By Chris Emma–
(670 The Score) Somewhere in that Sunday at a Kansas City boutique hotel on Jan. 7, Matt Nagy sat and listened as the Bears’ brass outlined the team’s direction.
Nagy needed to be sure the Bears were right for him, with general manager Ryan Pace illustrating what they realistically could accomplished in these coming years. Nagy, 39, felt confident this would be the head coaching opportunity for him, and the Bears were equally sold on him.
With that in mind, Nagy began searching for a staff with the hopes of finding coordinators and coaches who shared his vision. The result has the hiring of a group of coaches who have different football backgrounds and also share a common belief.
“It feels like we’re close as a culture around here,” new offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said.
“And I want to be part of that, to put it over the top.”
Hiring Helfrich was an example of Nagy having an open mind. Rather than bringing aboard buddies to his coaching staff or those who share schematic similarities, he found a bright mind that can help make his offense more diverse. In Helfrich, Nagy hired an offensive coordinator who has mastered the spread offense, which he could blend into his modernized West Coast system.
Helfrich was 37-16 as Oregon’s head coach and led the Ducks to the national championship in 2014 before being dismissed after the 2016 season. Nagy had little connection to Helfrich but didn’t need one. Their beliefs were shared from the start.
“We talked a little ball,” Nagy said. “We talked philosophy, we talked about his situation and knowing whether or not this is something he wants to get into — coming from such a great background in college and being the head coach of a prominent program — to come here and help me grow not only as an offensive coach but as a head coach. I thought that was very valuable. So it’s been great learning more and more about him each day and really excited about what we can do offensively, and I think we’ll work well offensively.”
Nagy hit big with his first hire, landing the highly respected Harry Hiestand as his offensive line coach one day after being introduced as head coach. It was clear then that Nagy could attract quality assistants.
Nagy tabbed Chris Tabor as his special teams coordinator, citing his past work with the respected Dave Toub in Chicago among other reasons. But the most important hire he would make was at defensive coordinator, where he made it a priority to retain Vic Fangio.
Before his introduction at Halas Hall on Jan. 9, Nagy had already reached out to Fangio to make clear that he wanted him back. They spoke on several occasions during the course of Nagy’s first week in charge.
Fangio has overseen a transformation of the Bears defense, which rose from rankings near the bottom of the league when he took over in January 2015 to ninth in scoring defense and 10th in total defense in 2017.
“I just had to feel comfortable with everything,” Fangio said. “You know, with who the head coach was going to be, the continued direction of the team as far as where we were headed roster-wise, things of that nature. Just the general stuff.
“(Nagy) is attacking it with enthusiasm, an open mind, open to finding out better ways to do things potentially.”
Nagy appears to be every bit the “washed-up Arena League player” — as he put it — who takes pride in his Pennsylvania roots and the path he took to Chicago. It sure sounded good in the introductory press conference, but Nagy has applied that to building a coaching staff.
On the offensive side, he also hired respected running backs coach Charles London, former NFL receiver Mike Furrey as receivers coach and Kevin Gilbride Jr. as tight ends coach, with only a decision for quarterbacks coach remaining.
Fangio is expecting to retain most — if not all — of his defensive coaching staff, while Tabor added the interesting Brock Olivo to his special teams group. Nagy has already begun to share stories and philosophies with his new staff.
It remains to be seen what Nagy will be as a head coach, though his approach to the first weeks on the job are encouraging.
The team’s hope is that Nagy’s new coaching staff makes him and the Bears what they believe it all can be.
“For me,” he said, “being a young coach coming into it for the first time, (I hoped to) surround myself with people that have strong character and have been through those situations and know how to deal with it. Trust me, throughout this process, I’ll be going to these guys for advice, and that’s OK because it’s only going to make me better.”