Somebody messaged James Daniels on Discord early Monday morning. It was a link to a tweet reporting that Bears head coach Matt Nagy had been fired.
Daniels was minutes away from stepping into a team meeting at Halas Hall in Lake Forest.
“It’s not what I expected,” Daniels said. “I mean, I woke up this morning and I was expecting to do my exit interviews and stuff.”
It didn’t end with Matt Nagy, either. The Bears fired general manager Ryan Pace after seven seasons. Nagy and Pace were instrumental in building this current Bears roster. Their fingerprints are all over it.
Nobody feels that more than the players, who were the ones dealing with Nagy and Pace on a daily basis.
“Coach Nagy and Ryan, they were the ones who called me right when I got drafted here,” Daniels said. “So, I mean, to see them go, because we’ve built such a good relationship over the past four years. It’s sad to see them go.”
Outside linebacker Trevis Gipson hadn’t seen the reports on social media. He heard the news right from Nagy’s mouth during their Monday morning meeting.
“He told us how much he cared about us and that he will always be there for us,” Gipson said. “It’s all love for coach Nagy and it’s always going to be like that. So I’m very appreciative of the memories that I was blessed to be able to make with him.”
The results are the results and they speak for themselves. The Bears were 6-11 this season. Nagy was 34-33 as a head coach, including two playoff losses. Pace’s seven Bears teams were a combined 48-67, including those two playoff losses.
And the product, particularly on the offensive side, was sometimes painful to watch. But that doesn’t mean that those leaders weren’t respected within the locker room. Players liked playing for Nagy.
Daniels noted that little things matter to players, things like playing music during practice or dancing in the locker room after victories.
Running back David Montgomery said he was grateful to Pace and Nagy for giving him a chance. Many teams passed on Montgomery before the Bears selected him in the third round of the 2019 draft.
“They took a chance on me,” Montgomery said. “They took a chance on a poor kid from Cincinnati who people looked at as if he wasn’t going to be good enough to even get a chance to play. That’s why it’s emotional for me. Because they stuck their neck out on the line for me. And I appreciate them for that.”
Countless players on the 2021 roster have similar stories.
As the attention turns toward the future, the players are no different than the fans in this moment – at least from the perspective that they don’t know what happens next. The Bears need a new general manager and a new head coach. Both processes will take time.
After the year-end meeting Monday morning, there’s not much more for the players to do except go home and wait.
“Yeah, you just take it one step at a time,” Montgomery said. “I cannot control the future. I don’t hold the future, nor do I know the answers. I’m just going to take it one day at a time.”