ATLANTA – He came, he saw, and he flipped the fortunes of the Bears on a dime in one year.
After a stellar 12-4 rookie campaign that saw the Bears win the NFC North for the first time since 2010 under his guidance, head coach Matt Nagy has been named the Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year. Nagy beat out other prime candidates like the Colts’ Frank Reich and Chargers’ Anthony Lynn to capture the illustrious honor, on George Halas’ birthday no less.
“I want to thank the AP for selecting me as the Coach of the Year for 2018, especially considering the other deserving coaches who had outstanding seasons,” Nagy said. “This recognition is not about me, it is about our coaching staff, our players, the entire organization and the great Chicago Bears fans. We won this together as a family.”
When the Bears hired Nagy last January, they were confident he would be the one to change the culture and take the organization into the forefront of modern football. They knew he could be the person to simultaneously help unlock Mitchell Trubisky’s potential as a quarterback while being the leader the Bears needed. Nagy himself then talked about how his main goal would be to instill “passion and positive energy” in his team. What followed over the next year was far better than anyone involved could’ve ever imagined.
Passion and positive energy was a mantra that reverberated within Nagy’s Bears every step of the way.
The Bears began the 2018 season with a heartbreaking defeat by the Packers at Lambeau Field, where they blew a 20-point second half lead. A familiar refrain over roughly the past decade against the franchise’s archenemy. Cries of the “same old Bears” were frequent, but Nagy didn’t let his team feel sorry for themselves. The Bears could’ve easily went in the tank, but somehow they didn’t. This time was different. Their head coach picked them up immediately and Chicago rattled off three straight wins over the Seahawks, Cardinals, and Buccaneers as fervor over Nagy’s work began earnestly developing.
When the Bears subsequently lost to the Dolphins and Patriots to start their first losing streak under Nagy at midseason, they rallied for nine wins in their last 10 games. The only other NFL team to match such a stretch was Reich in Indianapolis.
Every time anyone on the outside looking in thought the Bears were down and out, Nagy was there to lift them up. Every time the Bears faced an ounce of adversity, Nagy, the masterful conductor, had them power through and shine brighter than ever on the other side. For the first time in years, it felt like the Bears, of all teams, inconceivably had an answer to every question. That was thanks to the diligence, dedication, and genuine aplomb of Nagy.
One of the most notable and best examples of the positivity and passion Nagy was able to instill in the Bears was the emergence of “Club Dub”: a dance celebration the Bears had in their locker room after each of their 12 wins. While admittedly this became more of a marketing effort by the Bears to close the season, it was a perfect encapsulation of what Nagy emphasized and pushed with his players. Football is serious business, but it’s okay to celebrate accomplishments. It’s okay to revel in the moments that are necessary. That loose atmosphere and tight chemistry followed the Bears the entire season.
The challenge now for Nagy rests in getting his team past the Wild Card Round after a painful one-and-done defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles early last month. The Bears have the talent and the inherent team unity needed to make a Super Bowl run next season. Now, they have to piece it all together. A championship window is open and Nagy knows it. That is perhaps what places him in such a unique position as one of the league’s best coaches already: he’s not satisfied.
If the Bears were to make it to the big game in 2020, Nagy would follow his Coach of the Year winning predecessor in the Rams’ Sean McVay (2017): who took Los Angeles to Super Bowl LIII this year. Nagy would also continue a recent trend of second-year head coaches making the Super Bowl: each of the last three NFC winners (Falcons, Eagles, Rams) have been led by a second-year head coach. Twenty of the 106 Super Bowl head coaches have been second-year head coaches, by far the most common number.
Nagy’s Coach of the Year honor puts him in hallowed company. He’s the fifth different Bears head coach to win the award since its original inception in 1957. Previous winners include George Halas (1963, 1965), Mike Ditka (1985, 1988), Dick Jauron (2001), and Lovie Smith (2005).
Fittingly, it was Nagy who broke Halas’ record for wins in an inaugural season (10) set all the way back in 1920. Fourteen different men have roamed the sideline for the Bears other than Halas, and Nagy was the first to finally surpass one of his accomplishments. That’s a high bar. One he’ll be poised to continue to push.
Nagy, 40, gets to celebrate both his first Coach of the Year honor and his 17th wedding anniversary with his wife, Stacey. Chances are this is just the first of many nights to remember for the Bears’ lead man.