Many questions surround the Chicago Bears and the future of head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace. Will one or both be fired after the 2020 NFL season? And if so, could the Bears target Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald? Let’s dive in with the latest from Pro Football Network Insider Tony Pauline.
Will Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy be fired after the season?
On the December 9th episode of the Draft Insiders podcast (see video clip above), Pauline reported that it looks like the Bears will clean house after the season. This means that barring a turnaround and a trip to the playoffs, Nagy will be fired. One also could presume that general manager Ryan Pace would be fired as well.
This wouldn’t come as a total shock — Nagy has had an uninspiring tenure in Chicago, racking up a 25-19 record over three years. While he started strong in 2018 with a 12-4 record and the NFC North crown, it has been downhill since. In 2019, he finished 8-8, and this year, they are 5-7 through 13 weeks.
It doesn’t get much better when you look at their offensive team stats. Heading into Week 14, the Bears rank 28th in total points and 30th in total yards. In 2019, they ranked 29th in both categories. This is not a great look for an offensive-minded coach, especially one who unsuccessfully hitched his wagon to quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Remember, Nagy and Pace passed on Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 NFL Draft. And not only did they pass on them, but they traded up one spot for Trubisky.
When you consider the record, league rank, and personnel decisions, it’s the perfect recipe for a house cleaning after the 2020 season. If that happens, is Pat Fitzgerald next in line to replace Matt Nagy in Chicago?
Who is Pat Fitzgerald?
Before we dive into what Pauline is hearing about Fitzgerald and the Bears, it’s important to understand who Fitzgerald is. Many may not know this, but Northwestern has been a part of his DNA all the way back to at least 1993.
Pat Fitzgerald as a player and assistant coach
As a linebacker (and slot receiver) for Northwestern from 1993-1996, Pat Fitzgerald played his way into the record books. He won both the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Chuck Bednarik Award twice as the best defensive player in college football. He was also named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year twice and was a two-time Consensus All-American. In 1996, he won the Jack Lambert Trophy as the best linebacker in the nation. And in 2008, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
After graduating from Northwestern, he signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent but was released after two preseason games. After that, he spent a year each as a graduate assistant at Maryland and Colorado. Following those stints, he spent a year at Idaho as their linebackers and special teams coach.
In 2001, he returned to Northwestern as their defensive backs coach. From there, he shifted around the staff, moving to linebackers coach in 2002. Two years later, he was named the linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator.
Pat Fitzgerald as the head coach of the Northwestern Wildcats
In 2006, Pat Fitzgerald was named the head coach of the Northwestern Wildcats and hasn’t looked back. This span of 14 years has seen him accumulate a 104-80 record and a 62-60 record in the conference. He has appeared in nine bowl games, winning four of them. In their last three bowl game appearances (2016-2019), they have a perfect 3-0 record. And this year, the team will play Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game, where they will look to capture their fourth title.
Northwestern certainly isn’t known for being a powerhouse football team, so it’s not far-fetched to say that he has overachieved during his time there. With that in mind, does Fitzgerald think he has taken the program as far as he possibly could? And if so, does that mean he would be ready to jump to the NFL?
The Bears are interested in Pat Fitzgerald
Pauline reports that the Bears would like to make overtures to bring in Fitzgerald for an interview. In fact, Pauline said that the Bears’ interest in Fitzgerald is a lot more distinct than people think. Fitzgerald, a player’s coach and no-nonsense guy, would make sense for the Bears. This is especially true after the team has underachieved over the past two seasons.
“Fitzgerald is someone who has the ability – at least on the college level – to extract as much talent as possible out of players you wouldn’t expect to compete against the Wisconsins of the world and other Big Ten schools,” said Pauline.
Would Pat Fitzgerald make the jump to the NFL?
But would Fitzgerald want to be the head coach of the Bears? In the past, he has said that he isn’t interested in an NFL head coaching job. However, Pauline and co-host Andy Herman wondered if now is the time for him to make the jump.
“You need to wonder at what point in time does Fitzgerald think he has taken the Northwestern program as far as they can go,” said Pauline. “They are doing a terrific job this year, as evidenced by their spot in the Big 10 title game against Ohio State.”
Herman agreed, saying there’s a ceiling at Northwestern, and there’s only so far you can take the program.
“Is this as good as it gets for Fitzgerald at Northwestern? At some point, if you’re a coach like Pat Fitzgerald and an NFL team comes calling, especially one that’s in a big market with a ton of history, it’s going to be tough to pass up.”
Regardless of whether Fitzgerald wants to jump to the NFL, one thing is clear. If and when the Bears fire Matt Nagy, they will reach out to Fitzgerald to gauge his interest in making the jump to the NFL.