Bears coach Matt Nagy: ‘It’s about the players, not the plays’

March 18, 2019

DeKALB – Surely, Bears Head Coach Matt Nagy saw shades of the oldest of his four sons when 9-year-old Gavin Pickett stepped up to the microphone.

“What’s up bud?” Nagy asked.

“Which player do you think had the most impact on the team?” the 9-year-old Hinckley Elementary School student asked.

Excited oohs chorused from the nearly sold-out auditorium Sunday evening at DeKalb High School. Surely, Khalil Mack, the human wrecking ball of a linebacker who single-handedly kept offensive coordinators up at night, many were surely thinking.

“You guys are asking some tough questions,” Nagy said with a grin that suggested a defensive coordinator had just sniffed out a trick play. “Which jersey are you wearing?”

“Trubisky,” Gavin said without looking down.

“I like him,” Nagy said, drawing laughs at his diplomacy. “He’s good. Does that work?”

Gavin nodded emphatically.

Nagy was brought to the high school by Resource Bank to talk team-building. All the proceeds on the $25 tickets go to Family Service Agency. Before he knew he’d be coaching No. 10, he suffered a massive gut check.

He was calling the plays when Kansas City hemorrhaged a 21-3 halftime lead against the Tennessee Titans in the wild card round of the AFC playoffs in January 2018, and fell 22-21.

Devastated, and mere hours away with a long interview with the Bears brass the next day, he called his oldest son, 12-year-old Brayden, on his way home to see his family and get his head straight.

Brayden asked his dad whether he’d been calling the plays, as the Chiefs abandoned their juggernaut running game.

Then he triple-checked that his dad still had his interview the next day.

Nagy laughed. Then son gave dad chills, and inspired that message you see on Sundays on the back of Nagy’s play-calling sheet.

“He goes, ‘Just be you in the interview,’ ” Nagy said. “I remember exactly where I was at that time.”

The rest is Bears history: a 12-4 regular season, a first playoff appearance in 12 years and two uprights and a crossbar away from a first playoff win since 2006 – all culminating in the freshman coach being named NFL Coach of the Year.

Yet his humility, his roots in a small town of 5,000 in Manheim, Pennsylvania, and emphasis on family, were glaring. With his quick, clever wit and comedic timing, he established himself to the DeKalb County faithful as the antithesis of Bill Belichick.

Gavin’s uncle, 17-year-old Carson Pickett, a junior at Hinckley High, asked for the best advice for an up-and-comer interested in sports management.

Nagy urged networking and persistence over resistance.

“Also, charge 2 percent, not 3 percent,” he said, drawing a mix of cheers and laughs.

The DeKalb faithful drew laughs, too.

Jan Jacobsen of DeKalb, for instance, asked why Nagy still was rocking the visor in subzero temperatures.

“I’m not the only woman who wants to know,” she said.

“I guess I’m superstitious,” Nagy said.

As for team-building, Nagy said anyone toiling in a small business, helping a corporate giant, or managing the wide scope of personalities on an NFL team needs to know one thing: Success comes from managing people the right way.

“Treating people the right way, that’s what it’s all about,” he said, adding that his parents were divorced when he was young. “My mom taught me how to treat people.”

You have to know which buttons to push with whom, Nagy said.

“Everyone’s different,” he said. “Tarik Cohen is extremely happy, and then you get somebody like Al Robinson, who does everything the right way, and in a meeting, he doesn’t say much.”

Nagy threw several mantras that likely stuck to many: persistence over resistance and adapt or die among them. He emphasized clear communication and reacting the right way to adversity.

He said it’s crucial to be honest and work without regrets – whether that’s in NFL free agency or making a tough fire.

But he kept coming back to the importance of keeping people happy. Having fun.

Hence, Club Dub and Saturday dance-offs – during which video wasn’t allowed. Although you saw the fruits of that on national TV.

“It really brought us together,” Nagy said. “Then you start seeing some more touchdown celebrations on Sunday.”

The bottom line, however, he said in closing the Q&A session, is putting people first.

“In the end, it’s about this: Remember, it’s about the players, not the play-calling,” he said, drawing a third and final ovation.