Matt Nagy could have moped. In private moments, he probably did. But as he neared the end of his Hell Week on Friday, the Bears head coach joked and smiled.
Sunday, the Bears lost their second game in six days. Monday, receiver Javon Wims was suspended for throwing haymakers on national television. Tuesday, right tackle Jason Spriggs was put on the reserve/COVID-19 list; guard Germain Ifedi was quarantined as a close contact, though he returned Friday.
Backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s right shoulder injury was revealed Wednesday. Center Cody Whitehair tested positive for the coronavirus Thursday, forcing the Bears to shut down Halas Hall for the day. Friday, they ruled out five players for Sunday’s game against the Titans due to injury, and two more because of illness.
Friday, though, the Bears also learned the coronavirus had yet to spread further. Whitehair didn’t have close contacts that would have to quarantine, either.
The Bears roster will be depleted Sunday, but but it could have been worse. That’s why Nagy smiled during what he called a “Feel-Good Friday.” It was deliberate, too — coaches have spent all week projecting a sense of calm to their players during the team’s first serious outbreak.
“You’re dealing with a lot of stuff off the field and then you start dealing with stuff on the field … ” Nagy said. “[Players] have to know: Are the coaches, are they sensing a panic? Are they sensing frustration? Are they sensing ‘Oh no, it’s happening to us?’ And that’s just not the case here.”
Quibble with Nagy’s play-calling all you want. He deserves it. In the most challenging week of his coaching career, though, he continued to prove his most impressive attribute is how he leads his players.
Now he needs to help them channel a week’s worth of nerves into a win Sunday and snap a two-game losing streak.
“Nagy is a hell of a guy,” outside linebacker Khalil Mack said. “He understands the responsibility that we all have to keep each other safe and we have to keep our families safe as well.
“That’s the mindset you want to have from your head guy — understanding the situation and understanding what it’s going to take to keep not only just the players and the staff safe, but our families safe as well.
Nagy “always seems like he has a grasp on things,” safety Tashaun Gipson said. Players at Halas Hall grew nervous Thursday when they found out Whitehair tested positive, wondering if they were next. Closing Halas Hall, Gipson said, let everyone relax until another round of testing was complete.
“It puts a lot of people at ease and just shows the type of leader he is … ” Gipson said. “These are things that people don’t see. … That’s why I personally have a lot of respect for him — and a lot of people do on this team.”
Nagy “stays as steady as anybody as I’ve been around,” said defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, the Colts’ head coach for six years.
“It’s been adapt, adjust from Day 1 for all of us,” Pagano said. “But he’s done a great job.”
Managing a pandemic — and the emotions of players who are justifiably scared — didn’t use to be part of any coach’s job description. But they’ve adjusted.
In August, Nagy got his first late-night phone call — at 2:51 a.m. — from trainer Andre Tucker. Nine players and staffers tested positive, though the results eventually would prove incorrect.
Nagy still fears those phone calls, but he’s learned how to handle them. He’s calmer.
“The players feel that from us and they realize, ‘Hey, they trust us and now we’ve gotta put a plan into action. ….’” Nagy said. “It is different than on game day when you’re trying to win a game with a certain play or a stop on defense. But it’s certainly real-life stuff.”