ATLANTA — Youth is relative. Rams coach Sean McVay went 11-5 as a 31-year-old rookie. Matt Nagy didn’t get his first full-time NFL job until 2010, when, he said, “I was a 32-year-old real estate salesman.”
Still, count Nagy among those who has benefited from McVay’s wunderkind status — even if it showed the first signs of tarnish in the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots.
As McVay finished a dynamic first season in 2017, the Bears set about finding their own version of him: A play-caller and quarterback whisperer who couldn’t be lured away, as former Bears coordinator Adam Gase had been, by a promotion to be someone else’s head coach.
They landed on Nagy, who has since followed in McVay’s first-year footsteps: Winning his division, losing in the wild-card round of the playoffs and taking home the Associated Press’ Coach of the Year Award. Nagy hopes those comparisons extend to next season.
“I hope we’re close,” Nagy said during Super Bowl weekend. “I have a lot of respect for coach McVay. It goes without saying the way he came into L.A. and how he changed that culture and what he did with that team. Now it’s been a couple years for him. To be sitting in [the Super Bowl] like he is, it’s special.”
It’s easy to poke fun at teams this offseason for trying to find their own McVay. The list of offensive-minded first-time head coaches hired last month include the Packers’ Matt LaFleur and the Cardinals’ Kliff Kingsbury, both 39, as well as 44-year-old Browns coach Freddie Kitchens. The Rams’ 35-year-old quarterbacks coach, Zac Taylor, will be the Bengals’ new boss.
They wouldn’t have gotten the chance were it not for McVay’s rocket-like success. Neither would have Nagy, who was 39 when the Bears hired him 13 months ago.
The Bears, as it turns out, were a year ahead of the trend.
“It gives younger guys an opportunity,” Nagy said. “You don’t have to wait until you’re in the league for 10, 15 years for some guys, and you’ll see other guys that make a quicker jump than others.
“There’s a lot of great head-coaching potential candidates out there every year, but to see younger guys have the opportunity, it’s neat to see the success that those guys are having.”
As proof that there’s no one path to success, Nagy offered up a friend as the counterpoint to the league’s youth movement: Former Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio got his first head-coaching chance last month at age 60.
“You see a heck of a coach that does things the right way and is going to have a lot of success in Denver,” Nagy said. “That’s on the other side of that.”
Sunday night scored one for the experienced. Given two weeks to prepare, Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who at 66 is twice McVay’s age, held him to the fewest points of his career. Belichick had help from his de facto defensive coordinator, 37-year-old Brian Flores, who will be the Dolphins’ head coach.
“I’m pretty numb right now, but definitely, I got out-coached,” McVay said. “I didn’t do nearly good enough for our football team. That is where it really eats at you, because you feel like you didn’t do your part to help them achieve success.”
He said that he didn’t give quarterback Jared Goff “much of a chance” and that pricey running back Todd Gurley was held to 35 rushing yards “as a result of the kind of opportunities he had.”
Goff wouldn’t allow McVay to take the blame.
“We wouldn’t be here without him,” he said. “We wouldn’t have won 13 games in the regular season without him. We wouldn’t have done all the great things we did on offense without him. We wouldn’t have the culture we have without him. We wouldn’t have any of the people here without him. He has done so many, so many good things for this whole organization.”
Nagy has, too, though he said there’s a “laundry list” of ways he can improve as a coach. If the Bears are riding along on the Rams’ timeline, this offseason is the time to put those lessons into action.
The goal remains to emulate McVay’s second season, albeit with a different outcome in the final game.
“We talk about it,” Nagy said. “We don’t talk about making the playoffs. We talk about winning the Super Bowl.”