Be You: Matt Nagy Won't Change Who He Is In Leading Bears

"He's so passionate about what he believes in," Allen Robinson says.

Chris Emma
June 26, 2018 - 12:10 pm
Bears coach Matt Nagy

Kamil Krzaczynski/USA Today Sports

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By Chris Emma--

(670 The Score) A decade before Matt Nagy was tasked with leading a charter football franchise in Chicago, he was self-described washed-up Arena League player seeking what was next for his life.

Nagy took a job in real estate back in 2008 to support his wife and four children. It wasn't where he wanted to be, because staying in football -- coaching -- was the ultimate dream, though one he wasn't positive he could pursue because of sacrifices for his family. Football would mean less money at a pivotal life juncture and more time away from home.

Nagy was selling a house that day 10 years ago when then-Eagles coach Andy Reid called and offered him a job on his staff. The rest is history and a story recounted often during Nagy's first six months getting established as head coach of the Bears, who hired him in January. 

The path Nagy took to his place in Chicago was fresh in mind during his introduction to the Bears and this city, and it still remains impactful within a demanding job. Nagy is every bit the influence of Reid as he is Larry Wisdom, the man who took a chance on him in real estate. Nagy is at once described by tight end Trey Burton as a rock star while also lauded by Burton for his down-to-earth demeanor.

Hoping to be the next coaching icon for Chicago, Nagy is still every bit the product of small-town Pennsylvania as he embarks with the Bears. Those around the organization -- players, coaches and executives alike -- are struck by his persona.

"He came in humble," linebacker Danny Trevathan said. "But he was hungry."

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Nagy's background as a quarterback is reflected as he leads practice. Shirts must be tucked in, and the field must be cleared of stray footballs and helmets. Every detail matters for Nagy, who has showcased the Bill Belichick-ian side that every coach possesses to an extent.

But he's going about this job differently from many of his peers in the league. In the ultimate team sport, Nagy is empowering the individuals within his locker room. Painted in bold lettering along the walls outside the meeting rooms at Halas Hall is a mantra that he has carried to the Bears.

BE YOU.

"It’s important because when you get into these roles and these specific positions on offense, defense and special teams, there’s a bunch of different personalities," Nagy said. "There are quiet guys and there are guys that are loud, and I just hate to pull back from any of that. I want guys to just be real, to just be themselves."

Added receiver Allen Robinson: "It's actually really fun playing for him because he's so passionate about what he believes in."

There's no right or wrong way to lead a football team. Belichick certainly never had a motto like this, but his success won't be questioned. Nagy is simply doing it his way, hoping to reveal the best of his Bears by allowing players to be themselves.

Chicago knows this well from the quirky stylings of Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who has brought everything to the ballclub from themed road trips to clubhouse magicians and to petting zoos in left field.

Maddon had created the concept of "be you" before it became vogue at Halas Hall, and he has already shared several conversations with Nagy about coaching and leadership.

"You're talking about a cultural change right here," Maddon said of Nagy. "What you want to be able to do is elicit the best of a guy on a daily basis. You want him to be him. Too many times, you come and want to lay out all these rules and regulations, and all of a sudden this guy's got to start worrying about that more than something in the playbook. They're always in fear of doing something wrong, whether it's on or off the field. Really a bad method. I've never advocated that method. I think that's what you're seeing more of.

"There are still a couple of old-school guys out there that adhere to the past, and they're very successful. But with today's player, man, it's a lot of conversation. If you choose to not take the time to try to get to know these guys and really try to highlight to them what they're all about, you're going to miss a lot if you choose to go the other direction."

The Bears won't be traveling to Lambeau Field for their opener wearing zany suits or dressing as Anchorman characters like Maddon's Cubs. One can expect more music blasting on the sidelines of practice or inside the locker room. The work on the field already seems more spirited than before because of the increased comfort at Halas Hall.

A core goal behind Nagy's methods is to break up the strenuous NFL routine and create a platform for growth that's not so rigid.

"Just be yourself," said new Bears receivers coach Mike Furrey, a seven-year NFL veteran. "Just be who you are. Be what got you here. That's what it is. Show your personality, show your passion, have fun. A lot of guys hide that. They get so uptight because it is the NFL. It is so demanding. 

"You start losing the fun part of it and it becomes more of a business where you're so locked in, that if you don't do something the way other people want you to do it, you feel lost. That's not the way to do it. That's the easiest way out. You got to be able to come in and continue to do what has made you get here."

Added veteran assistant Ed Donatell of Nagy's methodology: "Usually, you find that when a person is very confident in their own skin and very secure. He lets people do their job and he does it with a glow. That's cool."

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There have already been long hours for Nagy in his new office at Halas Hall, even several months away from the regular season. He spent his first couple months learning about his team and then went to work instilling his values and ideas in every turn of the building.

These values are also reflected in some quiet moments for Nagy that weren't meant for anyone to see.

After throwing out the first pitch at Wrigley Field on a cold April day with temperatures in the 20s, he broke from the pack and expressed his appreciation to the national anthem singer, who seemed to be shocked by who had tapped him on the shoulder and extended a handshake.

Then there was the funeral of fallen Chicago firefighter Juan Bucio in early June, honoring a a local hero who died diving into the Chicago River trying to save a man from drowning.  The funeral fell amid a busy stretch between the Bears' OTAs and mandatory minicamp, but Nagy attended because he felt it was important.

"You try to put it into perspective into somebody that loses their life trying to save somebody else," Nagy said when asked why he was there. "That's real. That's just the human element, the human side of it. 

"It was a moment that I'll never forget, just to see all the support that he had and his family had. It just goes to show you what this city is all about, everybody and how much they care for each other and how we're all here for one another. I just felt that was the right thing to do, and I'm very glad I did it."

Nagy will ultimately be defined as the Bears' coach by how his offense and plans suit the strengths of a 23-year-old quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky and whether the defense can go from good to great. There's great work ahead for an organization that has been one of the worst in football over the last three seasons.

The challenges ahead are something that Nagy embraces. Not only is it what he signed up for this past January, but it's what he was seeking out 10 years ago as a washed-up Arena League quarterback.

In Nagy, the Bears hired a head coach comfortable simply being himself.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.