LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy never envisioned such a tumultuous second season.
Following last year’s surprise NFC North title, the Bears were a trendy pick to reach the Super Bowl. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky had shown signs of growth with the offensive-minded Nagy as coach. The defense, led by Khalil Mack, looked unstoppable, even after veteran coordinator Vic Fangio left to take over the Denver Broncos.
Yet, the Bears (3-4) enter the midway point of the season as one of the league’s biggest underachievers. Being named 2018 NFL Coach of the Year has not insulated Nagy from criticism. The 41-year-old coach is forced to do damage control, on a number of issues, almost daily.
Why does Nagy’s offense struggle to score points? What’s wrong with Trubisky? Why haven’t the Bears committed to the run? Why is there zero production at tight end? Why was Roquan Smith deactivated in Week 4? Why not run another play in the closing seconds to give kicker Eddy Pineiro a shorter last-second field goal attempt last week?
On Wednesday, Nagy had to deal with another team-created controversy after Pineiro told reporters he would have preferred to kick that last-second attempt against the Los Angeles Chargers -- the one he missed from 41 yards -- in the middle of the field, not on the left hash, which is where the ball was placed when Trubisky took a knee on first down with 43 seconds left.
This is uncharted territory for the affable and engaging Nagy.
“There are a handful of guys, head coaches who I stay in communication with,” Nagy said. “The No. 1 one guy is my mentor in coach Reid. So I talk to him all the time. And I’m very, very lucky to have him in my corner. Because he has seen it all. And the best part about coach is he just gives you great advice. He gives you great insight. He’s like a father figure to me. So when you’re in a position where you’re looking for a little advice on how to handle whatever it is, he’s got it. And it always amazes me with the way he says it.”
Pederson can relate to Nagy’s predicament.
“I look at my first year , we were 7-9 and we were the worst team in the NFL at the time and everybody was talking bad about me and the team and we didn't have any talent and this, that and the other, not that I pay attention to that stuff,” Pederson said.
The next year the Eagles went 13-3 and won the Super Bowl.
“It all boils down to just you have to trust in your ability as a head football coach what you're teaching your players, the messaging that you’re teaching your team, the culture you're trying to establish, and it's not easy,” Pederson said.
“One of the things that I think in my situation here, is being consistent that way. How I speak to the team, and my message to you guys and my message to the fans and my message to the players; it all has to be consistent. You just have to trust it. If it's good enough, it's good enough, and if it's not, then you know, coaches move on. That's just the way this business works ... ”
Thus far, Chicago isn’t even in shouting distance of an NFC wild-card spot, much less a second-straight division crown. The Bears are in last place in the NFC North, four full games behind the Green Bay Packers (7-1), and with three fewer wins than the Minnesota Vikings (6-2). On top of that, Chicago begins a stretch that features road games against the Eagles and the Los Angeles Rams, two against the Detroit Lions and a visit from the Dallas Cowboys, all by the beginning of December.
Nagy needs all the help he can get. Lucky for him that support is in ample supply.
“We’re our own fraternity, and I think that’s pretty cool,” Nagy said.
ESPN Philadelphia Eagles reporter Tim McManus contributed to this story.