A room Zoom Zoom: Will Matt Nagy’s virtual offseason give Bears an edge?
Maybe teams that are already well-oiled machines — the Chiefs, Saints and Ravens — can get away with a cursory offseason program. But the Bears needed to get everything they could out of it.
The early front-runner for NFL Coach of the Year in 2020 is Doc Rivers. The Clippers’ coach and Maywood product was a huge hit on the COVID-19 circuit — with the Bears, Colts and Rams — as NFL coaches looked for a way to break the monotony of Zoom meetings.
Rivers definitely did that for coach Matt Nagy in his appearance May 21 in front of the Bears. Nagy was tight-lipped with the Chicago media about guest speakers who addressed the team during the offseason program, but he opened up to the Los Angeles Times about Rivers’ appearance.
‘‘I’ve heard a lot of people talk to groups, and Doc, to me — not to take anything away from anybody else — but that was one of the most powerful hour-and-15-minute discussions that I had selfishly for myself and we had as a team,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘Man, there was so much good stuff in there. A lot of the stuff I don’t even want to tell because I don’t want other people to know.’’
Rivers’ impact is no surprise. He has credentials professional athletes respect from his 13-year career as an NBA player and someone who has won 938 games and an NBA title as a coach. And his candor and communication skills are well-known in NBA circles. He’s a two-time winner of the Rudy Tomjanovich Award, given by NBA writers for cooperation with the media.
‘‘Probably the best Zoom thing that we did was the Doc Rivers talk,’’ Bears running backs coach Charles London said. ‘‘I grew up in Atlanta [where Rivers spent the first eight seasons of his career]. I grew up a huge Doc Rivers fan, going downtown to the Omni to watch him play. So that was pretty cool for me . . . to have him talk and just share some of his thoughts and stuff.’’
But while Nagy did not divulge his guest-speaker list, it was clear Rivers was hardly the exception in terms of making an impact during virtual meetings that challenged most, if not all, NFL coaches to hold their players’ attention and keep them focused on the big picture.
‘‘Doc Rivers was phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal,’’ Bears receivers coach Mike Furrey said. ‘‘We’ve been very fortunate in our room. We’ve had four or five Hall of Famers come talk to our guys — a 45-minute session that all of them pretty much turned into two hours.
‘‘And it wasn’t just guys talking about what they did and how they did it. Our guys were asking questions; they were highly involved. We have picked some great things from all of them. We’ve learned a lot this offseason from some great players of what it’s taken to be great.’’
Though Nagy’s expertise as a new-age NFL coordinator and play-caller is still undefined after two seasons, his progressive approach as a manager and his ability to relate to all of his players has come in handy during an offseason thrown off the rails by the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘‘You can take everything we’ve done in prior years and just throw it out the window because there’s new rules,’’ Nagy said in mid-May.
The Bears’ defense under coordinator Chuck Pagano has only tweaking to do with three new starters. But with four new offensive coaches and Nick Foles acquired to challenge Mitch Trubisky for the starting quarterback job, the challenge is significant. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, offensive line coach Juan Castillo and tight ends coach Clancy Barone are trying to build relationships, create new habits and install new techniques without meeting their players in person.
Keeping players focused is more important than ever. The Zoom offseason never will replace being on the field. But it very likely can’t be a waste of time, either. Maybe teams that are already well-oiled machines — the Chiefs, Saints and Ravens — can get away with a cursory offseason program, but the Bears needed to get everything they could out of it.
Nagy appears to have pushed the right buttons and made all the right moves to prepare his team for an abbreviated training camp and preseason. The team meeting in the wake of the civil unrest after George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer was a bonding moment.
‘‘As a team, there was a level of healing involved in that [meeting], and there was a level of us just coming together,’’ defensive end Akiem Hicks said. ‘‘We just got a little bit tighter because we had this experience together.’’
And some coaches said the dynamic of the Zoom calls helped them communicate with players.
‘‘I think it’s actually made me a better coach because the guys are there . . . and you’ve got to find ways to keep guys engaged,’’ London said. ‘‘You’ve got to find different ways to motivate guys.’’
Be that as it may, a few key questions hang over the Bears as they head toward training camp this month: Will that mean anything? Will making the most of a bad situation put them in any better position to hit the ground running when they finally get on the field? Or will the Zoom offseason be like a good week of practice, a poor indicator — or even a false indicator — of preparedness?
Even as DeFilippo was saying that Foles’ character will help him get acclimated quickly, he couldn’t ignore the obvious.
‘‘It’s not ideal the way this offseason was going, not [being] on the field,’’ DeFilippo said. ‘‘We can sit here and say the Zoom deal is the next-best thing to sliced bread, but it’s not. It’s not the same as being on the field with your teammates, high-fiving your teammates. It’s not the same. We can’t pretend it to be the same.’’
Only when the players get back on the field will we know whether the coaching staff made progress this offseason — and how well Nagy’s messages got through.
‘‘Coach Nagy, he wants to see who is going to be conditioned when we get back to camp and who’s not, and that’s going to tell it all,’’ safety Eddie Jackson said. ‘‘A lot of guys say: ‘Yeah, I’m working. I’m doing this. I’m doing that.’ But it’s all going to show when it’s time to report to camp.’’