For Matt Nagy, the heartbreak remains real. How could it not? Growing up in eastern Pennsylvania, football is everything. It’s life.
‘‘My hometown is literally the Pennsylvania version of ‘Friday Night Lights,’ ’’ he said. ‘‘They eat, live, sleep, breathe, everything is high school football.’’
In Nagy’s two seasons as the star quarterback for Manheim Central, the Barons went 26-2. Their two losses came in the playoffs against the same team.
‘‘Berwick,’’ Nagy said.
The details of those defeats against Berwick, a state powerhouse, remain vivid. The emotions haven’t faded.
‘‘One was in front of 20,000 on an interception throw to win the game,’’ Nagy said of his own pass.
‘‘The other one was, we were winning 17-0 against the No. 1 team in the country in USA Today, and we lost 18-17.’’
Nagy called them devastating.
‘‘I can still remember walking off the field with all my buddies and knowing that’s the last time you’re going to be together,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘And you’re going to move on.’’
But Nagy didn’t. From Delaware to the Arena Football League to a brief career in real estate to the Eagles, Chiefs and finally the Bears, those losses accompanied him. A loss to Georgia Southern in the Division I-AA semifinals in his final season at Delaware was added to the mix, too.
‘‘That adversity can push you,’’ Nagy said.
In a wide-ranging conversation with the Sun-Times about everything from his offensive plans to his marriage to fatherhood to his favorite foods, Nagy revealed that those losses are forever with him. They’re part of whom he is as a coach and person.
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Nagy had a plan, but his timing had to be perfect if he was going to outkick his coverage successfully. He was a ‘‘skinny little sophomore’’ at Manheim Central, and the girl his heart desired was a popular senior.
‘‘The perfect word for that is that I was infatuated with her,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘I was just completely infatuated with her.’’
Nagy’s plan consisted of dropping hints of his affection through mutual friends. He wanted her to know how much he liked her.
‘‘The problem was that there was a roadblock,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘She was dating the stud, star running back of the high school football team that was a lot bigger than me.’’
When what Nagy called the ‘‘right time’’ came about, his interest and his hints turned into a date.
‘‘We went to a high school basketball game,’’ Nagy said, smiling. ‘‘And once I got her in, I knew I had her. The rest was on me. I just had to get her in.’’
He never let go. He was in love. Nagy married his high school sweetheart, Stacey.
Together, they made it through attending different colleges, which was further complicated by their age difference. There were visits and constant communication. It took work. It prepared them for their future hectic world of four sons and coaching.
‘‘It’s absolutely crazy to think how far we’ve come since 1994; that’s when it was,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘We’re on 24 years that we’ve been [together]. We never broke up.’’
Stacey has been the constant in his life, from his heart-wrenching losses at Manheim Central to the day when they woke up their sons at 3 a.m. to tell them he was offered the Bears’ coaching job.
‘‘She deserves all the credit,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘It’s very easy for me to say that I can’t do this on my own.’’
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Nagy’s days begin with a daily reading from Tony Dungy’s ‘‘The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge’’ and a cup of coffee.
Then he turns to his journal. He started a new one with the Bears after having two with the Chiefs.
It’s full of football and family, the two facets of Nagy’s life that define him. He wants to remember what’s going on with Stacey and sons Brayden, Tate, Jaxon and Jett.
Journal entries could be a simple reference to an enjoyable conversation he shared with them while away, or it could be more precise, such as Jaxon going 3-for-3 with a home run.
Or it might be a more significant moment, such as when their entire family attended their first Cubs game and he threw out the first pitch.
‘‘It’s little details of that day that you might forget,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘My family and I, we’re in the trees right now. That’s what my wife and I always say: ‘We’re in the trees.’ At some point in time, we’ll be out of the trees. But I don’t want it to go too fast. I want to enjoy all this.’’
Living a coach’s life — one that can include work hours from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. — Nagy isn’t around as much as he wants.
Nagy actually moved to the northern suburbs and lived alone for months while his sons finished their school year and baseball seasons in Kansas City.
‘‘I was always told that in this profession, it’s not about the presents; it’s about your presence,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘It’s not about giving gifts to your kids because you’re not around. It’s about your presence of being with them. That stuck with me.’’
So Nagy’s free time is spent playing golf with his sons, playing catch, attending baseball game after baseball game — essentially doing what regular dads do.
‘‘That’s some of my favorite times,’’ Nagy said.
He jokingly called himself the good cop to his wife’s bad cop, but it’s important to him to draw a line between being a coach and a father.
Nagy is an only child whose mother and father divorced when he was young, but he had close, loving relationships with both of his parents.
‘‘I’m going to teach [my sons] life lessons,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘I want them to know when they shake someone’s hand to squeeze their hand and give them eye contact.’’
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Every year, Chiefs coach Andy Reid hands out a book to his coaches to read in the offseason. Nagy plans to do the same next year.
One of Nagy’s favorites is ‘‘Gung Ho! Turn On the People in Any Organization.’’ He’s into leadership books.
‘‘This year, I’m going to pass,’’ he said. ‘‘I want our guys staying in the playbook.’’
As always, Nagy has football on his mind.
Nagy doesn’t consider himself an outdoorsman, but he’d like to learn more about fishing and hunting. Movies aren’t his thing, either. Stacey takes their sons to see ‘‘The Avengers,’’ not him.
But he is a self-proclaimed sports junkie. Golf comes after football, but he also called himself ‘‘an NBA guy.’’ His favorite player is Russell Westbrook.
‘‘He plays the game with extreme passion every single night,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘He does not change. He’s a competitor.’’
His favorite vacation getaways are in the Caribbean. He likes to see the water and likes to put his feet in the sand.
‘‘But I’m just going to stay on the sand,’’ he said.
His favorite food is a chicken quesadilla from The Cat’s Meow in Manheim.
‘‘They do it just right with the bacon, the mushrooms and the cheese,’’ he said. ‘‘And they put in some peppers.’’
But as delicious as that is, his favorite meal is his grandmother’s Thanksgiving dinner.
‘‘Hands down, the best meal I have,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t know if I’ll be eating it this year in Detroit.’’
Again, he always has football in mind — all the work, the victories and those heartbreaking losses from high school.
‘‘In the end, there’s going to be a good story here with a win for me personally,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘I know it’s going to happen. And it’s all because of some adversity. I wouldn’t change it for anything. That’s what I want to relay to the guys here: It’s never easy.’’