because he calls the plays, but Carmichael’s influence has been there since the beginning. It is worth mentioning Payton never had a top 10 offense until he joined the staff.
This is another person that Ryan Pace knows well. The two worked together from 2006 to 2014. Almost a decade. There is a deep familiarity that can’t be ignored. Pace should know exactly what he’d bring to the table and the types of players Carmichael would prefer. A sexy pick? No. Perhaps a smart one though.
Nobody came into the NFL with more momentum in 2020 than Brady. He was the wunderkind who’d just shattered the college football record books as offensive coordinator for LSU in 2019, guiding quarterback Joe Burrow to 60 TD passes, a national championship, and the #1 overall pick in the draft. Many viewed him as the next Sean McVay. An ultra-young offensive wizard that would take the league by storm.
That steam cooled up until recently. The Carolina Panthers offense was average his first year and was terrible for long stretches of 2021. People started to wonder if Brady merely benefitted from a ridiculous wealth of offensive talent. However, things seemed to have turned around since Sam Darnold was replaced by Cam Newton. Now the offense is functioning much better and Brady’s stock feels like it’s recovering.
He too is an understudy of Sean Payton, having worked with the Saints in 2017 and 2018. That connection will likely appeal to Pace.
His run with the New York Jets didn’t go as many hoped, but many believe a lot of those problems weren’t of his making. Since then, Bowles has regained his stature as one of the best defensive coordinators in the game. His efforts helped bring Tampa Bay a Super Bowl title in 2020, holding both Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes to under 30 points when both were playing like MVPs. Now Tampa Bay ranks 8th this year despite a myriad of injuries over the past several weeks.
One reason to think Ryan Pace would target him? The Bears GM actually targeted Bowles for the job back in 2015. They interviewed him twice and probably would’ve hired him had John Fox not been fired by Denver. Ernie Accorsi urged ownership to go with the experienced head coach. Pace obliged. This might be his chance to right a wrong from back then. The question is would Bowles be the best man for Justin Fields? He went through three offensive coordinators in New York.
The other what-could-have-been. Pace had a second chance at hiring a head coach in 2018. He ended up going with Nagy as we all know, but shortly before that, there was legitimate momentum that Chicago would pursue the New England Patriots offensive coordinator. McDaniels and he seemed to hit it off quite well. The coach called Pace tremendous and well-prepared. He had major respect for how the interview was handled.
McDaniels is a divisive figure across the NFL. His first head coaching stint in Denver was a disaster, marred by controversies. Then he famously backed out of the job in Indianapolis at the last second that same year the Bears went with Nagy. At the same time, nobody can dispute his aptitude for offense. New England has had top 10 offenses almost every year since 2006. Now Mac Jones is in the conversation for Offensive Rookie of the Year. If the hire is all about Fields? There are few better offensive minds in the league than him.