When Marc Trestman convened his very first meeting as Bears head coach in 2013, he proceeded to alienate critically important veterans with a number of rules and declarations that left Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers and others with what would be a lasting impression that this first-time NFL head coach was bordering on clueless. The perception became reality.
Matt Nagy brings his own set of rules, peccadillos, quirks, whatever you want to call them: tucking your shirt in, no footballs on the ground, no helmets laying on the ground, running from drill to drill, or a fast jog. Nagy has his talking points on 3x5 note cards, which John Fox likely didn’t need. But if there were eye-rolls by some seasoned vets (sartorial excellence being less important than whether you’re in the correct gap), knowing that Nagy comes from the highly successful Andy Reid coaching family likely gets rookie-coach Nagy some slack.
But an early takeaway is that he doesn’t need a lot.
Where the mood of veterans after the Trestman startup was clear from the damning-with-faint-praise reactions, that didn’t appear to be the case now. Akiem Hicks, now one of the senior leaders on a young team, was impressed. That matters. And it matters that Hicks has seen a trait in Nagy that every player learns and needs to be at the NFL level.
“’Detailed,’” Hicks said on Tuesday. “That was my first impression of Nagy. Just very obsessive about being detailed and having us be detailed. And watching his morning meetings, you always get a good feel for a coach with how he addresses the entire team, and he makes sure he hits all his points, he has his cue cards out and making sure that he gets everybody in line and knowing what we’ve got for the day and stuff like that. He’s very — I wouldn’t say OCD, yet, but he’s very detailed… .
“I'm a people reader, so my first thing was seeing the cue cards, like seeing the cards is like, 'OK, I'm not going to miss anything in this meeting,' you know what I mean? I think that's the attentiveness it takes to make sure that you go over everything that we have for the rest of OTAs and the morning meeting, it's probably strenuous. I think that was the best example of him being detailed to me.”
Of course, what’s actually ON those cards is the more important point. But Nagy has the keys to the kingdom right now so if there’s any pushback (there was no mention of a Trestman-like directive that everyone should sit with someone different every day at lunch for a bit of kumbaya getting-to-know-you), it’ll be muted in a culture where you do things the head coach’s way or you’ll hit the highway. Most of those player types, though, were weeded out over the Fox and GM Ryan Pace years so far. Nagy is taking over a team that may not have won, but isn’t infected with true losers.
Change is inevitable, big and little, and all worth watching.
The changes to the offense likely will stand out if only because of virtually all new coaches, and ranging from schemes and personnel packages to defensive lineman Rashaad Coward moving to offense (somewhere Mark Bortz and Big Cat Williams are smiling).
The changes to the defense will be lesser if only because that was part of the whole point with retaining Vic Fangio as coordinator and his staff. Nagy knows what he’s got.
“Here’s a guy [Fangio]with a lot of experience where I’m able to say, ‘Hey, listen, take these guys, do your thing,’” Nagy said. “I’ll oversee. I’ll help where I can. But for this start right now, where we’re at as a team and for me in my role with this offense, trying to oversee everything, it’s invaluable to have Vic on that end.”
(Not sure that Mike Ditka said that about Buddy Ryan when Ditka took over, but hey…. Besides, George Halas mandated that Buddy stayed.)
It’s all easy now, lotta feel-good, fresh start, all that. But you can tell things by what’s said and what’s not said by players even at this point. The media love fest is underway just loving what’s right now the anti-Fox, but none of that matters even a little. What does matter is whether players take to him as someone and whose assistants are about making them better and winning.
“[Nagy] is going to have fun,” said running back Jordan Howard. “He’s going to joke around and stuff but at times he’s going to be serious and stuff. He’s always on offense. You asked Akiem, [Nagy] is always on offense but he has to go to the defense as well because that is new for him.
“But he’s learning.”
A rookie head coach who’s impressed his players that he’s learning, rather than knowing it all. That would be a good thing.