By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) — The funny thing with football coaches is that they all know each other well, even if they have never met.
When your job consists of studying concepts on offense, dissecting a defense or looking to break a kickoff coverage, you learn something about a coaching peer and his personalities. Relationships form in time, but the reputations often precede these coaches.
Case in point: new Bears head coach Matt Nagy and his hire as offensive coordinator, former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich. The most unique of Nagy’s three coordinator hires introduced at Halas Hall on Thursday, Helfrich is an example of mutual respect without a prior connection.
Nagy was familiar with the work of Helfrich leading the Ducks and their spread-based offense. He was fascinated in what the elements to Helfrich’s schemes could bring to his modernized West Coast system. Though Helfrich had never coached in the NFL and had opportunities in the college game — including interest as Arizona’s head coach — Nagy brought him in for an interview, and they meshed.
“As you could tell from some of the things we did in Kansas City offensively, we were trying to be a little bit out of the box (with) new-wave-type of stuff,” Nagy said. “It was easy when I was approached and started researching different names that (Helfrich) was the guy. And what it made it even easier was to figure out who he was as a person, which is a theme here to all of this.
“It was a slam dunk the second I knew he was interested and got to talk football with him and people skills, it was a no-brainer.”
The same was true for Helfrich.
“It just feels close,” he said. “And I want to be part of that, to put it over the top.”
The 44-year-old Helfrich takes over a job that will entail fostering growth in quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Helfrich was 37-16 in four seasons at Oregon, leading the Ducks to the national championship game in his second season before going 4-8 and being dismissed in 2016.
Helfrich won’t call the plays — that’s a job Nagy handle — but his role will be vital. He will oversee an offense that the Bears believe will be innovative in design. The term “RPO” — run-pass option — was mentioned several times during a 53-minute media session Thursday.
Nagy and Helfrich will work together in building a Bears offense that best suits the strengths of the 23-year-old Trubisky. They’ve already begun combining their ideas. Look for a system that resembles Oregon’s in many facets, because the NFL has embraced the spread elements after years of resistance.
“You’ve seen what someone called ‘the trickle-up effect’ of college football to the NFL,” Helfrich said. “I think in the past, that certainly didn’t happen. It’s a little bit easier to be experimental in college because you can be — I don’t want to say waste a play — but you can waste a play and come back and make it happen. Whereas in the NFL, there are so many fewer plays and it’s of utmost importance, you can’t just waste one.”
At Oregon, Helfrich worked with a number of talented quarterbacks, but it was Marcus Mariota whom he was able to transform into an NFL quarterback and the second overall pick in the 2015 draft. That could serve as a mold for Trubisky’s future in the league.
Mariota thrived because his skill set was maximized in an offense that best suited him. He worked with precision in the pocket, handled the football with care and used his mobility to make plays. Those are some of the same traits that Trubisky possesses.
Helfrich could recognize the abilities of Trubisky instantly on film, but what also jumped out was that he was coachable — and he hadn’t even met Trubisky yet.
“You can tell a quarterback is coachable watching his feet and his eyes,” Helfrich said as he demonstrated a quarterback’s progressions on the podium. “And his eyes are deliberate. They’re going from one to two to three or I’m looking here, high-low on this guy, whatever it is, they’re deliberate.”
The Bears hired the 39-year-old Nagy in part because they believed he could maximize their investment in Trubisky. Nagy learned under the watch of veteran head coach Andy Reid in Philadelphia and most recently Kansas City, working in an offense that was viewed as cutting edge around the league.
Considered to be a humble individual, Nagy arrived in Chicago with a realization that he could make himself better by surrounding himself with those who boast unique resumes. He retained defensive coordinator Vic Fangio — considered among the best at his job — and brought in the respected Chris Tabor as special teams coordinator. Among the major additions to the coaching staff was Harry Hiestand, perhaps the most admired offensive line coach at any level of football.
Nagy is striving to be great by bringing in something different. Rather than hiring his friends, he sought unfamiliar faces for the coaching staff.
Helfrich is one of those, and the Bears could feature quite the new look on offense.