When Bears players arrive for the start of the offseason program Monday, they may not recognize Halas Hall. The training facility has doubled in size thanks to a major overhaul that has turned the building into a state-of-the-art football palace.
Over the last year, the Bears themselves have experienced just as dramatic of a transformation. After stumbling to a 5-11 record and a fourth-straight last-place finish in the NFC North in 2017, first-year coach Matt Nagy fueled a remarkable resurgence in 2018 that resulted in a 12-4 mark and a division championship.
So not only is their training facility now among the best in the NFL, but so are the Bears—a Super Bowl contender that will open the league’s 100th season by hosting the rival Green Bay Packers in a Thursday night showdown Sept. 5 at Soldier Field.
“I ended the season with our exit interviews telling [players], ‘Now we’re the hunted. We’re not hunting anymore, we’re the hunted,’” said Nagy, who was named the 2018 NFL coach of the year. “But that’s pretty cool. That’s what you want. We want to be that team that gets on primetime as much as we can. If you’re doing that, you’re doing something right because people want to see you.”
While Nagy is extremely proud of the Bears’ success last season, he understands the importance of entering 2019 with a clean slate.
“Our players are going to realize and they’re going to feel it from our staff and from myself that last year is gone,” Nagy said. “It was the same thing for us last year. I told them, ‘I don’t care anything about what happened in 2017. I don’t care, this is a new year.’
“When I stand out there and I hold the trophy and I tell you, ‘This is why we’re here,’ you’ve got to believe it. I’m not sure that everybody believed it at the beginning of the season last year. Now when we get in there April 15, every one of those guys in that building is going to believe it. But it doesn’t just happen by walking on the field. We’ve got to work hard in practice, we’ve got to get better in OTAs, we’ve got to get better in training camp.”
The Bears excelled last year due in large part to their ability to always focus solely on the task at hand. It’s a message that Nagy will continue to preach in his second season.
“When we get to Week 1, we’ve got to go 1-0,” he said. “If we’re worried about going 13-3 or this or that, you can set goals and shoot for it, but you better take it week-by-week. I thought as a team last year, that was our best thing that we did as a team, coaches and players, we never looked ahead. We didn't care who we were playing, we didn't look ahead. We always took it one week at a time. So we've got to transfer that to this year.”
Motivation won’t be an issue. The success the team experienced in 2018 lit a fire in players who are starving for more. Nagy was convinced of that when all seven Bears who made their first appearances in the Pro Bowl in January communicated with him.
“They all either sent me a text or called me to tell me that they want the trophy, that [individual honors] are great, but they want the trophy,” Nagy said. “Every one of them. I thought that was pretty neat hearing that from the guys.”
No Bears player is more driven than All-Pro outside linebacker Khalil Mack. The four-time Pro Bowler and 2016 NFL defensive player of the year is still seeking his first career playoff win, having lost one postseason game with the Raiders in 2016 and one with the Bears last year.
“He’s hungry,” Nagy said. “He wants a Super Bowl. The guy was in the gym working out as the Super Bowl was being played. I know that for a fact. That’s pretty good to have that. When you have guys like that that want the trophy and they want the ultimate prize in the end, that’s special. It’s a lot of hard work. We have a good group of guys that are focused, that are determined and they’re ready for the challenge.”
Take a look at the Bears new and returning coaches heading into the 2019 season