CHICAGO (CBS)-- The Chicago Bears have fired head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace, setting up a major rebuild of a franchise that hasn't seen any playoff success since the 2010 season.
While the firing of Nagy came as no surprise, with multiple reports during the season that he'd been informed he would be fired at the end of the season, the decision to let Pace go was not as certain until Monday.
"The decisions we're making today are especially difficult because Ryan and Matt are outstanding men, have high character, and always represented the Bears with dignity and class. They gave everything they had to the Bears, and we appreciate those efforts," Bears chairman George McCaskey said Monday afternoon, hours after the team announced the firings.
McCaskey said he will lead a "thorough, diligent, and exhaustive" for a new general manager and head coach.
The new general manager will be responsible for the team's entire football operation, and will report directly to McCaskey, while president and CEO Ted Phillips focuses on the team's efforts to purchase the Arlington Park racetrack site as a potential home for a new stadium for the Bears.
While Phillips will no longer have a direct say in football operations, McCaskey said he will still be part of the search team for a new GM and head coach, and will still advise McCaskey on football matters, saying he trusts Phillips implicitly.
The search team will include McCaskey, Phillips, Bears vice president of player engagement LaMar "Soup" Campbell, Bears vice president of diversity Tanesha Wade, and longtime NFL executive Bill Polian, a Hall of Famer who served as general manager for the Bills, Panthers, and Colts.
Polian is a six-time NFL Executive of the Year who was GM for the Colts when they defeated the Bears in Super Bowl XLI in 2007. He also built the Bills teams that went to four consecutive Super Bowls in the late 80s and early 90s, though lost each time.
While Polian hasn't been involved in the day-to-day operations of an NFL team in 10 years, McCaskey said it's clear Polian still has an intimate knowledge of how to build a successful franchise, and will help them find the right leaders for the team.
"Frustrated Bears [fans] may be thinking 'What makes him [McCaskey] think he's going to get it right this time?' We're confident that, with the experience we've gained, with the experience of our search team, we will find a general manager and a head coach who will lead our Bears to the success that all Bears fans deserve," McCaskey said.
McCaskey said he also consulted with Polian during the 2021 season about whether or not to keep Pace and Nagy.
Though he admitted he's "just a fan. I'm not a football evaluator," McCaskey defended the team's decision to have the new GM report directly to him, rather than bringing in someone with a title such as director of football operations to oversee the new general manager
"I don't think there's anything magical about a so-called 'football czar.' At some point, a football person – whether it's a general manager, or an executive vice president, or a president of football operations – at some point, that person has to report to ownership, and we think with the modifications that we've made, we've got the right structure for the Bears going forward," McCaskey said.
As for whether a new GM should focus on improving the current roster, or launch a complete overhaul of the team, McCaskey said he will leave it up to the candidates they interview to decide the best approach to returning the Bears to Super Bowl contention.
McCaskey said, no matter who the Bears end up hiring as GM and head coach, it won't be until the Bears win consistently on the field that fans can be convinced the team has turned things around and made the right choices.
"We get that a lot of Bears fans are unhappy, and we're unhappy too, and we're frustrated, and we understand that there's not really a whole lot that can be said today that's gonna make people feel better about the situation," McCaskey said. "And it may even be that once the candidates are introduced, there will be people who say you picked the wrong guy, or you didn't get it right, or whatever. The only opportunity to produce results is on the field, and that won't be for some time to come, but we think in time it will be shown that we've chosen the right people to lead the Bears."
The search team will begin contacting coach and GM candidates on Monday, and McCaskey said he will make the final decision on both positions. Phillips will negotiate their contracts.
While McCaskey said the team ideally will hire a new general manager first, he said that won't be a necessity.
"If we see a head coach candidate that we think is the right one, we're going to do what it takes to get them in-house," he said.
The Bears were 34-33 in four seasons under Nagy, with two playoff appearances, but no playoff wins. Despite starting with a promising 12-4 season in their first year under Nagy, the Bears couldn't maintain that success, going 8-8 in each of the next two seasons before this year's 6-11 finish.
McCaskey said the 12-4 season in Nagy's first year in 2018 was "a great ride" for the Bears, but acknowledged the team couldn't build on that success.
"We thought we were on our way. Unfortunately, it could not be sustained. Instead, we regressed. Our offense failed to show improvement. We continued to struggle at home. We did not close the gap within our division. In the end, we didn't win enough games," McCaskey said. "Over four seasons, we beat the teams we were expected to beat. Too often, though, we didn't beat the better teams. You have to do that to excel in this league."
McCaskey said the most frustrating part of the 2021 season was that the team went through a lengthy losing streak for the second year in a row, essentially dashing any hopes of returning to the playoffs. The 2021 Bears had a five-game losing streak, and the 2020 team had a six-game losing streak.
"Usually, those are season-enders. I admired the way our guys stuck together, didn't point fingers, but at some point the general manager and the head coach have to come up with a way to snap us out of a losing streak before the season is ruined," McCaskey said.
In seven seasons under Pace, the Bears went 48-65, with only one winning season, and no playoff victories.
Along with the continued failure to bring Chicago its first playoff win since the 2010 season under head coach Lovie Smith, Pace's fate was sealed by his repeated inability to find a franchise quarterback.
Pace traded four draft picks to move up one slot in the 2017 NFL draft to pick Mitchell Trubisky over fellow first-round quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, only to see Trubisky fail to develop after hiring Nagy in 2018. Although Trubisky had a 29-21 record with the Bears, he failed to live up to his promise as the No. 2 overall draft pick and couldn't match the success of Mahomes and Watson, who both became NFL stars. The Bears let Trubisky leave in free agency after last year, and he is now a backup with the Bills, and seems unlikely to get another starting job in the NFL anytime soon.
In addition to missing on Trubisky, Pace also failed with multiple free agent quarterbacks, including Mike Glennon, Nick Foles, and Andy Dalton; and two other first-round busts with wide receiver Kevin White in 2015 and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd in 2017.
He's also left the Bears struggling with salary cap space, which has left them with a dearth of talent, particularly on the offensive side.
Nagy, meantime, could not boost the Bears' lackluster offense in his four years in Chicago, despite his success as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator in five seasons under Chiefs head coach Andy Reid before he joined the Bears.
In his four seasons in Chicago, the Bears finished no better than 21st in overall offense and passing offense. While the Bears did manage to finish 9th in scoring in his first season, that was thanks in large part to a historic defense, which scored seven touchdowns on its own, and regularly gave the offense good field position.
Bears linebacker Trevis Gipson said Nagy told players about his firing Monday morning.
"He told us how much he cared about us, and that he would always be there for us," Gipson said. "It's all love with Coach Nagy, and it's always going to be like that. So I'm very appreciative of the memories that I'm blessed to be able to make with him, and I'll always be able to stay in touch with him."
Running back David Montgomery, who was drafted by Pace in the third round of the NFL Draft, said he was glad Pace and Nagy "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," he said. "That's why it's emotional for me, because they stuck their neck out on the line for me, and I appreciate them for that."
STATEMENT FROM RYAN PACE:
I want to thank the Bears organization, especially Mrs. Virginia McCaskey, George H. McCaskey and Ted Phillips, for the last seven years. This is a first-class organization and my family and I enjoyed our time in Chicago. Today's news is the tough part of our business but I am proud to have poured absolutely everything into making the Chicago Bears a better football team every single day since first stepping foot into Halas Hall. From the expansion of Halas Hall, to every staff hire, every roster move, every scouting trip, every draft pick was with a championship vision in mind.
To Matt Nagy and his family, thank you. Together the last four years we built a culture that persevered and a foundation that will catapult the organization into the next phase of success. Although we did not reach our ultimate goal, we accomplished a lot, most notably an NFC North title, two playoff berths, 19 Pro Bowlers and 6 All-Pro selections.
To the players, I appreciate everything that you gave out on the field. I believe in each and every one of you and I know the talent is there to bring a championship to Chicago.
To the entire football operations staff, I appreciate your dedication and tireless efforts during our time together. Your grind behind the scenes does not go unnoticed and the sacrifices are essential to the successes we have had together.
Bears fans, your passion is palpable daily. Through the wins and losses, it was our constant goal to deliver the championship you deserve. Thank you for making this city the best 'home field advantage' in the NFL.
Our family is from Illinois, went to college in Illinois and as Bears fans for life, we are proud to say that we are confident the future is bright for this team going forward.
STATEMENT FROM MATT NAGY:
To the Chicago Bears organization – It was an honor to serve as your Head Coach over the past four seasons. I want to thank Ted Phillips, George H. McCaskey and Mrs. Virginia McCaskey for the opportunity to lead one of the game's most storied franchises. It's four years I'll always remember.
To Ryan Pace – Your passion and commitment towards this franchise was contagious. You gave it everything you had, every single day. It was always teamwork and togetherness with us. No regrets. Thank you.
To the Players, Coaches and Support Staff – Thank you for your hard work and daily dedication. I will forever be grateful for the fight and determination you showed each week. Every day I tried my very best to honor the commitment you showed to the game and the organization. We've all built great relationships that will last a lifetime. I was proud to be your coach and wish you nothing but success in the future.
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