For whom the Bears toll
By Robert Zeglinski
Success is subjective. A person’s perspective determines whether they’ve accomplished anything of significance, need to keep digging, or in extreme circumstances, curl up in fetal position by the radiator. There’s a reason the adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is so timeless: different strokes and different people translates to a different measure of success.
It’s easy to take credit for success. It’s easy to face the music, step into the spotlight, and talk about how great you are because of that thing you did or are in the process of doing, and what lies ahead for your uncommon brilliance. Everyone likes to bask in glory. But glory has a price. Glory raises the interest rate on what is acceptable success by set previous standards. It imbues a person with an air of stubborn invincibility. Because they managed to succeed once, everything they touch is now immaculate by association. Geniuses never fail. They were made for this. They have all the answers.
When failure inevitably strikes, reality is unforgiving. How a person responds when the anvil drops determines whether they’ll enjoy success again or get caught in the tangled, thorny vines of their ego.
The 2019 Bears have not met expectations. They haven’t even met a bar of reasonable and all-too-familiar NFL mediocrity. A preseason Super Bowl contender once portended for greatness hasn’t won a game since September. (The last time the Bears finished with more points than a respective opponent, there was still a semblance of belief in Mitchell Trubisky. Do you feel old yet?)
Whenever they do show signs of life, it’s in fleeting moments. The Bears don’t string together extended possessions or get off the field defensively. The only time they score is when the dogs have been called off, and even then they’re desperately begging to be put out of their misery. They might as well be exposing their vulnerable neck in primal terms, asking someone, anyone to finish the job and let them go home. If there ever was energy to suggest otherwise, the filament in the lightbulb oxidized and broke apart long ago.
Teams playing for silver trophies don’t have their accomplishments come in modest helpings of one-off happy accidents. They’re the initiators, they’re the aggressors. They play against others on their terms and only theirs. Who sets the time and date? They do. Who hosts and provides all the snacks, including that exorbitant dark chocolate that can only be found at Trader Joe’s? They do. Who leads by example through thick and thin? They do. They do. They do.
Matt Nagy’s headstrong responses in defeat should be on a cookie cutter B-movie Hallmark script.
“It’s gonna come, it’s a matter of when,” said Nagy after a fourth-straight listless loss.
Only weeks ago the former Coach of the Year (how strange is that to say now?) was attempting to hold the outside perspective accountable for the Bears’ misfortunes. If only tweets and articles and booing fans at Soldier Field—a place where the Bears are 1-3 this season—were less mean and venomous and justified. Perhaps Nagy could then helm an offense that gained more than 300 total yards only once every new Pope is chosen. Maybe “when” in regards to his hapless Bears finding a rhythm again is a metaphor for late, late, late into the next decade. One can only hope that Nagy takes a semblance of responsibility by then.
The long-term, glaring issue that should petrify the Bears isn’t whether the quarterback belongs in the NFL (he doesn’t). It’s not the age or malleability of the defense; they’ll last for another year or two. It’s that the man who is supposed to hold everything together in a beautiful, if delicate web, patently refuses to take a step back and reflect on his own toxic coaching habits.
In every instance that Matt Nagy has been faced with an ounce of adversity he didn’t originally anticipate, he has kowtowed to a volatile state of mind. He has overthought the simplest of problems and made towering mountains out of the smallest of mole hills. Everyone else has always been the issue and he’s there to fix it, whether they asked or not, regardless of whether he should be the one to fix it. Never mind introducing the idea of easing up on the reins and letting loose. He doesn’t have to. He knows what’s best and sits in a frame of mind where he can’t be questioned. Having gaudy locker room celebrations after every victory is not being a player’s coach. Firing off motivational speaker quotes Tony Robbins would’ve been proud of is not being a player’s coach. It’s knowing where you went wrong and understanding you have so much to learn. It’s making yourself not only the scapegoat publicly so as to take heat off your players, but actively working to correct your mistakes in a proactive fashion.
Of course, Nagy doesn’t have to do this. This is a foreign concept to him. He’s the best at being humble, anyway.
Mitchell Trubisky will not be wearing a Bears uniform next season. If he does, he’ll be in a heated competition with a veteran or three. A return of a healthy Akiem Hicks and a scheme reset will also mean the Bears defense will return to elite form, though, they remain a top 10 unit in spite of a franchise’s rampant missteps. The elephant in the room that sticks as a constant is Matt Nagy and whether he matures enough as a coach and a person to let the Bears evolve as a team, to let them reach their potential. If he doesn’t, a change at quarterback and a life on defense won’t amount to anything. The dead weight of his hubris will weigh on everyone with a pulse at Halas Hall. It will spell the end of dreams that once could’ve meant reaching the pinnacle.
A week before this past Halloween, Nagy was asked about the Bears’ deficiencies running the ball. He was blunt in his clarification. It could’ve described his entire coaching philosophy.
“I know we need to run the ball more, I’m not an idiot,” said Nagy.
Only time will tell whether the visor aficionado’s statement proves to be a turning point, or is a fitting premonition of his tenure. He’ll have to rethink how he thinks about failure if the former is to ever come true.
Robert is an editor and writer. Follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.