Ryan Pace was thrilled to see the man he hired win the 2018 NFL Coach of the Year Award. But the Bears general manager wasn’t surprised by Matt Nagy’s success.
Pace knew exactly what Nagy was capable of even before the former Chiefs offensive coordinator was introduced as Bears head coach in January 2018.
“We checked a lot of the boxes off just doing the research, so by the time we got to the interview, it just kind of confirmed a lot of the things that we felt,” Pace said.
“We knew very quickly that he was going to be a special head coach. It’s weird to say, but I’m not really surprised by the success that he’s had or the type of head coach that he is because you could visualize it just meeting with him and doing research on him.”
In 2018, Nagy led the Bears to a 12-4 record and the NFC North championship. The team had finished in last place in the division each of the previous four years with records of 5-11, 6-10, 3-13 and 5-11. The Bears won nine of their final 10 regular-season games for the first time since 1985.
“It’s just how authentic he is,” Pace said. “The players are the first people who feel that; if you’re authentic or you’re not and you’re comfortable in your own skin. That’s very authentic and that showed up in the interview, too. He has this unique blend of being extremely confident but not having a big ego, and I think that’s a special blend that he has, and it’s good to work with that.”
Nagy’s 12 wins were the most by a first-year coach in Bears history and more than any of the NFL’s other 31 current coaches in their first seasons. In addition, he became the first coach to lead the Bears to a winning record and a postseason berth in his first year since Paddy Driscoll in 1956.
Under Nagy’s direction, the Bears went 5-1 against NFC North foes after they were 4-20 versus their division rivals the previous four seasons. They also went 7-1 in regular-season home games, their best record at Soldier Field since the 2005 team also went 7-1.
Asked about winning the Coach of the Year Award, Nagy shared the credit.
“It was really humbling for me,” Nagy said. “It just speaks volumes about our coaching staff and everybody in the building. That’s what we’re all about. We’ve talked about the family thing from Day 1. I’m the one who accepts [the award], but it speaks to who we are for the players, for the coaches, for everybody that was a part of it.”
The positive vibe that Nagy brought to Halas Hall played an integral role in the Bears’ dramatic turnaround in 2018. The team won seven more games than it had the previous season and had eight players voted to the Pro Bowl after sending none to the all-star contest in 2017.
“Everyone trusted each other,” Nagy said. “We won; that’s the most important thing, you’ve got to win. We became a family, a true family. Everyone has supported each other and no one’s happy with just being where we got to the playoffs. Everybody wants more.”
The Bears’ magical 2018 season ended with a 16-15 wild-card playoff loss to the Eagles, a bitter defeat that will push them to reach even greater heights in the future.
“It’ll motivate our guys,” Nagy said. “They get it; they’re smart. It’ll motivate our coaches. When you lose, you always want to know the ‘why’ part. We dug into all that and we saw it and we all can do better across the board. It’ll keep guys hungry and we’ll remember that feeling that we had in that locker room every practice and every game that we play.
“I thought that we built a great foundation last year. I think our players feel that. Our players are hungry. They understand that when they come back this year our record is now 0-0 and that’s the only thing that matters. So it’s going to be a matter of our guys taking every practice seriously, every game seriously, every chance that they get to become better and making sure that they do that.”