By Clark Judge | Dec. 28, 2018
The Chicago Bears don’t have the best record in the NFL. They don’t have the best record in the NFC, either. In fact, they don’t even have the second-best record. But they do have something … or somebody … no one else does.
And that’s the NFL Coach of the Year.
If I were to vote today – granted, there’s one game left – I’d make the Bears’ Matt Nagy my recipient. And I’d do that knowing there’s a raft of competition out there, all of whom are worthy of the award.
Like New Orleans’ Sean Payton. All he’s done is win more games than anyone and put his team in position to return to its second Super Bowl.
Then there’s the Texans’ Bill O’Brien. A year ago, Houston tied with Indianapolis for last in the AFC South and lost nine of its last 10 games in the process. But today? Well, today he’s in position to win that same AFC South, less than a year after disgruntled fans were calling for his ouster.
On the outside closing fast, we have the Colts’ Frank Reich. If Indianapolis wins Sunday and reaches the playoffs, there will be support for what he’s done with a franchise that was India-no-place in 2017. And for good reason: He’ll have won all but one of his last 10 games to pull off the improbable – namely, recover from a 1-5 start.
Nevertheless, with one game left, Nagy is my frontrunner, and I’ll tell you why:
1) He resuscitated one of the league’s premier franchises, a club steeped in history, championships and Hall of Famers;
2) He did it overnight, turning a 5-11 bottom-feeder into a division champion that, with a victory Sunday, would wind up with more victories (12) than any Bears team since 2006 … the last time they went to the Super Bowl … and
3) He did it without one of the league’s best passers, top running backs or premier wide receivers.
There’s no Tom Brady or Drew Brees in Chicago. No Antonio Bryant, Todd Gurley or DeAndre Hopkins, either. Nope, Nagy won with a combination of suffocating defense, takeaways and an imaginative and balanced offense that’s already put up 133 more points than all of last season.
But Nagy has more than that going for him. He has history, too. The past five Coach of the Year winners … and six of the past seven … have been from the NFC. So voters lean in that direction. He’s also a guy who had immediate success, turning a moribund franchise inside out in just one season.
Voters like that, too.
Look what happened with Sean McVay a year ago. In his first year with the Rams, he was 11-5. The year before he arrived they were 4-12. So he wins the award. The same thing happened with San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh in 2011 and Atlanta’s Mike Smith in 2008. They won in their first years, too.
And all operated within the NFC.
But what about, oh, say, the Chiefs’ Andy Reid and the Rams’ McVay? Good question. Both have a lot of victories. In fact, Reid has more than anyone in the AFC, and McVay has more than anyone but Payton in the NFC. But both are stumbling down the stretch, with the Chiefs losing three of their last five and the Rams 1-2 over their past three – with one of those defeats to Nagy’s Bears.
So scratch momentum. And, at least with McVay, scratch history, too. There hasn’t been an individual to win back-to-back Coach of the Year awards since Joe Gibbs did it in 1982-83.
But, you say, Matt Nagy doesn’t have one of the top two records in his conference … and you are correct. But so what? That’s not a prerequisite for this award. In fact, of the past 13 winners, nearly half (6) had five or more losses – including McVay last year.
What’s more, of the past 13 winners only three times – Bill Belichick in 2007 and 2010 and Ron Rivera in 2015 – has the Coach of the Year won the most games. But that’s not all. When Payton won Super Bowl XLIV with a New Orleans team that was an NFC-best 13-3 in 2009, neither he nor the Colts’ Jim Caldwell was Coach of the Year.
Remember, now, Caldwell that year was a league-best 14-2 in his first season with Indianapolis and went on to play Payton in the Super Bowl. But neither won over voters. Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis did. And his Bengals not only were 10-6; they didn’t win a playoff game.
Then there’s this: It’s not just that Nagy revived a moribund club. It’s that he revived the Chicago Freakin’ Bears, a foundation franchise of the NFL that is one of its most popular and, at least recently, was one of its least successful, too.
Look it up.
The Bears haven’t been to the playoffs since 2010, haven’t had a winning record since 2012 and ran through four coaches the past seven years. Worse, they’ve been a last-place finisher in the NFC North the past four seasons, compiling a record of 19-45.
Bottom line: They’ve not only stunk. They’ve stunk for years.
But not now. Not with Matt Nagy calling the shots. So here’s my vote … albeit premature … for a guy who’s done for the Chicago Bears what Joe Maddon did with the Chicago Cubs – and that’s to make them relevant again.