Bears coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace met with the media Wednesday to discuss the 2020 season and their plans going forward.
Pace expressed gratitude for the effort of the entire organization in helping the Bears navigate a season beset by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Pace knows that the team's adherence to health protocols is only a small part of his job evaluation.
"As I look back on the 2020 season," said Pace, "really just three days off a playoff loss, I have a lot of mixed emotions. I think, on one hand, I'm proud of our building—our players and our staff—really in a year where the ability to adjust to circumstances was critical. I go all the way back to the draft, through the offseason, through camp and then the season. I'm proud of how we handled that as an entire team."
Nagy took a wide view of his coaching tenure, acknowledging that the Bears have not yet reached their ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl during his three-year tenure. He could, however, point to some successes while acknowledging the challenging road ahead.
"Big picture, I'm proud of our players," said Nagy. "I'm proud of our coaches. Bigger picture is we need to do better. And what are we gonna do and how are we gonna do [it] to get to that point? And so it starts right now. It's an exciting opportunity. Is it gonna be a challenge? Yeah. Is it gonna be hard? Absolutely. But who doesn't want that?"
This season was destined to be evaluated based on whether the team looked closer to that of Nagy's first or second season as head coach. The team made the playoffs, like the 12-4 team of 2018. However, they finished with the same record as they did during the disappointing 2019 campaign.
"Is 8-8 good enough?" said Pace. "No. Is losing in the first round of the playoffs good enough? No. But what I appreciate is that we fought, we stuck together."
Wednesday's video press conference served as confirmation that both men would keep their positions for the 2021 season. Both Pace and Nagy acknowledged that their performances to this point did not make the decision an obvious one. The Bears are 42-54 since Pace arrived in 2015 and 28-20 since Nagy's hiring three years later.
"Ownership has given us an opportunity," said Pace. "They've given us all the resources we can ask for. And now, that's on Matt and I to prove them right."
Nagy said that Sunday's playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints would be a learning experience for returning players.
"We understand where we're at," said Nagy. "We get it. When we put our head down, and we go, and we do it for our fans and for our city, for our organization, for our fans, for everybody—we need to do everything we can to get this thing right. We're gonna exhaust ourselves. It's a production-based business."
Pace and Nagy both addressed one of the team's most persistent issues: the failure to develop a franchise quarterback. Pace left open the possibility that quarterback Mitchell Trubisky could return next season but stressed that performance at that position had not reached expectations.
The quarterback decision is just one of many that Pace will make this spring.
"It's on us now to take a deep breath," said Pace, "take out emotion, identify what the problems are there, and then use this offseason and fix it, and that's on me. I get it. It's on me to supply better players to our coaching staff to win games."
Nagy and Pace both praised the team for rebounding from a six-game losing streak. Though the streak itself is cause for concern, both men believe that the aftermath has given the Bears something on which to build.
"I do think there's a lot of teams in this league," said Pace, "guys that would not come out of the six-game stretch we went through, and I do think that speaks to, you say, culture, but I think it speaks to the coaches and I think [it] speaks to the young talent on our team."
Pace saw positive movement with the offensive line, pointing to the bye week discussion that led to the reconfigured lineup that started the season's final seven games.
Young players such as center Sam Mustipher, guard Alex Bars, running back David Montgomery, and defensive lineman Bilal Nichols all saw their responsibilities increase in the final weeks of the season.
"We feel like we have a young core," said Pace, "but we need to add more to that. We need to provide our coaches with better weapons on both sides of the ball."
"Ownership has given us an opportunity. They've given us all the resources we can ask for. And now, that's on Matt and I to prove them right." Bears general manager Ryan Pace
Pace expects to have eight picks in the upcoming draft, including one in the first round. The Bears have made only four selections in the first four rounds during the past two drafts.
Unlike the last offseason, the team will need to address a defense that did not play up to expectations, especially in the final two months of the season.
"We have so much pride in our defense," said Pace. "We have invested a lot in our defense. We started off strong in so many areas defensively, and there was some regression in the second half of the season. Those are just the facts. I think there is a combination of factors as to why and that's what we are looking into."
Pace pointed to the absence of several key players during the team's final weeks. The defensive line went without Eddie Goldman and Roy Robertson-Harris for nearly the entire season. Cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson and Buster Skrine were lost during the season's final weeks, as was linebacker Roquan Smith, arguably the unit's best player.
Pace promised that the entire roster would be evaluated, with turnover coming in the upcoming draft and free agency period.
"Every year, there are ways to create cap space," said Pace, "and those are all important decisions that we have to make. It kind of starts with that—evaluating our own roster and talking about some of those things."
Pace cites his deep ties to the state—his college years at Eastern Illinois and Bears fan in-laws—to establish that he understands the fanbase's frustration.
"I know the passion and pride that all of our fans have," said Pace. "To be honest, it's a tremendous driving factor when you talk about being obsessed to do whatever you can to give them something to be grateful for. And I know what this team means to this entire region. I know what our success means to this entire region, but this year has been hard on everyone, and I know that."