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Hub Arkush: Matt Nagy, coach or new-age psychologist?

October 5, 2018

Matt Nagy really seems to get it.

One of the most impressive things about the Chicago Bears’ rookie head coach through the first quarter of the season is he seems to have a solid feel for how to make his players comfortable, how to make them feel valued and how to make them want to play the game.

From the time we first arrived in Bourbonnais, I don’t think I’ve ever heard an NFL coach talk as much about making the game fun as Nagy does. Consider the trick play with Mitch Trubisky and Chase Daniel lined up next to each other in the backfield on which the Bears scored their fifth touchdown against Tampa Bay to make the score 35-3.

Apparently, Trubisky let slip in the locker room after the game that the play was called “Willie Wonka.”

After some diligent investigative reporting had revealed Daniel was involved in the design of the play and may have even named it, Nagy explained, “There’s ownership to it. There was some motions going on there, and it takes time. You can sit there and say, ’Squeeze left, Y left, Zebra right, counter motion, such-and-such, such-and-such – then you look up at the clock and there’s 14 seconds on it.

“But you go ‘Willie Wonka’ and boom, they know it. They remember it; it’s crazy how they think, but it works and when you give them ownership on that kind of stuff, it’s fun for them.”

Nagy took some heat from media and fans alike for basically giving his starters the exhibition games off, and it seemed at least in part justified when the offense just wasn’t ready when the regular season started.

Nagy never wavered.

Now he has elected to give his players basically the entire bye week off and was asked whether it had anything to do with their win over the Bucs.

“Zero. None of it had to do with winning,” Nagy said. “This is what we were going to do from the start.

“It’s something that I’ve taken with me from what we’ve done in the past in Philadelphia and in Kansas City. Coach Reid has had a hell of a record coming after bye weeks. It doesn’t mean that you win every time coming off of the bye but there is a method to the madness and I think the biggest thing with this is that it’s OK.

“You want to give your coaches and your players a breather and you have enough trust in them to understand that they’re professionals. They need to take care of themselves. It’s important in so many different areas.

“I feel like sometimes you can overdo it and you can just try to squeeze every little ounce of time that you’re allowed or permitted with these guys, and in my opinion it’s just better to let them have their time, regroup, understand that this is a long stretch here.”

No one is questioning him now.

Lastly consider the mysterious status of Kevin White. He has played limited snaps, although he did see his heaviest workload vs. the Bucs, and has zero catches and zero targets through four weeks.

The typical hard-a*s NFL coach would simply say players earn their shots.

But when asked about White on Monday, Nagy offered this.

“That’s one thing that I should have mentioned after the game was the significance of him yesterday. He had around 25 plays and they were productive plays. I’m really proud of him right now because he made some great blocks.

“With Kevin, he did what we asked him to yesterday. He did everything great. He had an unbelievable attitude all week in practice and I think what you’ll see in him is just a continued growth within this offense, whatever that role is.

“I thought he did a great job when he was in there.”

Like Nagy, Marc Trestman was billed as an offensive wunderkind, too, but he had the people skills of a martian.

There are very early signs of something special happening here, and should it continue to progress it is likely to have a lot more to do with how Nagy feels about and teaches the game than how he runs his offense.

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