When Matt Nagy returned to his alma mater to deliver the commencement speech at the University of Delaware’s graduation ceremony Saturday, the Bears coach shared two important messages.
The first was to do everything possible to make sure that you’re in the five percent of people who love what they do for a living. It was a lesson Nagy learned in 2005 from Doug Plank when the former Bears safety was head coach and Nagy was a young quarterback with the Georgia Force in the Arena Football League.
“He said, ‘When you drive to work in the morning and you get to a red light,” Nagy said, “check out how many miserable human beings at 6 a.m. in the morning are sitting at that stoplight. They’re the 95 percent. They hate their job and you guys sitting in front of me—he was talking to our team—you guys are the five percent. You love what you’re doing. Forget about the money thing, but you love what you’re doing.’”
The message hit home for Nagy a few years later when he had retired as a player and was working as a sales advisor for Keystone Custom Homes in Pennsylvania.
“I promised myself when I was sitting in a model home in Lebanon, Pennsylvania,” Nagy said, “right now I’m in the 95 percent, but that’s not me. I need to be in the five percent.”
That realization led to Nagy leaving his real estate job to accept a coaching internship with the Eagles on Andy Reid’s staff. The opportunity was set up by Brett Veach, Nagy’s former Delaware teammate who was an assistant under Reid after initially starting as an intern.
Nagy spent the next 10 years on Reid’s staff with the Eagles (2008-12) and Chiefs (2013-17), putting himself in position to land the Bears’ head-coaching position in 2018. In his first year in that role, he was named NFL coach of the year after leading the Bears to the NFC North championship with a 12-4 record.
Nagy’s second message to the graduates was one that Bears fans no doubt are already familiar with: “Be You.” The two-word slogan is painted on a wall at Halas Hall and printed on the 11-by-17 play-calling sheet that Nagy utilizes on the sideline in every game.
The inspiration for “Be You” came from Nagy’s oldest son, Braden. When Nagy—then the Chiefs offensive coordinator—was driving home after Kansas City’s gut-wrenching 22-21 playoff loss to the Titans in 2017, he received a call from Braden, who was then 13 years old.
Nagy was being criticized for his play-calling after the Chiefs blew a 21-3 halftime lead and were outscored in the second half 19-0. Braden was concerned that his father’s interview for the Bears’ head-coaching position the next day would be cancelled. When Nagy assured his son that the meeting was still on, a relieved Braden advised his father to “just be you.”
“I hung onto that,” Nagy told the Delaware graduates. “I said to myself, ‘What does Be You mean? What is he trying to tell me?’ You know what he’s trying to tell me? He’s lived with me for 13 years, and this is what it is: ‘Let your personality show. Live freely. Don’t worry about what others think. Trust your instincts.’
“It’s exceedingly natural and it just feels right. It’s believing in yourself more than any other human being in this world. That’s what ‘Being You’ is. It’s a DNA thing and it’s living with no regrets.”