BOURBONNAIS — It took only one practice for the chants from Bears fans to start: “Na-gy, Na-gy, Na-gy.”
It’s no surprise that coach Matt Nagy is a big hit through three practices at training camp. He’s a 21st-century offensive guy hired to fix an offense that finished 30th in yards and 29th in points last season. He’s a former quarterbacks coach with “skins on the wall” who seems like the right guy to develop Mitch Trubisky. And let’s face it: As the coach of a team that has won 14 games in the last three seasons, just not being John Fox makes him the most popular guy in town.
“It’s all love right now,” wide receiver Josh Bellamy said. “We’re lovin’ it. Everybody’s lovin’ it. The vibe is good right now. The vibe is up. That’s what you want, man.”
History tells us to pump the brakes a bit. There was a similar buzz — arguably a greater one — at Marc Trestman’s first training camp with the Bears in 2013. He was an even greater breath of fresh air — an offensive-minded coach with Super Bowl credentials following Lovie Smith, Dick Jauron and Dave Wannstedt. A quarterback whisperer to max out Jay Cutler.
Hard to believe it has been five years since Trestman was almost a revelation in his first training camp as the Bears’ head coach. He literally stepped up the pace of practices with his enthusiasm — running around as the offense moved the ball. And barking encouragement and admonishment along the way: “It’s not a symposium. Get the play going.”
The Trestman era ended in disaster, but let’s not forget it was a hit at the start. Players were driven and focused. The Bears started 3-0; they had one false-start penalty in their first eight games; Cutler’s passer rating until he was hurt in Week 7 was a career-high 95.2; the Bears beat the Packers at Lambeau with Cutler (and Aaron Rodgers) out.
It all deteriorated rapidly from there as injuries mounted, the Bears’ once-vaunted defense fell apart and Trestman’s message seemed to lose its impact. Veteran players eventually ran all over Trestman, and he was done.
Will Nagy have better staying power? We still don’t know how good he’ll be on Sundays. Or how he’ll respond to adversity. Or how lucky he’ll be. But he has one huge factor on his side: Trestman inherited a defense on the decline — from third in points allowed in 2012 to tied for 30th in 2013 — but Nagy inherits one that appears on the rise after finishing ninth in points allowed in 2017.
And Nagy inherits a younger team — without the overpowering personalities that doomed Trestman — that’s more likely to not only embrace change but follow his lead. And he seems more keenly aware of what he’s in for. He knows the messages that are resonating so well right now are going to have to survive the inevitable rough spots ahead.
“Yeah, that’s the challenge,” Nagy said. “I can earn enough respect from them now when things are easy, [but] how’s it going to go when things are hard? I’ve been challenging myself every day to get better at understanding how that process is going to work. We’re preparing them for adversity. And as long as you do that, you can try to handle those storms that come.
“Things are rosy right now. [But] it’s not always going to be that way. There’s gonna be some roadblocks and peaks and valleys. I’ll continue to go back to [the philosophy that] when you surround yourself with good people at the core and people that are better than you, then typically in those areas, you rise to the top. And it’s not always right away, but you learn through that process.
“Our guys are understanding that. So we’re prepping ’em, and it’s fun right now. But there are gonna be challenging times ahead, and how are we going to respond to that?”
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