By: Robert Zeglinski
The greatest trick a figurehead can pull is convincing the world that they’re never to blame. Any time their subordinates fail, it’s never the fault of the person pulling the strings. They failed because they didn’t listen to their mentor or adhere to their standards enough. Leaders of this mold fashion themselves as reputable, reverent geniuses who always write a perfect script. Because they write an ideal outline in advance, complete with every contingency that only they could foresee, they’re irreplaceable. The sum of the parts around them are interchangeable. They’re common, a dime a dozen, so long as their leader is in power and has free reign to act at his heart’s content.
A team with once immeasurable preseason expectations, the Bears have managed to do everything but live up to their proposed potential.
Their offensive line is a five-man turnstile that finds ingenious ways to kill possessions from series from series. Their receivers drop more passes and denigrate respective opponents after accomplishing nothing than they ever make any notable plays downfield. As is the franchise standard, the quarterback doesn’t belong as a starter. Whether he can be an emergency passer remains to be seen. Their defense, still a top and formidable unit, has regressed, incapable of further carrying a one-note roster. Among the also-rans of the NFL, the Bears are far closer to being one of the worst teams in their conference than a bona fide championship contender.
And not ounce of the Bears’ swirling catastrophe is Matt Nagy’s fault. According to Matt Nagy.
Nagy’s greatest weapon in his coaching utility belt isn’t his playbook and its obvious limitations. It isn’t platitudes rooted in being one’s most authentic self as if that’s what matters in winning or losing games. It’s obsession. It’s charming people into falling into a flawed line of thinking designed to deflect attention to tertiary concerns and waste energy on the trivial. Like the universal zip line of a superhero in tights and spandex, Nagy never hesitates to use his preeminent weapon. The former Coach of the Year, once the apple of every Chicago football observer’s eye, is a neuroses magnet; like many egotistical football coaches. But it’s Nagy that excels at lulling people into the remnants of his budding psychosis unlike any of his sleep-deprived, self-important peers.
It was curious that Nagy focused on one specific person as the most culpable for his team’s playoff collapse against the Eagles last January. Over the course of eight months, he convinced a city that one “double-doink” was what stood between the Bears and orange and blue confetti raining around them on an elevated silver platform. He brought in approximately 95 kickers over the spring and summer to remedy the Bears’ one prevailing issue. He implemented the radical with an open positional tryout and the unconventional, leaving every competitor to roost in their own devices in deliberate practice silences from the same distance the Bears saw their season end. He made certain that placekicking was the imperative story behind the pursuit of an elusive Lombardi trophy. Not a stellar defense. Not an offense he was poised to evolve and help join a decade of high-flying attacks. Not a roster rife with character and personality and joy and balance. All that was missing was Nagy’s top hat, cane, red-striped shirt, a catchy tune, and promise of a monorail system.
Outside of kicker, the Bears were flawless this August. According to Nagy. They didn’t have to improve upon any aspect of their play because he deemed it so. Everyone on the outside was out of their wits for considering the contrary. Because that would acknowledge he as a coach had more work to do after a 12-win opening campaign. He won awards. He turned on flashing lights and disco balls in the Bears’ locker room. He was the smartest person in the room. That person doesn’t have to show more initiative than the bare, expected minimum because they believe their minimum is better than everyone else’s maximum. When they’re asked to push beyond their threshold, their inner circuits go haywire. Does not compute. Stop asking questions. Does not compute.
Going above and beyond to fix the Bears’ kicking problems was a natural progression for Nagy’s aura. It was him doing his resolute best to cover for himself and the illusion of his genius. Of every potential outcome of any football play, kicks through a small window in yellow uprights are the most arbitrary. No one has as much of a say in a field goal’s success as the kicker in contrast to every other play where at least two separate people must be working in some delicate harmony. By distancing himself and his coaching from the randomness of kicks, maintaining he had no influence on what transpired, Nagy was able to prop up his budding legend of The Next Great NFL Coach. Thanks to Nagy, it was forgotten the Bears only scored 15 points in an elimination game. Memory of surrendering a deciding score on their own goal line in the closing minutes was wiped away from all servers. They were infallible in their failure, which in turn washed Nagy’s hands clean of any residual blood.
It’s no coincidence that every Bears game since they fell to Philadelphia has been a carbon copy of ineptitude. A rudderless offense with no explosive element in sight. A defense slowly withering, week by week, at the prospect of carrying the weight of an additional 11 men. The coach standing in defiance at the prospect of his plans being questioned game after game. Every problem that petered out the Bears’ first promising season in almost a decade pervades because of none of them were addressed or acknowledged when there was time to fill in the respective gaping potholes. Fresh cement was never mixed because the Bears, based off of Nagy’s supposition, didn’t need to fill in the cracks. Seldom has someone displayed as little as self awareness as to the dire straits of his team’s situation on top of his complicity.
But then again, he’s never to blame and never has been. If you don’t understand your history and its mistakes, then you’re doomed to repeat your foibles until the light bulb breaks in your mind. If you change history in accordance to your own personal whims, there’s never anything to learn from.
One of the first life lessons bestowed upon children is the idea of accountability. Taking responsibility for actions and living with the consequences is as much a part of adulthood as paying bills, dating, and weighing an everyday existential crisis. Understanding when it’s time to take responsibility and when it’s time to deflect (never) defines people’s success. It’s the bedrock of happiness. Accepting and acknowledging the inevitable crux of missteps in life is as much a part of living a fulfilling existence as any accomplishment. It’s this humility which allows a person room to grow personally and professionally.
The Bears aren’t going to climb out of the 4-6 crevasse of anguish they’ve dug for themselves. There’s too much of a gap in the standings to salvage meaning out of a lost season. They may not have the horses to make a run anyway. But whether they’ll climb out in the near future should also be in question. Doing so would require their leader, Nagy, acknowledging they’re mired in a deep chasm and stepping back. That he had a considerable hand in them falling in in the first place. This genius figurehead would sooner admonish his underlings before he confessed to any missteps in his unassailable thought process. He doesn’t possess the humility to ground himself and be wholly accountable.
It’s not his fault. It never has been.
Robert is a writer and editor. Follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.