If the Chicago Bears conduct a coaching search next month — and numerous league sources have indicated it is far more likely than not that will be the case — Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald will be at the top of their wish list.
Frustration is mounting within ownership about the performance of coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace, sources said, and Fitzgerald has long had the attention of ownership. Northwestern is having another excellent season and while the former Wildcat player has long asserted he hoped to coach in Evanston for life, he did grant the Packers an audience about their head coaching job two years ago before quickly withdrawing, and the Bears have long been identified by those close to him as the one NFL job he might seriously entertain at the appropriate time.
It remains to be seen if that will be the case in January, but with the Bears falling from 5-1 to 5-6 and in great jeopardy of missing the playoffs even despite an expanded postseason field, Nagy and Pace are both under heavy scrutiny (along with team president Ted Phillips, league sources said). Nagy lashed out at his players publically in the aftermath of a dreadful loss in primetime to the Packers, and the inability to identify and/or develop a decent quarterback has become a cause of deep concern within the organization.
Billionaire Pat Ryan, who owns 10 percent of the Bears and is a Northwestern alumn, is a massive proponent of Fitzgerald’s and maintains a very strong relationship with the coach, sources said, and it is impossible to imagine a Bears coaching search at this point that would include a concerted effort to recruit Fitzgerald. Whether that would be enough to entice him remains to be seen, and numerous teams have attempted to lure him to the pros in the past, but none have the proximity and hometown ties that Chicago offers.
Regardless, sources said it is going to take an immediate and sustained turnaround to preclude the Bears from making significant changes to their current regime at the end of the season, beginning Sunday as they host a Lions team that just parted with its head coach and general manager last week.