CHICAGO (AP) — Chairman George McCaskey simply couldn’t ignore the Chicago Bears’ record, no matter how much he and the rest of his family that owns the team enjoyed having general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy around.
It was time to make big changes. And the Bears did just that.
Chicago fired Pace and Nagy on Monday, hoping new leadership in the front office and on the sideline will lift a struggling franchise.
“They have always represented the Bears with dignity and class,” McCaskey said. “They gave everything they had to the Bears and we appreciate those efforts.”
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.
McCaskey said he informed the two Monday morning.
He said the Bears have brought in Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian to be part of a five-person search team that includes president and CEO Ted Phillips. They would ideally hire a general manager first and then a coach.
The Bears have contacted Buffalo to interview defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier for their head-coaching vacancy, though it’s unclear whether the Bills have yet to grant permission, according to a person with direct knowledge of discussions. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks are private. Frazier, a cornerback on Chicago’s 1985 championship team, is a longtime NFL assistant and former Minnesota Vikings head coach.
Though the Bears aren’t adding a president of football operations, they are tweaking their chain of command. The new GM will report directly to McCaskey rather than Phillips, an accountant by trade who will focus on the pending purchase of a plot of land in suburban Arlington Heights that could be the site of a future stadium. Phillips said that deal probably wouldn’t close until early 2023, at which point the organization will decide whether it’s “financially feasible to try to develop it further.”
Considering Pace ran the football operation, it’s not clear how big an impact the change in command will have. Phillips will continue to have a say in whether the Bears retain or fire the GM and coach.
“It remains to be seen how much is going to change because I haven’t had a general manager report to me so I’ve got a lot to learn in that regard and am counting on the new general manager to help me along in that process,” McCaskey said.
Whomever the Bears hire will have to solidify the quarterback position, which has haunted the founding NFL franchise for decades. That would seem to mean figuring out a way to get the most out of Justin Fields after a shaky rookie season and surround the former Ohio State star with the supporting cast to help him grow. But McCaskey sidestepped the questions when asked if candidates who express reservations about Fields would be disqualified.
“We don’t know what the candidates have had to say because we haven’t interviewed any of them yet,” McCaskey said. “We want to know what their plan is for that position with the Bears.”
The new GM and coach face a big task as they try to turn around the franchise. The Monsters of the Midway have 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 was 34-31 in four seasons, dropping seven of eight to rival Green Bay. That included a loss at Soldier Field in October in which Aaron Rodgers turned to the crowd running for a touchdown to help secure yet another win for the Packers over Chicago and screamed, "I still own you! I still own you!”
Pace and Nagy both thanked the organization, players and staff as well as each other in statements released through the team.
Pace called the Bears a “first-class organization” and added: “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.”
Nagy called coaching Chicago “four years I’ll always remember.” He said Pace's “passion and commitment” was “contagious” and praised “the fight and determination” the players, coaches and support staff showed.
Running back David Montgomery appreciated the opportunity Pace and Nagy gave him coming out of Iowa State.
“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,” he said. “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.
“They both brought a lot to the Bears. Ultimately, on the field, the results weren’t where we wanted,” Phillips said.
McCaskey cited sloppy play and struggles on offense — Chicago was 24th overall and 27th in scoring this season — as well as a lengthy skid for the third year in a row as reasons for change.
The Bears lost eight of nine at one point. Frustrated fans made their feelings clear, chanting “Fire Nagy! Fire Nagy!” McCaskey said his 99-year-old mother, team matriarch Virginia McCaskey, told him, “‘I’m very, very disappointed’” in the way the season went.
“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.
But what looked like a breakthrough season was more of an aberration.
“We get that a lot of Bears fans are unhappy,” McCaskey said. “And we’re unhappy, too. And we’re frustrated.”
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Orchard Park, N.Y., contributed to this report.
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