Coach Matt Nagy’s leg started bouncing up and down a few minutes into the Bears’ season-ending news conference. He couldn’t stand to sit still.
He squinted — the spiritual opposite of Jets coach Adam Gase’s wide-eyed Twitter meme, which started to circulate around the same time Monday — and glared somewhere into the middle distance.
Eight days after a 16-15 wild-card loss to the Eagles ended his season, Nagy seethed.
“It’s sickening to be sitting there doing what we did last week,” Nagy said. “I don’t want that. None of our guys wants it.”
A sour ending to the season did nothing to tamp down the franchise’s giddiness about Nagy, who went 12-4 in his rookie season and will be in a two-man race, alongside the Colts’ Frank Reich, for NFL Coach of the Year.
“Every single day that we’ve been together has been confirmation that he is the perfect head coach for this franchise,” general manager Ryan Pace said.
His next challenge is, simply, to do it again. Against a first-place schedule. And with a defensive staff that will feature mostly new faces after coordinator Vic Fangio took the Broncos’ top job — and two assistants with him.
“Everything we did this past year? Throw it out the window,” Nagy said. “It means nothing. Now we’re 0-0, and that’s the challenge. That’s the new challenge. And so we’ve got the foundation. It’s getting started. But it hurts. And I’ll probably hurt more here in the next couple of weeks watching more games. That’s where we want to be.”
Nagy watched the playoff games last week and will continue to do so. He called himself a football junkie, even though watching on TV must have made him feel as though he was flogging himself.
“It almost makes you hurt more when you watch them than when you’re away from them,” Nagy said. “We’re all competitors, and we all want to be in the end playing three more weeks down the road here.
“But one of the powerful things I took from our exit meetings was [our guys] came away telling me truly how [much conviction they had] in their feelings of us this year and where we could’ve really gone. And none of it was made up. That’s why I’m so excited — and it keeps you going — because we started something.”
Nagy wearing the pain of the season’s loss on his face was no different than what he preached to his players and painted in the hallway at Halas Hall: to “be you.” Pace pointed to that authenticity when asked to evaluate Nagy’s first year.
“I know he says it all the time, but just how comfortable he is in his own skin,” Pace said. “Just be yourself. Just be you. He has a blueprint from [Chiefs coach] Andy Reid, and he respects him, but Matt is just himself. I think the players feel that. The staff feels that. Because if you do that every day, it comes off natural and organic. And I think it’s very attractive.”
That’s what drew Pace to Nagy last offseason, when the Bears sought a coach to change the culture after three consecutive losing seasons under John Fox.
“And it’s just going to get better and better as we go forward,” Pace said. “We worked so well together. He’s very natural in this role, and we’re very, very fortunate to have him as our head coach.”
One reason for optimism: He’ll continue to work with quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who improved during his first season under Nagy’s tutelage. Nagy pointed to Trubisky’s mastery of the wild-card game’s last drive — which ended with Cody Parkey’s double-doink kick — as evidence.
“The head coach, play-caller and the quarterback, that’s pretty critical,” Pace said. “And we feel strong about that relationship.”
Nagy kept the Bears’ entire defensive coaching staff last year. This offseason, his top-ranked defense will have to adjust to new coordinator Chuck Pagano and his new lieutenants — and vice versa.
The offense, meanwhile, won’t have to start from scratch the way it did last April 3, when Nagy said his players had “no clue” where to line up at practice because of the new playbook.
If 2018 was Football 101, Nagy said, next season will be 202.
That’s one reason for Nagy to smile.
“When we get to OTAs and we get to training camp, I can’t even begin to explain how pumped up I am to take what we just put together this past year,” Nagy said. “And fine-tune it to our players and our coaches and our scheme. And then just get it down to what we think gives us a better opportunity to be much better next year.”