The Bears list Brad Childress as a senior offensive assistant. But he’s so much more. He’s a -confidant, friend and father figure to coach Matt Nagy and a sounding board to his young offensive-assistants.
As the Bears’ only offensive coach to work alongside Nagy with the Chiefs — they spent five years together, sharing coordinator duties in 2016 — Childress is an expert on Nagy’s playbook.
As a former Vikings head coach — Childress ran the team from 2006 until midway through the 2010 season — he’s familiar with the division and the divvying up of administrative tasks. When Nagy wanted to know how to interact with visiting coaches at the organized-team-activity practice Wednesday, he called Childress on the way to work to learn how he used to handle such things.
“I’m never short of an opinion,” Childress said Wednesday. “And he wouldn’t ask if he didn’t want one.”
A college and pro coach since 1978, “Chilly” can draw on 41 years of experience — often with a quick-witted joke. He can sense when a team is tired and suggest Nagy truncate practice. He knows precisely howNagy likes his practice scripts drawn.
But, mostly, he’s a sounding board that talks back.
“He’s not scared to tell me when I’m doing something, maybe not wrong, but when I maybe should think about doing something else,” Nagy said. “He’ll give me advice. He’s not worried about who I am or what I do or what my title is.”
Childress compared his job to that of Tom Moore, the 80-year-old assistant whom the Buccaneers’ Bruce Arians just hired as a consultant. Arians said he hired Moore for his expertise, but also for his ear. Sometimes a boss just needs someone to listen when he vents.
Ask Childress to describe his role, and he references a piece of furniture not unlike the one from which he watched the Bears’ games last year.
“In some ways,” he said, “it’s like an old leather couch that you’re comfortable with.”
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Childress grew up in Aurora delivering the Sun-Times — “You could always wrap it up and throw it,” he said — and the Tribune. During the blizzard of 1967, his father refused to help. His route, which was supposed to be done by 6:30 a.m., wasn’t completed until 10:30.
His dad raised him a Bears fan. He can close his eyes and see Gale Sayers run around the left end, seemingly right at him, as he sat in Wrigley Field’s upper deck down the third-base line. He can still seethe canvas stretcher that carried Sayers off the field after he hurt his right knee against the 49ers in 1968.
He went to Bobby Douglass’ football camp at Marmion Academy, the school from which he would graduate, and said he saw the quarterback knock someone out with a volleyball. Childress went to college atEastern Illinois and got his first coaching job at Illinois.
His 88-year-old father still lives in Aurora. His mother, 85, lives there part time. His in-laws, both in their 90s, live in the Chicago area.
So when Nagy took the Bears job, agreeing to join him was easy.
But most of all, Childress came back to town last year — and rejoined the Bears earlier this offseason in a more permanent role — because of Nagy.
“I love Matt as a person,” said Childress, who lives in Vernon Hills.“I wouldn’t do it with anybody else besides Matt.”
It was supposed to be a seasonal gig. He was the Bears’ senior offensive consultant last offseason, but only through training camp.When he left, he became the head coach of the Atlanta Legends of the upstart Alliance of American Football.
He quit, though, a month before the season started.
“I thought the AAF was gonna be a pretty good deal,” he said. “But I mis-thought that.”
Out of money, the AAF folded before it could complete its first season.
“I sensed something was amiss,” he said.
The turning point came when his wife noticed he was having “strange conversations” about logistics long before the season started. In 40years of coaching, he said, he learned to trust his instincts. So he did.
“I have a rather ample gut,” he said. “Trust your gut.”
Childress watched most of the Bears’ games from his couch last year.It removed the elation of wins and the sorrow of losses. He’d go out to dinner afterward.
But he talked to Nagy after every game, either when the coach was boarding the team flight or driving a car jammed with his four sons home from Soldier Field. The wins were fun for Nagy, but the losses lasted.
“You feel like you get your heart ripped out,” Childress said. “That’s what I told my wife: ‘I don’t miss that.’ ”
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Childress knows what infamy feels like. In 2009, he convinced Brett Favre to un-retire for the second time in two years and join the Vikings.
Driving a black SUV, Childress picked up the Packers legend and his wife at a small airport in St. Paul, Minnesota, and drove them himself to the Vikings’ facility. A local news helicopter broadcast the trip live.
“I was a bad guy for picking a guy up at the airport,” he said. “I’m from the Midwest — you go to the airport and pick a guy up when he’s coming to town. I was demonized.”
A season later, he was fired.
He knows the pressure that comes with heightened expectations. But he doesn’t expect Nagy, the reigning NFL Coach of the Year, to change.
“He’s being the regular Matt that I know,” Childress said. “I don’t think he’s stepped up to a lofty platform and looks down on anybody.He knows he is who he is. He’s not acting any different.
“It’s not like he’s in an ivory tower, like Bear Bryant goes and stands up in the platform or anything like that. He’s accessible to everybody.”
Childress said Nagy is still the “gracious teacher” that helped groom Chiefs rookie Patrick Mahomes, the 2018 NFL MVP, from 7:15-8:15 every morning, before starter Alex Smith would enter the building. Nagy is still open to creative offensive ideas, not “setting a rock-hard system” like some coaches do.
Nagy’s quarterback is blossoming as a result. Childress said Mitch Trubisky is identifying blitzes and coverages in practice quicker than he was a year ago.
“He’s able to move and create,” Childress said. “Maybe aside from a guy like a Tom Brady, I think somewhere, generally, the pocket’s gonna break down. And it’s great to have a guy back there that can create.”
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Entering his second year as an NFL coach, Bears offensive coordinatorMark Helfrich doesn’t hesitate to pick Childress’ brain.
“Whether it’s, ‘What’s the best way to communicate this?’ ” he said. “Or, ‘How did you do it in 1946, or whatever year it was?’ ”
Childress would appreciate the ribbing.
“I’m sure some of the scars he’s had, he covers over with the humor,” quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone said. “What an asset, to have a guy in the building who knows the system intimately.
“There’s no agenda with ‘Chilly.’ He wants to come in, and he wants to help everybody. Help us. He’s honest. Those are great qualities to lean on.”
Or, if you’re an old leather couch, to sink into comfortably.