While Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy has had the effect of unifying the entire fanbase against him, general manager Ryan Pace’s standing amongst fans remains split. Some hate him. Some love him. Some, like myself, can appreciate the good he’s done for the team (given the awful position they were in when he took over) while maintaining that it is time to move on.
Recent reports (you can read our breakdown of them here) have indicated that Ryan Pace is likely to stay with the Bears in some capacity. Most of us, who believe a new GM is necessary, are okay with Pace staying onboard if his new role is away from football operations and primarily focused on the new stadium.
However, if you read the tea leaves, it becomes clear as day that Ryan Pace switching over to only business operations is as farfetched a dream as the Bears winning the Super Bowl next year.
My first inkling that Ryan Pace was safe actually came before the reports in the past couple of days and it has to do with former league executive, Bill Polian. I want to make clear that Bill Polian’s resume speaks for itself: Super Bowl champion, 6-time league executive of the year, inducted to both the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts Hall of Fame/Ring of Honor. He has forgotten more football since breakfast this morning than I could ever hope to learn.
However, it was speculated that Polian (along with Tony Dungy) is advising Chairman McCaskey on how to shake things up at Halas Hall, though this hasn’t been officially confirmed. On the surface, this is great. Someone who knows what they’re doing advising an organization that clearly has no idea what they’re doing.
Yet, one thing stood out to me as I followed all the reporting surrounding Halas Hall: Bill Polian was consulted the last time the Bears had to hire a GM, and when they hired Ryan Pace he publically applauded the move.
"“Ryan is a great hire. Ryan is a guy at the top of our list in all of our discussions. He did stellar work (in New Orleans). He worked in a pressurized situation with high expectations. (George McCaskey and Ted Philips) knew what they wanted. He will fit in fine.”– Bill Polian in 2015 (via Chicago Tribune)"
One of Ryan Pace’s initial advocates is currently advising Chicago Bears ownership.
Look, I think when Pace was hired in 2015 there was a lot of optimism because of the endorsements it came with. Furthermore, I think Pace has done a better job than some would like to admit especially given the situation.
However, what the Chicago Bears need in 2021 is a culture change. This organization needs an identity rebuild, not some minor tinkering. Even if ownership believes Ryan Pace was not the problem, the big question they need to ask themselves is: Is he part of the solution?
If after seven years, they still don’t know the answer to this question then I’m afraid the answer is actually right there in front of them.
What I do know the answer to is how league executives tend to behave. Most of these guys are stubborn, always wanting to be proven right. Ryan Pace was stubborn about Mitchell Trubisky. He was likely stubborn about Matt Nagy being the Bears’ guy. Matt Nagy himself was stubborn about Trubisky not being the guy. These aren’t individuals who go around eagerly admitting their mistakes.
Now, why would someone like Bill Polian, who has that resume attached to his name, go to the McCaskeys and tell them that he was wrong about Ryan Pace or that it’s time to move on from someone he clearly pushed for during the hiring process in the 2014-15 offseason.
The truth is, he won’t and it’s as simple as human nature. Polian wants to be right, just like everyone else who holds these high-ranking executive titles. He may advise them that a president is necessary to oversee Pace or suggest another hierarchical change, but none of these would provide the type of cleansing the Chicago Bears desperately need.
The second hint we received that Pace is safe, is the most recent report that Matt Nagy has officially been informed that he will be fired after this weekend’s game. As I alluded to a while ago, letting Matt Nagy finish the season wouldn’t cost the Bears anything and was in fact a positive sign as it meant ownership was distancing themselves from the decision-making process.
The fact that the reports have come out before announcing any big changes or hiring a new president is a horrible sign that I was wrong and ownership is still getting actively involved in managing football operations.
Ryan Pace has likely been informed he can commence the search for the next Chicago Bears head coach
I believe what all these reports signify, if you put them together, is that Pace will get a new supervisor this offseason – one who likes him and is willing to collaborate with him. Together, they will spearhead the search for a new head coach and bring multiple championships to Chicago!
Wrong. This is what the McCaskeys envision happening. What is more likely to happen is that the Bears’ half-hearted attempt to change the culture and introduce accountability will likely result in a diminished pool of interested and qualified candidates. Ultimately, as the great candidates pass on the job, the Bears will hire the one who says all the right things (like wanting to work with Pace) but has no proven track record.
This is where things go sideways. By hiring someone to be the new leader and then forcing them to work with another general manager, there will always be some baseline level of mistrust. This fracture at the top will trickle downwards. This will even impact which coaches are interested in the Bears’ job because they know the GM and President aren’t totally in sync. Take a look at what Michael Lombardi had to say about what the great coaches look for in front offices.
"“I know that to acquire a great coach, that coach will want to have symmetry with the front office. That doesn’t mean he wants to have all the power, but he wants to be able to have say, to have input, and to trust the person that stands beside him to help him pick players.If they [Bears] chose to keep Pace and it is certainly their right to do, that will limit the available candidates on the outside. – Michael Lombardi via Mully & Haugh on 670 the Score"
I completely co-sign this assessment. Lombardi later goes on to say that the reason it narrows the crop of candidates is that coaches may believe Nagy didn’t do a great job but was also dealt a bad hand by his GM. How is that prospective coach now going to put their faith in Pace to set them up for success.
When the new coach is hired, they’ll be “the president’s choice.” If the team doesn’t perform, Ryan Pace becomes the immediate scapegoat and the president will force ownership’s hand to get permission to fire Pace.
This toxicity at the top is bound to trickle down into the locker room and onto the field where the Bears run the risk of completely botching Justin Fields’ development and failing to capitalize on his rookie contract.
This is the doomsday scenario, and it is all made possible by the fact that Mr. McCaskey is prioritizing continuing working with his friend over doing what’s best for Justin Fields and the Chicago Bears.
The Chicago Bears have so many former players like Charles Tillman and Olin Kreutz who epitomize what it means to be a Bear, what this organization means to its fans, and most of all know what’s gone wrong in the past and what questions ownership needs to be asking any prospective candidate. They can help ownership face reality, but until ownership wants to face it themselves the rest of us will be stuck with these half-hearted attempts at a culture change and minimal on-field improvement for the foreseeable future.