Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy will return in 2021, a league source said Tuesday evening.
The futures of both were in question earlier this season when the Bears endured a six-game losing streak, capped by a 34-30 home loss to the Detroit Lions on Dec. 6. But the Bears won three straight games in December to remain in the playoff hunt, and despite a 35-16 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the regular-season finale, they secured a postseason berth for the second time in Nagy’s three seasons.
They lost 21-9 to the New Orleans Saints on wild-card weekend. But the late-season turnaround, led by quarterback Mitch Trubisky and an improved offense, and a plan for the future likely convinced Bears ownership to stick with the duo for another season.
However, defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano will retire, leaving the Bears in need of a new defensive leader.
Pace has been the Bears GM for six seasons, with his teams posting a 42-54 regular-season record, qualifying for the postseason twice and failing to record a playoff victory.
Pace, whom The Sporting News named the league’s executive of the year after the 2018 season, was instrumental in jump-starting a $100 million project to expand Halas Hall, an overhaul that was completed in 2019 with a 162,500-square-foot football operations addition.
Pace’s landmark trade to acquire Khalil Mack on Labor Day weekend 2018 helped spark a division championship season. Without question, though, the defining moment of Pace’s tenure with the Bears is his decision to trade up from No. 3 to No. 2 in the 2017 draft and select Trubisky over fellow first-round quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.
Trubisky’s four seasons were a roller coaster — flashes of brilliance and promise mixed with long stretches of inconsistency. With Mahomes winning NFL MVP honors in 2018 and leading the Kansas City Chiefs to their first Super Bowl title the following season and Watson becoming a perennial Pro Bowl selection with the Houston Texans, Pace’s decision to pick Trubisky has been criticized heavily and has been a stain on his resume.
The Bears’ failure over the last two seasons to build on their 12-4 division championship season in 2018 has also been problematic. Nagy helped spark that run to the NFC North title and was honored as the NFL Coach of the Year.
But his inability to capitalize on that momentum while also failing to elevate the Bears offense or take Trubisky to the next level created two seasons of frustration.
This season’s struggles created plenty of unrest with the Bears following a 5-1 start with a 56-day stretch in which they didn’t win.
In early December, after the Bears blew a 10-point lead in the final 5 minutes and lost to the last-place Lions, they were stuck in a dispiriting six-game losing streak with calls for significant change amplifying from the fan base and outsiders.
The Bears steadied themselves in the final month with encouraging wins over the Texans, Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars.
And that stretch, plus whatever plan Pace and Nagy presented for the future, apparently was enough for the Bears to reason they should give them more time.
Pagano was the Bears defensive coordinator for two seasons after Pace and Nagy hired him to replace Vic Fangio, who left to be the Denver Broncos’ head coach. He had been the Indianapolis Colts’ head coach from 2012-17 before serving in a consulting role with the league in 2018.
Pagano took over one of the best defenses in the league from 2018, but his units haven’t matched the group that led the league with 36 takeaways and 17.7 points allowed per game.
The Bears had 18 takeaways, including 10 interceptions, in 2020. Former All-Pro cornerback Kyle Fuller had one pick, while former All-Pro safety Eddie Jackson had none for the first time in his career. The Bears ranked 17th in the NFL with 35 sacks, their highly paid outside linebacker duo of Mack and Robert Quinn combining for 11.
The Bears defense played a major role in the team getting off to a 5-1 start, and it had a solid performance in the playoff game, holding the Saints to just seven points in the first half.
But the unit’s failures against the NFC North champion Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers were troubling. In two games against Green Bay, excluding kneel-down possessions, the Bears defense gave up 10 touchdowns on 15 series, didn’t force a turnover and allowed the Packers to average 6.3 yards per play.