Be honest. New Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy gets you a little excited, right?
He represents everything former coach John Fox wasn’t. Nagy is young and energetic — the guy who could make a cup of coffee sweat. In theory, pairing his unique offensive mind with a young quarterback like Mitch Trubisky is gold.
Nagy even has facial hair! You know that the best Chicago coaches always have facial hair, right? Mike Ditka and his epic stache led the Bears to their last championship.
Sure, you have every right to be jaded. There certainly is a track record of crap over the last five years on the lakefront.
But deep down, you can’t fight the feels. Nagy has played everything perfectly, from his involvement in free agency to the press conferences to the assistant coach hires.
So don’t fight it! Just sit back, relax and let the meathead thoughts consume you.
Fat chance! We’ve been here before.
To quote the late Yogi Berra, “it’s deja vu all over again.” A new coach is coming in to lead the team to glory? Please. That’s like a rerun of an old TV show. Except this show doesn’t have a happy ending.
When it comes to hyping a Bears’ coach, history hasn’t been on the team’s side the last 25 years.
Dave Wannstedt: The Next Jimmy Johnson
Back in 1993, the Bears nabbed one of the hottest up-and-comers on the market. Dave Wannstedt was a bright, young defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys were a wrecking crew on defense in 1992, finishing in the top five in every major statistical category. With Wannstedt at the helm, many other teams were champing at the bit to grab Jimmy Johnson’s protege.
And remember that thing about facial hair? Wanny had a stache that was Ditka-esque. Slam dunk hire indeed.
Unfortunately, the Bears got a bizzaro Jimmy Johnson with a phony Ditka-stache.
Johnson was famous for transforming an abysmal 1-15 squad to a 13-3 Super Bowl champion in just four years. And Dallas was loaded with a mix of young and established Pro-Bowlers.
Wannstedt’s tenure, on the other hand, was more like a roller coaster drop.
After a 9-7 playoff berth in his second season, which included a Wild-Card victory over the Minnesota Vikings, the Bears finished 9-7, 7-9 and then 4-12 each of his final two years in Chicago.
And the drops in record don’t do it justice. From bad QBs to defenses ranked in the bottom half of the league, the era was a clinic in bad football.
The real kicker? After having two Pro-Bowlers in his first year, Wannstedt’s teams produced zero over the next five seasons.
Certainly a far cry from Jimmy Johnson.
Lovie Smith: The Packers Slayer
After Nick Saban and the Bears couldn’t strike a deal in January 2004, the team hired Lovie Smith. Smith was a defensive coordinator with the St. Louis Rams and a Cover-2 disciple from the Tony Dungy tree.
There was mostly apathy until Lovie took the podium for his first press conference.
“I don’t believe in rebuilding and things like that,” Smith told the media that day. “I’m looking for us to make that move right away, to beat Green Bay, to win the division and win that world championship right away.”
Beat Green Bay? Oh yeah, baby! It’s on!
To his credit, Lovie had the Packers’ number early on in his reign. During his first four seasons, the Bears were 5-2 against Green Bay, including a stellar 4-0 at Lambeau Field.
Once Aaron Rodgers took over for the turnover-prone, cover-2-hating Brett Favre, it all went downhill. Lovie’s teams went a woeful 2-8 his last five years against the Packers, including a loss in the 2010 NFC Championship game.
To be fair, there were plenty of great moments. Three division titles, two NFC Championship game appearances and a trip to the Super Bowl are nothing to sneeze at.
While it’s easy to romanticize those accomplishments years later, you have to admit the rest of Lovie’s tenure was mediocre at best. When you look back at Bears football from 2004-2012, there was a lot of offensive units ranked in the bottom half of the league, seasons hovering around the .500 mark and a clown car full of offensive coordinators.
Marc Trestman: The QB Whisperer
Like Mighty Mouse, Marc Trestman was coming to save the day in 2013.
A former nomad OC turned CFL champion head coach, Trestman was the “quarterback whisperer” who was going to get the most out of Jay Cutler.
Why not go with Bruce Arians? “Because Marc is the Bill Belichick of Canadian football,” said former Bears GM Phil Emery to himself (probably).
Right off the bat, you could tell he was a bit quirky. From his mantra about “growing the man” to his overall laissez-faire approach, Trestman was nowhere near traditional.
Still, a lot of Bears fans were encouraged after year one. The offense was clicking, finishing as a top-five unit (second in points scored). Wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey both turned in Pro Bowl seasons along with running back Matt Forte. Not to mention, the team was a play away from winning their fourth division title in nine seasons.
However, things weren’t that rosy. The Bears defense, who was coming off a historic 2012 season, finished 30th in total defense and set franchise records for ineptitude. Trestman’s squad also finished with two fewer wins from the year prior, and Cutler never really took a big step forward. In fact, his back-up, Josh McCown, took further strides when pressed into action.
A telling moment came in the final two weeks of the season. Sitting at 8-6 and needing just one win to lock up the NFC North, Trestman’s Bears got smoked by Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles 54-11.
The following week, his squad faced a returning Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay for the division crown. After leading most of the 4th quarter, Rodgers led a slow drive downfield down 1 with three minutes to go. On a 4th-and-8 with 38 seconds left, the Bears sent an all-out blitz to stop Rodgers.
It didn’t work.
Blown coverage allowed Packers’ wide receiver Randall Cobb to slip past the secondary and haul in a wide-open 48-yard touchdown pass, giving the Packers a 33-28 win and the NFC North Championship.
Two chances for a post-season berth were squandered in epic fashion. It’s hard to see a coach like Bruce Arians or Lovie Smith letting their guys lose focus down the homestretch.
By 2014, the house of cards tumbled down around Trestman. I’ll spare the details of a nightmare year still fresh in everyone’s minds. But from locker room dysfunction to back-to-back embarrassing losses at New England and Green Bay, it was clear by season’s end why Trestman was never a hot commodity before he was hired in Chicago.
John Fox: The Fixer Upper
So when you come off a disaster like the Trestman experiment, picking a proven commodity makes sense.
When John Fox and the Denver Broncos parted ways in January 2015, everyone knew Ryan Pace (or Ernie Arcosi depending on who you ask) was going to make a run at the veteran coach. His resume was impressive, but even beyond all that, Fox was noted for turning things around quickly.
Right off the bat, fans were giddy when the team brought in Adam Gase as offensive coordinator and Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator. Even after a 6-10 season in year one, many fans felt encouraged that things would get better heading into 2016.
The 6-10 finish turned out to be a mirage. With Pace looking to gut the roster and shed veteran players, the year-two turnaround flamed out. The Bears finished 3-13 in 2016 and followed that up with a 5-11 season in 2017.
Over the last two years, Fox looked like a square peg in a round hole, not being able to adapt to new-age offenses in today’s NFL. And while the defense took strides, jumping into the top 10 last year, most of the credit goes to coordinator Vic Fangio.
What was worse was Fox’s overall demeanor. His saltiness with the media and his approach of treating gameplans like state secrets were jarring for everyone who witnessed it. While winning press conferences and popularity contests don’t win games, they certainly help your perception.
The perception of Fox was of a grumpy and tired old ball coach. That doesn’t necessarily jive with the direction of Ryan Pace’s rebuild and youth movement, making his hiring in 2015 a bit puzzling to begin with.
Including Nagy, the Bears have hired six coaches in the last 25 years. With apologies to Dick Jauron, almost every hire has riled up the fanbase from the get-go. But when it’s all said and done, their hearts are broken.
That feeling of optimism and romanticism with a new coach has toyed Bears fans for about 25 years. We’ve all succumbed to the what-ifs instead of waiting patiently for everything to play out.
We all can be excited about the prospects of Nagy. His heavy involvement in free agency recruitment and flashy offensive philosophy should have you feeling optimistic.
But instead of gulping the Matt Nagy Kool-Aid, let the past encourage you to take small sips. Cautious optimism will bode well in the long run.
Sorry to kill your Bears’ buzz.