George McCaskey promises a ‘thorough, diligent and exhaustive’ search for the next Chicago Bears GM and coach after firing Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy

George McCaskey promises a ‘thorough, diligent and exhaustive’ search for the next Chicago Bears GM and coach after firing Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy

The Chicago Bears are in the market for a new general manager and head coach after firing Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy on Monday.

While the move to fire Nagy was expected as the losses piled up in his fourth season, Pace’s fate after seven years in his role seemed less clear over the last month.

Ultimately after the 6-11 season, Bears Chairman George McCaskey also cut ties with Pace, whose teams posted a 48-65 record, qualified for the postseason twice and failed to record a playoff victory.

During an hourlong video conference Monday afternoon, McCaskey said he consulted “a number of people” in NFL circles, including Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian, before making the decisions and finalizing his conclusion Sunday night. He said Bears owner Virginia McCaskey, 99, also was consulted as part of the team’s board of directors.

“Everybody wants to win one for her,” McCaskey said. “And we’re doing everything we can to make that happen. At one point in our conversations, I asked her for her assessment of our season, and she said, as only a mother can, ‘I’m very, very disappointed.’”

The Bears were expected to begin contacting replacement candidates Monday in what McCaskey promised would be a “thorough, diligent and exhaustive” search.

The search committee will include McCaskey, Polian, Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips, vice president of player engagement LaMar “Soup” Campbell and Tanesha Wade, senior vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion.

“We get that a lot of Bears fans are unhappy, and we’re unhappy too and we’re frustrated and we understand that there’s not really a whole lot that can be said today that’s going to make people feel better about the situation,” McCaskey said. “And it may even be that once the candidates are introduced, people will say, ‘Oh, you picked the wrong guy.’

“The only opportunity to produce results is on the field, and that won’t be for some time to come. We think in time it will be shown that we have chosen the right people to lead the Bears.”

Along with the losing record, Pace’s tenure will be most associated with crucial misses at quarterback and the hiring of Nagy.

Pace traded up from No. 3 to No. 2 in the 2017 draft, selecting Mitch Trubisky over fellow first-round quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. After four roller-coaster seasons, the Bears let Trubisky head into free agency in 2021, and he signed with the Buffalo Bills as their backup.

The Bears have made multiple moves to try to correct that mistake, including trading for Nick Foles, signing Andy Dalton and drafting Justin Fields. The aggressive trade up to draft Fields last April could be a big moment in franchise history if Fields becomes the franchise quarterback the Bears hope he will be.

But the evaluation on Fields is incomplete after a rocky rookie season.

Trubisky wasn’t Pace’s only first-round fail, with wide receiver Kevin White in 2015 and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd in 2016 also not panning out. Pace’s recent decisions created salary-cap issues and a roster that lacks talent and depth at a few key positions, leading to a 6-11 season in 2021.

Aside from drafting Fields, Pace’s landmark moment was a trade to acquire outside linebacker Khalil Mack on Labor Day weekend 2018, which helped jump-start a division championship season. Pace was named the league’s executive of the year by the Sporting News.

He also was instrumental in jump-starting a $100 million project to expand Halas Hall, an overhaul that was completed in 2019 with a 162,500-square-foot football operations addition.

In a statement, Pace thanked people throughout the Bears organization, including Nagy, who he said helped build “a culture that persevered and a foundation that will catapult the organization into the next phase of success.” He also thanked Bears fans.

“Your passion is palpable daily,” he said. “Through the wins and losses, it was our constant goal to deliver the championship you deserve. Thank you for making this city the best ‘home field advantage’ in the NFL.

“Our family is from Illinois, went to college in Illinois and as Bears fans for life, we are proud to say that we are confident the future is bright for this team going forward.”

Nagy also released a statement thanking his players and staff for their “fight and determination” and Pace for his “passion and commitment.”

“It was always teamwork and togetherness with us,” Nagy said. “No regrets.”

After his first three seasons with coach John Fox, Pace hired Nagy in 2018 after Nagy spent five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, first as quarterbacks coach, then as co-offensive coordinator and finally as offensive coordinator in 2017. Nagy, who began his coaching career as a Philadelphia Eagles assistant under Andy Reid, had called plays in only a handful of games for the Chiefs when the Bears hired him.

In Nagy’s first stint as an NFL head coach, his teams went 34-31, including a 12-4 record, an NFC North title and a playoff loss to the Eagles in his first season in 2018. Nagy was named NFL Coach of the Year after that season.

But the Bears didn’t put together a winning season in his next three, including back-to-back 8-8 records in 2019 and 2020. The latter resulted in a playoff berth but ended with a dispiriting 21-9 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Nagy’s tenure was marked by lengthy losing streaks in each of his last three seasons, including a five-game skid in 2021.

“There were a lot of frustrating parts,” McCaskey said when asked about the 2021 season. “Another lengthy losing streak. We had one in 2019, one in 2020, one in 2021. Usually, those are season-enders. I admire the way our guys stuck together, didn’t point fingers, but at some point the general manager and head coach have to come up with a way to snap us out of a losing streak before the season is ruined.”

After the last loss of the 2021 streak — a 16-13 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 21 at Soldier Field — a report surfaced that Bears leadership planned to fire Nagy after the next game. McCaskey eventually told Nagy and his players the report was not true, but that declaration simply put off the inevitable decision.

At the heart of Nagy’s firing was his inability to elevate the Bears offense — despite multiple quarterbacks and coaches trying to help him. His teams ranked 29th in yards and points per game in 2019, 26th in yards and 22nd in scoring in 2020 and 24th in yards and 27th in scoring in 2021.

The Bears cycled through quarterbacks Trubisky, Foles, Dalton and Fields during his tenure. Nagy replaced offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich with Bill Lazor in 2020 and handed off play-calling duties to Lazor twice in an effort to boost the offense. None of the moves had lasting positive effects.

Fields, whom Nagy was entrusted to develop, won just two of his 10 starts as a rookie, throwing for 1,870 yards with seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Now Bears leadership will try to zero in on the right coach to help Fields develop as the No. 11 draft pick moves into his second NFL season in 2022.

But McCaskey wouldn’t entertain questions about what he would do if a coach or GM candidate wasn’t sold on Fields.

“We want to know what their plan is with the quarterback position for the Bears,” he said.

Nagy told his players the news at a team meeting Monday morning. Some already saw the reports on social media, but cornerback Jaylon Johnson said it caught others off guard.

“I didn’t know,” Johnson said. “Just hearing the news and seeing his body language change a little bit, I mean, it hurts. He spent a lot of time here. He put a lot into the organization, so having that taken away from you is never easy.

“And then for some of us in the organization, all we know is Coach Nagy, all we know is Pace. It’s going to be a different transition for us versus other guys who have been to different teams and different things like that. Every guy has a different reaction. We all just want to move forward and keep continuing to be the best player and best person we can be.”

Bears running back David Montgomery, who spoke often of his strong relationship with Nagy, said the morning was “pretty emotional” for him. He spoke with Nagy one-on-one about the news.

“They took a chance on me, and I commend and I appreciate them for that,” Montgomery said. “As soon as I stepped foot in here, they showed me nothing but love. I appreciate them for that. It’s unfortunate what happened. But at the same time, you understand this is a results-driven league and we want to do what we have to do so we can handle business.”

McCaskey announced that the new general manager will report to him rather than Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips, who is directing the team’s potential purchase of the former Arlington International Racecourse property.

Much scrutiny in recent years has surrounded the role of Phillips, who has been the Bears president for 23 seasons, a lengthy stretch defined by mediocrity.

The Bears went 13-3 in 2006 and advanced to Super Bowl XLI, in which they lost to the Indianapolis Colts. But in Phillips’ time as president, the franchise has made only six playoff appearances and won just three postseason games.

The 2021 season was the ninth in Phillips’ tenure in which the Bears lost at least 10 games. That stretch has come while cycling through three general managers and five head coaches.

As part of the search committee, Phillips will have a hand in hiring another GM and coach.

“The hiring of Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy, I don’t regret that,” Phillips said. “They both brought a lot to the Bears. Ultimately on the field, the results weren’t where we wanted to be, but they checked a lot of the boxes.

“You can’t ask for better leaders, you can’t ask for better forward thinkers, you can’t ask for people that gave their all, had great work ethics, were humble. And I’m going to look for a lot of those same qualities. And hopefully with Bill’s vast expertise, the technicalities of coaching strategy and valuation processes, that’s going to add a nice added benefit to our search and help us find the right people.”