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Papa Bear: How dad Matt Nagy infused family into his football team

The Bears coach always wanted a big family. And he knew he would want his kids around him as much as possible.

Bears coach Matt Nagy chats with fans.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

On Monday nights, football stops.

The evening after the Bears play their regular-season games, coach Matt Nagy demands that his coaching staff pause its film study and game-planning for one hour. At 5 p.m., coaches’ family members stream into Halas Hall and onto the observation deck overlooking the practice field.

Dinner — pizza and Buffalo wings — gets delivered.

The families get to know each other. Kids play on the field and their fathers join in — an important, albeit short, respite from the all-consuming regular season.

Welcome to Family Night.

“We tell coaches to shut everything down and go be a dad,” Nagy said. “We shut our minds down for one hour. Trust me, there’s plenty of time for football.”

It’s good for the kids — and for the coaches.

Nagy got the idea from his own home life. He and his wife, Stacey, have four boys, ages 11 to 15. Their lives are appropriately hectic. But they shut everything down for Family Fridays. They turn off their phones, have dinner together and catch up.

There’s plenty to talk about.

Brayden, 15, is the responsible, caring “caretaker” and a budding golf nut, Nagy said. Tate, 13, is the competitive introvert. Outsiders would think he’s quiet, Nagy said, but he uses the silence to observe his surroundings.

Fraternal twins Jaxon and Jett, who turned 11 in late August, are different. Jaxon has “zero filter” and “is the one that’s going to keep myself and my wife on my toes,” Nagy said. Jett is the jokester and the most likely to end up on “American Idol” or “The Voice,” his dad said.

It’s impossible for an NFL head coach to be “Super Dad.” Stacey, whom Nagy met when they were in high school 25 years ago, does most of the heavy lifting, especially during the season. But Nagy has made sure his four boys are never far away. They’re ballboys during training camp — they run pass routes with their dad and players after practice — and fixtures around the Bears all season.

“They’re just like our little brothers,” inside linebacker Danny Trevathan said.

One of the best pieces of parenting advice Nagy received came from David Culley, the Ravens’ assistant head coach, who worked with Nagy on the Eagles and Chiefs. When Nagy was a young coach in Philadelphia, Culley, a father of two, told him the most valuable thing he can give his children is his time, even though he would be increasingly able to afford lavish gifts.

“He said, ‘You know, Matt, with your kids, in this profession, it’s not about the presents; it’s about your presence,’ ” Nagy said. “That’s always stuck with me.”

Truth is, Nagy always wanted a big family. And he knew he would want his kids around him as much as possible.

Nagy is an only child. His parents divorced when he was a toddler, and his mom moved them 2 1/2 hours away to be closer to her family in Manheim, Pennsylvania.

Even for someone with Nagy’s dynamic personality — he makes sure his kids shake hands and make eye contact — it proved to be lonely.

“It was just me and my mom,” Nagy said. “I always was kind of envious of other families that had their brothers and sisters hanging out, playing in the backyard, doing all that.

“I always told myself that if I ever have an opportunity to be fortunate enough to have kids, it’s always going to be the most important thing that I do.”

Nagy calls himself a family guy with family values. That was the case before he started coaching — all four kids were born before Nagy landed his first full-time job — and it didn’t change when life got more hectic.

As a Chiefs assistant, he would use chartered flights as an opportunity to write in his journal. He took notes about what he learned on the field that week and what it would take to be a head coach. He also chronicled how each of his boys were progressing and how that made him feel.

Nagy was hired last year to change the culture at Halas Hall. Family is as much a part of his team’s identity as “Be You” and “Club Dub.”

“How do you not enjoy the best parts of life, which is hanging out with your kids and teaching them the values of having fun, hard work and really just watching them?” he said. “Now here I am, coaching an NFL team.

“They’re at that perfect age where they can learn how to work — as a ballboy — and spend some time with dad and these players.”

That’s why Nagy brought them to witness one of the biggest moments in Bears history. Eight days before the start of last season, the kids left their Lake Bluff home and jumped in their dad’s SUV. With Nagy at the wheel, they stopped to pick up general manager Ryan Pace, who lives nearby, and drove to the Deer Park Inn in Lake Forest.

On the way, they sang along to Mark Morrison’s “Return of the Mack.”

When they got to the hotel, they waited for Khalil Mack — whom the Bears had acquired earlier that day — to walk through the door.

When the outside linebacker arrived, he didn’t say hello to Nagy or Pace at first. He bent down, shook the hands of all four Nagy boys and asked them their names.

“I knew Khalil was special as a person, just from everybody you talk to,” Nagy said. “It didn’t surprise me one bit.”

Nagy sent two messages that night, one to his new star and one to his kids.

“For Khalil, when he got in, to understand that this is a family; this isn’t a business,” Nagy said. “And for the boys to see somebody as special as Khalil.”

And it’s not just Mack. Trevathan has played with the boys after practice.

“They’re pretty athletic, too,” Trevathan said. “They can play ball. I like the way that they like to have fun and be around their dad. They vibe so well with the team.”

Nagy said his sons’ favorite players are the ones who do things a teenage boy would like: play catch with them, dance or yammer at teammates.

“If I was in that position, I would have my family around more often, too,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said. “It’s a great benefit to have. It’s great for him to enjoy his family and for his family to be part of work.”

It’s a perk of being the boss, but it’s also part of what the Bears are trying to build.

“That’s what we’re all about — we’re all about family here,” Trevathan said. “We’ve preached about it, but it’s another thing to be about it. To show it day-in and day-out that you really care about your family, that you’re family-oriented.

“It carries over to your team. We’re a big family.”

Receiver Allen Robinson feels it.

“For us, that’s very important,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s the kind of atmosphere coach Nagy has really created. Seeing the kind of environment we’ve created is very special.”

It all started with breakfast.

Years ago, Nagy and his wife decided he needed one-on-one time with each of their kids, away from the maelstrom of a busy house. During the offseason, Nagy started a tradition: Each weekend, he would take one child out for breakfast.

This year, Nagy decided to up the ante. He wanted to travel with his kids, one at a time, during the next few offseasons.

First up was the oldest.

“I thought it’d be great to take Brayden, who was getting heavy into golf, to go see the best there are out there,” Nagy said.

That meant the Masters. On a Saturday. When Tiger Woods shot a 5-under round.

That’s where the team’s “Augusta Silence” kicking stunt came from. But Nagy will remember it for far more. Walking around with a regular fan pass, the Nagys bumped into Hroniss Grasu, the former Bears center, and his college teammate, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota. The highlight, though, came when Jim Nantz, CBS’ lead NFL and golf announcer, invited Brayden into Butler Cabin. Nantz presented him with the green jacket, the same way he would to Woods the next day.

“It allowed him to see what it was like to play at the highest level and really get some father-son time,” Nagy said. “It was a day I’ll never forget.

“And it allowed us to go somewhere without telephones.”

It was technology, though, that gave all six Nagys access to another one of the great sporting events of 2019. When Nagy appeared on Mike Krzyzewski’s podcast during the football season, the Duke basketball coach — and huge Bears fan — told Nagy to reach out if he ever needed anything.

Turns out, Nagy would. And it was a big ask: six tickets to Duke-North Carolina at Cameron Indoor Stadium in late February. On the resale market, tickets were going for Super Bowl prices.

Coach K made it happen: six tickets, six rows up.

“How about that, huh?” Nagy said, laughing. “I guess that’s what happens when you know people.”

Jaxon sat next to Spike Lee. Being 11, he had no idea whom Lee was, but Matt and Stacey found it hilarious.

Only 33 seconds in, they saw Zion Williamson, the future No. 1 pick, blow out his shoe and leave the game with a knee injury.

“To travel down there and see Cameron Indoor, there’s nothing like it,” Nagy said. “Unbelievable.

“They were bummed because Zion got hurt. But they got to see from six rows up how fast those athletes were and how fast the game was played. That’s another bucket-list item for us to spend together as a family.”

Family is a way of life for the Bears.

Virginia McCaskey smiled as she spoke, knowing the interviewer wouldn’t believe that being George Halas’ daughter didn’t earn her any schoolyard cachet.

“When I was growing up, being associated with the Bears didn’t mean anything,” the Bears’ matriarch said this summer. “And I told this to Matt Nagy’s four sons: When my dad was head coach of the Chicago Bears, nobody cared. Now his stories are in the papers almost every day, even in the offseason.”

The Nagys have a way to handle it. They have a saying: “Don’t change.” If you get a new job or more money or a fancy title, treat people the same way you did before — with respect.

“We’ve relayed that to [the kids],” Nagy said. “My role that I’m in now, there are, unfortunately, people that are out there that want to take advantage of you in different ways. There are some that want to be your friends — and there’s a method to their madness — and others that truly want to be your friends. We’ve educated them on it. Their awareness level is pretty high.”

For every high-five during good times comes criticism when the Bears do poorly. Fortunately, Nagy said, the latter hasn’t -happened often.

“For them, the biggest thing is, we had a good season last year,” he said. “But you lose a game, it’s easier for kids to use their words and say, ‘Your dad’s a terrible coach.’

“We’ve taught them to understand that you’re in good hands, and the only thing that matters is what we say.”

The NFL season never stops. But there’s one time each year that it slows to a pace under the speed limit: the five weeks or so between the end of the offseason program and the start of training camp. That’s when coaches book vacations.

Nagy spent one of his five weeks at a travel baseball tournament in late June.

Tate’s team, the Diamond Dawgz, played at All Star Village in Oneonta, New York, a short distance from the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

In the mornings, Nagy and Brayden were the first people on the golf course. The rest of the day, the Nagys watched Tate’s team, which didn’t lose a game in pool play before being knocked out by the eventual runners-up.

Once the Bears’ offseason program ended, Nagy dived headlong into Tate’s baseball team. He made friends with the other -parents.

“Are there football questions? Absolutely,” he said. “It’s in a respectful way. But it’s all about the Diamond Dawgz, not something else.”

At the tournament, the Nagys were like any other family. Usually, Nagy just talked baseball, like all the other dads.

“To me, the best part is when they treat me like Dad, not like Coach,” he said. “That’s what I enjoy the most.”