Bizarre Bears-Illinois-Northwestern football coaching triangle on display this weekSteve Greenbergon December 8, 2020 at 10:56 pm

Illinois’ Lovie Smith and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald after the Wildcats’ 42-21 win in 2016.
Illinois’ Lovie Smith and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald after the Wildcats’ 42-21 win in 2016. | Nam Y. Huh, AP Photos

Matt Nagy hasn’t handled the Bears job as well as Lovie Smith did. Smith isn’t handling college coaching like Pat Fitzgerald has. And guess who might be the next coach introduced at Halas Hall?

Is it that time already? Ooh, yes, it is. Bizarre Football Coaching Triangle Week is here.

And what a developing situation it is, folks.

Up at Halas Hall, home to a Bears team in utter free fall, coach Matt Nagy may or may not be digging an escape tunnel under the desk in his office. Either way, he must know his days are numbered. And even if they somehow aren’t, he knows every fan with sausage grease in his mustache and navy blue and orange on his breath is shouting for regime change.

“I don’t get into any speculation on any of that,” Nagy said Monday on a Zoom call with reporters.

Former Bears players, though, are happy to join in stoking the flames. As Lance Briggs tweeted toward the end of Sunday’s appalling collapse against the Lions, “Nagy gonna Nagy.” Kyle Long tweeted a crack about “Club Dud.” Matt Forte’s missive was even better:

“Lovie Smith won 10 games and got fired, but that’s none of my business.”

It’s true: Smith was kicked to the curb by the Bears after a 10-6 campaign in 2012. Seemingly a lifetime later, he’s being raked over the coals at Illini in 2020. In Year 5 at the school, Smith is a deeply disappointing 17-38 overall and carries a 2-4 season mark into Saturday’s rivalry game at Northwestern.

It’s hard to find much support for Smith in any corner of Illini Nation these days. Maybe if the team had held on Saturday and beaten Iowa after racing out to a 14-0 lead? Instead, the Illini were trucked by the Hawkeyes, who scored 35 straight points. In Champaign, football progress remains a vague rumor.

“We’re better in all areas,” Smith said this week. “I think anybody that’s watching football, that knows football, will say that.”

Perhaps he should’ve narrowed that to anyone named Lovie, anyone with a friend named Lovie or anyone with a Lovie in their family. Others instead see basic facts like Smith’s 0-4 record against Northwestern, which has outscored the Illini 137-54 in those four games and has a five-game overall winning streak in the Land of Lincoln Trophy series.

“Five years is too long,” Smith said.

Minnesota Vikins v Chicago Bears
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Any way Nagy looks at it, an 0-6 slide is brutal.

Pat Fitzgerald begs to differ. Maybe Nagy is no Smith as an NFL coach, but Smith is no Fitzgerald as a college coach. The Wildcats are 5-1 and Big Ten West champs for the second time in three years. It’s no wonder Fitzgerald, in his 15th season atop the program but only 46 years old, still is widely regarded as a coach with everything going for him.

As for the whole “triangle” thing, how perfect is it that Illinois week arrives just as Fitzgerald is seeing his name being connected to the Bears job all over the media? A headline said, “The solution to the Bears’ sloppiness is already in Chicago.” An headline said, “Why the Bears Shouldn’t Hire Pat Fitzgerald.” Both were preceded by a report stating that Fitzgerald is at the top of the Bears’ wish list.

Fitzgerald knows a thing or two about others’ wish lists. He has mostly ignored all previous opportunities, and they have been plentiful. It makes sense that he would look at the Bears — his hometown NFL team — differently, that he would be interested, that the family and lifestyle logistics would be there and the fan in him would come alive.

I texted him for a comment or at least some background.

“Background? Beat the Illini,” he cracked.

OK, so it’s a bizarre triangle, not an open book. And it’s a week like no other — in a year like no other — on our football coaching scene.


Ladies and gentlemen: Adam Eaton.


If you’re unconvinced that Eaton is the outfield answer the White Sox needed for 2021, you’re not alone. Maybe he’ll be great. Maybe he’ll enhance the team’s chemistry. Maybe the sky above Guaranteed Rate Field will remain a gorgeous blue all next season, even at night.

There should be fewer — if any — questions about the trade for starting pitcher Lance Lynn. This is straight-up improvement, no two ways about it.

Oakland Athletics v Texas Rangers
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Lance Lynn? Yeah, that’ll work.

“On paper,” Lynn said Tuesday, “it looks good.”

Anything that begins with the words Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel and Lynn looks mighty good.

“We’re going to keep each other accountable,” Lynn said. “We’re going to have our friendly rivalry as teammates to have fun and push each other through the year, and I’m looking forward to that and I know that those guys are, too. They’ve already reached out to me and they’re ready to rock, and so am I.”

I’ll give you Sox fans a moment to calm down.

• DePaul’s men’s basketball team keeps canceling or postponing all its games due to coronavirus problems. It’s got to be frustrating.

Northern Illinois’ football team keeps losing all its games due to, well, football problems. It’s got to be tough.

Hmm, but which is worse?


Better yet, don’t.

• Saturday’s Michigan-Ohio State football game had to be canceled because of a boatload of positive COVID-19 cases in the Wolverines football program. This rivalry isn’t what it used to be — Jim Harbaugh has the same number of wins against the Buckeyes as your Uncle Earl — but no The Game still leaves a heck of a hole in the Big Ten schedule.

“Health and safety is paramount,” Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said, “and it will always come first in our decision-making.”

Translation: “Coach Harbaugh wants to know if this can be counted as a tie.”

• The Buckeyes, stuck on five games played, need to scramble to come up with a sixth regular-season opponent or else they won’t qualify for the Big Ten title game. Just spitballing, but what about the Bears? They aren’t doing anything important.

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