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Isn’t That Special? Chicago Bears Bring In Yet Another Offensive Guru

You can never have too many gurus lying around, I suppose. But on Monday, the Chicago Bears hired Tom Herman, the recently fired University of Texas head coach, and gave him the title offensive analyst/special projects.

Herman was hired at Texas in the first place for his offensive genius and really didn’t do a bad job. He did have every resource imaginable and turned Texas into a solid, but not exciting program. He was supposed to make Texas a national player again. 

But a few questions come to mind with Herman and the Bears, like: What do the Bears mean by special projects? It’s hard not to look at head coach Matt Nagy as a special project himself. Certainly, quarterback Mitch Trubisky was a special project that never panned out.

The hope in Chicago is that the Bears were going to actually bring in an elite quarterback for the upcoming season, or at least a legitimate one. Not another special project.

But in the bigger picture, you have to wonder what Herman will be doing. The Bears hired Nagy as the head coach in 2018 because he was a longtime offensive guru under Andy Reid, who is himself a bona fide offensive guru. Nagy had even been Reid’s offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Doesn’t it signal failure when you’re known as a guru brought in to modernize the stuffiest offense in the NFL, and then three years later they bring in another offensive guru on top of you?

I mean, how would you feel if your boss brought someone in to do what you had been hired to do? What would that say to you about your future employment?

Nagy has had large coaching staffs before, so maybe he’s all onboard with this. But the Bears front office, including the McCaskey family ownership and team president Ted Phillips, who also might be a special project if anyone knew what he did, made it clear after the season that they were keeping general manager Ryan Pace and Nagy for one last chance.

Mostly, Chicago wanted both of them fired.

So who hired Herman anyway? And does Nagy actually think he needs another guru added to his own guru-ness? This looks more like something that comes from the top of Bears management at Halas Hall as a sign to Nagy: Your replacement is here.

At this point, it’s all questions and really no answers. Today, Pace and Nagy will hold their annual scouting combine news conference. This year, without a combine, it’s just a Zoom thing.

But the Chicago media, which had been notoriously soft on Pace and Nagy, turned on them during the news conference when it was announced that both of them were being retained. The explanation management kept giving was that Pace and Nagy should stay because they collaborate well.

I’m not making that up.

Now, the questions are going to be about what the Bears are actually going to do at quarterback and with their offense, which seemed to be left behind by the scoring craze of the 2020 season. There really aren’t many legitimate QB options left.

Chicago was just grateful not to be stuck with Carson Wentz. Now, the buzz is that they’re going to go get Alex Smith, who is a beautiful story of human stick-to-it-iveness, coming back after nearly losing his leg.

But he’s also a 36-year-old quarterback who seems like an ideal backup. The Washington Football Team is in dire need of a quarterback, and they just let him go.

He doesn’t even quite rise to the level of special project.

When Nagy came to the Bears in 2018, he unloaded all sorts of trick plays at a franchise that spent 100 years thinking that a trick play is when you run off tackle. Nagy seemed more enamored with his tricks than with actually winning games.

The Bears were actually considered creative in the late 1930s and early 1940s, when they won the championship deploying the T-formation, which used to be considered a trick play. The Bears’ theme song still talks about that moment over 70 years ago, “We’ll never forget the way you thrilled the nation, with your T formation.’’

Since then, offensive football has progressed a little, usually leaving the Bears behind.

Nagy was supposed to change a culture and a history and make the Bears something dynamic. But by the middle of the 2020 season, he stopped calling the Bears’ plays on offense.

It seemed like a guru wouldn’t normally fire himself as a play-caller. But offensive coordinator Bill Lazor took over.

And now, here comes Herman, who was an offensive guru/genius at the University of Houston and a top national-level assistant at Ohio State. Maybe this is just another guru in the room with fresh ideas.

But it just seems strange to hire someone who is known for doing the job you were hired to do. I guess the main questions are: Who hired Herman? Who is the lead guru here?

And who is the special project?

Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in RollingStone.com and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for CNN.com/Bleacher Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.

4 Comments

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  1. Hey Greg,
    Definitely too many cooks…when the music stops somebody (or three) gotta get out the kitchen. Andy Reid’s career coaching tree contains lots of DCs and offensive quality control coaches, but no OCs that were really in charge of the offense. And that’s continued at KC with Nagy and now, with Eric Bieniemy after supposed offensive guru Nagy landed with your Bears.
    Reid always had/has the laminated play card covering his face on the sidelines calling the shots, so Nagy may have had a title, but Reid was the guy; same with Bieniemy.
    Seems like GMs and team presidents have come to realize that Andy Reid has a wealth of knowledge in his head, but it’s mostly staying in HIS HEAD ONLY — cards close to his vest, even with his own coordinators.
    Reid’s only “official” OC with Philly was Brad Childress, who many said floundered when he was given the reins to call plays. Childress left for the Minny HC job with the rep of being an offensive guru and went 39-35 lifetime before being fired (though he did get to an NFC Ship game with Bret Favre).
    Best wishes for your Bears, Greg. Sounds like you’d love to have a crack at straightening out the once-storied franchise, and I’d be all for that!!!

    • Absolutely correct regarding Reid’s Assistants. And its shows with how much he keeps trying to marry off Bienemy like a daughter with a “good personality”.

      On the Herman note, my own NC State Wolfpack turned a tremendous corner this year offensively, particularly in the realm of QB development. Shockingly good and fast turnaround. We have former Ohio State and Texas OC Tim Beck to thank for it, who has worked extensively with Herman. If Herman is as good or better than Beck (in theory he should be) than this could be a sneaky great move for the Bears.

      Nagy grades out as a middling P5 program Offensive Coordinator or MAC Head Coach. He won the lottery getting an NFL Head Coaching job, so good for him. Being a mediocre college coach or fringe NFL Assistant can wait another year for him. Herman may even be good enough to keep him around for another year.

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