When former Columbus Destroyers coach Doug Kay acquired quarterback Matt Nagy from the Georgia Force in 2006, the longtime Arena Football League coach didn’t fully know what to expect.
“You really find out about a person after you have him,” Kay said. “You suspect before you have him. [But] the reports we got on Matt were all positive.”
What stood out initially?
“I saw the leadership early on,” Kay said.
The next season, Nagy — a record-setting college quarterback at Delaware — led the Destroyers to the ArenaBowl, where they lost to the San Jose SaberCats. Along the way, Kay realized he traded for a player who was destined for bigger and better things.
“He was everything that you want a young man to be,” said Kay, a Chicago native. “He’s a leader. He’s got great character. He stands out in this business because he’s such a gentleman — and he’s so well-equipped to do the job. He listens and learns.”
And now it’s his job to turn Mitch Trubisky into the franchise-changing quarterback that general manager Ryan Pace believes he is.
Nagy, 39, was named the 16th head coach in Bears history Monday. It ended Pace’s weeklong search to replace John Fox, but it also put an exclamation mark on Nagy’s remarkable rise. After playing in the AFL, he coached high school football before breaking into the NFL as an intern with the Eagles.
It wasn’t surprising that young offensive minds such as Nagy, Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels were part of Pace’s search. Finding the right offense — and person — for Trubisky was paramount.
But Nagy, who will be introduced Tuesday, likely stood out for several reasons beyond his immediate availability after the Chiefs’ wild-card loss to the Titans on Saturday.
It starts with a strong endorsement from Chiefs coach Andy Reid. He reportedly said that Nagy was the best head-coaching candidate he has ever had on his staff.
That’s high praise, considering that current coaches Ron Rivera (Panthers), John Harbaugh (Ravens), Sean McDermott (Bills), Todd Bowles (Jets) and Doug Pederson (Eagles) all worked under Reid.
The best example of Reid’s faith in Nagy was his decision to hand over play-calling duties to him in Week 13. Not only did the Chiefs’ offensive production increase, they went 4-1 in the last five games of the regular season, including a victory led by rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Nagy spent his entire NFL career with Reid, a master of the West Coast offense. But Chiefs players said Nagy added to it, including more run-pass options — plays Trubisky excelled at this season and at North Carolina.
With Nagy move involved in the Chiefs’ offense in his second season as coordinator, veteran quarterback Alex Smith had a career-best 104.7 passer rating and a career-low interception rate of one this season.
It also helps that the Chiefs were said to have viewed Trubisky as the best quarterback in the draft last year. After the Bears took Trubisky, the Chiefs traded up and selected Mahomes with the 10th overall pick.
“There’s so many aspects of the game in the eyes of a quarterback, and many of which has to do with spacing,” Kay said. “[Nagy] understood those things, and he studied those. He was far ahead of anybody that I had worked with in the Arena Football League.”
Of course, being a successful head coach takes more than the X’s and O’s. But Nagy’s vision for Trubisky is an important starting point.
“There has to be in that young man something that says to people, ‘You’re a person that I believe in. You’re a person that I think can take us in the right direction,’ ” Kay said. “I felt that way, and apparently other people do, too.”
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