No other coach in professional sports would have dug as deep as the Patriots’ Bill Belichick did Wednesday.
Belichick, who has a well-documented passion for the early days of his sport, paid brief tribute to two former two-way Bears stars he considers among the greats to ever play the game: Hall of Famers Bill Hewitt and Danny Fortmann. The former made his debut in 1932, the latter in 1936.
It was a nod to history that Bears coach Matt Nagy probably could appreciate. Nagy embraced the franchise’s history immediately upon his hiring. The first play he ran as a head coach, out of the Bears’ vaunted T-formation, was called “Papa Bear Left.”
Belichick, though, has lived the game’s history. Nagy is just getting started.
Belichick has coached 374 regular-season games, the most among active coaches and fifth-most all time. Nagy has coached five. No active NFL coach can claim fewer, though the Lions’ Matt Patricia also has coached five.
Belichick, 66, has coached 39 playoff games, the most in NFL history. His first game as a head coach came in 1991 with the Browns — when Nagy was 13.
For all the matchups that will define the Bears’ most meaningful test of the season — quarterback Tom Brady vs. the Bears’ defensive backs or Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack vs. whichever two blockers the Patriots send his way — none will stand in starker contrast than the coaching battle with its obvious experience gap. Nagy acknowledged as much when asked how planning for Belichick was different than planning for any other coach.
“The experience factor,” Nagy said. “You could say that for him vs. me, being a first-year coach, with all the experience he has as a head coach, a lot of different ways to go about attacking the team. A lot of volume. And his library’s pretty big with regard to experience of different offenses that he has gone against and had a lot of success with.”
Belichick’s ethos boils down to three words: “Do Your Job.” Nagy’s is a tad more Generation X: “Be You.”
“He’s been around football for so long, and he knows the game inside and out,” Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski said. “It’s just unbelievable, just learning from him and just the situations he presents to us and coaches us and helps us out so we’re ready on the field. . . . He’s just hands-down the best I know — the best, hands-down, of football knowledge.”
Nagy was wise enough, when he took the Bears job, to lean on an experienced defensive coaching staff. Coordinator Vic Fangio is in his 32nd year as an NFL assistant. Defensive backs coach Ed Donatell has coached 27 years in the NFL, and inside linebackers coach Glenn Pires can claim 22 years.
“Coach Nagy and his staff certainly deserve a lot of credit,” Belichick said. “It’s not a one-man band. They’re all doing a good job. It’s a good football team.”
“This really looks like a 5-0 team to me, if you change one or two plays,” Belichick said.
For the Bears to get to 4-2, though, they’ll have to get past perhaps the greatest coach of all time Sunday.
“I know I really respect him a lot, greatly, as a head coach and as a defensive-minded guy,” Nagy said.
“For us, I’m always going to go back to trusting what we do and controlling what we can control because inevitably, no matter who it is, there are always some surprises at times.”