One of the early indications that Matt Nagy might be the real deal as a head coach, not just a glorified quarterbacks coach or Chiefs coach Andy Reid’s valet, came at his introductory news conference last January at
Asked about his play-calling during the Chiefs’ second-half collapse in a playoff loss to the Titans two days earlier, Nagy didn’t duck the question or deflect the blame. He accepted it head-on and promised to learn from the experience.
After scoring 21 points and gaining 264 yards in the first half against the Titans, the Chiefs gained only 61 yards and were shut out in the second half after losing tight end Travis Kelce to a concussion and lost 22-21. Kareem Hunt, who had led the NFL in rushing in the regular season, had only five carries for 17 yards in the second half.
At Halas Hall that day, Nagy quashed rumors that Reid had taken over the play-calling in the second half.
‘‘I called every single play in the second half; I stand by it,’’ Nagy said emphatically. ‘‘That was a learning situation for me. There are scenarios where I wish I would’ve made some different choices with the play-call. For me, that was a failure in my book. But I’ll grow from it and I’ll learn from it, I promise you that. And I’ll use it as a strength here for me with the Chicago Bears.’’
So far, so good. With a deft touch that belies his standing as a first-year head coach, Nagy has guided the Bears to a 12-4 record, the NFC North title and their first playoff berth since 2010. And now he can put his experience last season — however unpleasant it might have been — to good use. The Bears play the Eagles (9-7) in a wild-card game at 3:40 p.m. Sunday at Soldier Field.
The Chiefs’ collapse against the Titans — and their 1-4 playoff record under Reid — might be a little disconcerting to some. But after watching Nagy conduct the Bears’ renaissance season like a maestro, it’s hard to argue he hasn’t learned from those postseason disappointments. One theme of Nagy’s rookie season has been using what he learned from Reid but enhancing it.
‘‘You learn from any criticism,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘You learn from any self-criticism. And you learn from when you do things the right way, you try to keep going. If you feel . . . you didn’t run the ball enough in that game . . . I always self-reflect and [say], ‘How can I get better in these types of situations?’
‘‘So I’m using any of those experiences to make myself a better coach for the players. I think it all circles back to me just trusting myself as a coach and believing in what I feel is the right thing to do. You’ve just got to go with your gut feeling.’’
In virtually every facet of managing a team, Nagy has hit the right note this season. The Bears have met almost every challenge, from responding to tough losses to avoiding letdowns to handling long and short weeks to playing three division games in 11 days.
But even Nagy knows the playoffs are different.
‘‘It’s an unknown,’’ he said. ‘‘We don’t know until we get into it.’’
His plan this week is not to overthink it.
‘‘Just try to not do too much and stay the course,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘Don’t stay up later at night just because it’s the playoffs. Why? Just do the normal stuff you’ve been doing. It’s been working. Why do you need to change it now because it’s the playoffs?
‘‘I think when you start changing things, you’re not being yourself. Now you’re getting into territory that you have no idea how you’re going to react to it. Keep doing the same things.’’