Matt Nagy’s job — and life, for that matter — isn’t all that different from everyone else’s during the pandemic. There are no certainties, and any plans he makes are more like Play-Doh than concrete.
He has been conscious of that reality through an offseason in which every NFL team temporarily closed its headquarters, the draft was held via virtual means and spring practices were nixed entirely.
Nagy intended to use the four preseason games as the true test of whether the Bears should go with Nick Foles or Mitch Trubisky as their starting quarterback, but those were canceled. Instead, he wrote up a practice schedule he hopes will be the perfect lead-up to the season, but even that could change at any moment.
“So there’s flexibility, there’s creativity, people have to adapt, and for us, just understanding that and being cool with that, it’s been difficult,” Nagy said Wednesday. “I [put] an asterisk in every single meeting with our players and coaches. I always have the ability to change the schedule. Because we’re learning.”
He’s hoping there won’t be too many more detours, but it’s always likely with the coronavirus lurking. MLB’s Cardinals, for example, never planned to have 15 games wiped out. Nagy expects to start a stretch of 14 practices — that’s all any team gets before launching Week 1 preparations — Monday, but everything is subject to change in a year like no other.
There’s good reason to believe it’ll be this way all season. There’s also good reason to believe Nagy is well-equipped to navigate it.
Adaptability is essential this year, and it’s one of Nagy’s strengths. It makes him a rarity in that most coaches are too stubborn to bend. There have been complaints throughout the NFL about social-distancing rules and the unusual format of the preseason, but none from Nagy.
Specifically, there hasn’t been a single syllable from him about having such a limited schedule of actual practices. He remains fully confident it’s enough to get the Bears ready for their Sept. 13 opener at the Lions.
“That’s the fun part,” he said. “We’re all, like, so excited to get back at it.
“Knowing the time and where we’re at before Game 1, we as coaches have to understand that it’s a little different. The players gotta understand that there’s a little bit more of a sense of urgency. So every single rep that you take in practice, every single rep that you script as a coach, it really, really, really has to be magnified.
“There’s a sense of urgency between all of us and making sure we’re effective in every practice.”
Obviously, it wasn’t remotely close to a pandemic, but Nagy swam through several challenges last season. The Bears opened three days before the rest of the league, played in Denver during the toughest part of the year weather-wise, had a Monday night road game and traveled to London all in the first month.
And much of what he planned football-wise backfired on him. Trubisky went backward, star defensive lineman Akiem Hicks got hurt and the highly paid offensive line faltered. Nagy made his own contributions to the Bears’ stumbles, which left them at 3-5 halfway through the season and ultimately 8-8, but he maintained the competitiveness in his locker room even though the playoffs were out of reach.
Nagy also immediately vowed to reassess his play-calling and offensive scheme and make any necessary modifications. He went into the offseason determined to fix his part of the problem. Most coaches are too headstrong to consider those kinds of changes.
That humility and flexibility will serve him well in a season in which keeping the locker room together and on track — especially when it comes to powering through some unexpected obstacles — will be as important as anything else.