As the Browns, Buccaneers, Cardinals and Jets seek new head coaches, they would be wise to follow the lead of the Bears, who hired an offensive-minded coach and quarterback guru in Matt Nagy last year. Those four teams have high first-round quarterbacks who are expected to ascend to franchise QB status, and they all need head coaches who can guide them along the way.
That’s what Nagy has done in coaching up Mitchell Trubisky, the second overall pick in the 2017 draft.
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Trubisky threw only seven touchdown passes last season with seven interceptions, 10 fumbles and a 77.5 passer rating to rank 30th among NFL starting QBs. A year later, he is not at the level of fellow 2017 first-rounders Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, but Trubisky has improved dramatically under Nagy’s guidance. His 95.4 passer rating ranks No. 16. He has thrown 24 TD passes against 12 interceptions, and he has rushed for 421 yards and 3 TDs. Most important, his win-loss record has gone from 4-8 as a rookie to 12-4 this season.
Nagy is one of the top NFL coach of the year candidates for leading the Bears from 5-11 in 2017 to a 12-4 regular season and the NFC North title; now he will lead his No. 3-seeded team into Sunday’s wild-card matchup against the defending Super Bowl-champion Eagles. While Chicago’s stout defense has led the way, Nagy also has his offense and special teams playing well. And he’s being recognized for his excellent work with Trubisky while creating a more innovative and diverse offense.
Credit also must be given to the Bears’ leadership trio of chairman George McCaskey, president Ted Phillips and general manager Ryan Pace for identifying Nagy, who previously served as Chiefs offensive coordinator but was considered by many to be a quasi-coordinator in KC under Andy Reid.
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It’s been a great year for Pace with the talent infusion he has led in Chicago, starting with his playing a major role in the selection of Nagy. The coaching hire was just the starting point for Pace, as it will be for the eight NFL GMs going through this process. They must bring in talented players to support the new coach, and they must be in sync with their coach on the type of players who fit the team’s schemes.
Pace and Nagy clearly have been in lockstep from the beginning. Pace went to work to give his new coach and young quarterback much-needed weapons at wide receiver, signing past Pro Bowler Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel in free agency and then drafting Anthony Miller in the second round. Pace also added another key free agent in tight end Trey Burton.
Along with the work on the offensive side, Nagy and Pace scored a major coup when they convinced Vic Fangio to stay on as defensive coordinator. This was no easy feat after Fangio had been interviewed for the Bears head coaching position and lost out to Nagy.
It tells me a lot about Nagy’s confidence and smarts that he recognized the importance of retaining Fangio on a defense that already was solid. When Pace pulled off the NFL trade of the year by acquiring All-Pro pass-rusher Khalil Mack from the Raiders for a bunch of draft picks, the Chicago defense elevated to elite status. And let’s not forget the guts it took for Pace to agree to pay Mack a record contract (six years, $141 million) for a defensive player. Cap-wise, it was easier to do with a quarterback on his lower-cost rookie contract.
All of which has made Pace one of the leading NFL executive of the year candidates.
Nagy has to be pleased that Trubisky is entering the playoffs with confidence on a four-game winning streak and having not thrown an interception in the past three games. In what turned out to be a meaningless game last Sunday against the Vikings, in their loud dome and against the league’s fourth-ranked defense, Trubisky led a 16-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter that basically put the game away.
On that critical drive, Trubisky and the Bears converted five third downs against the NFL’s best third-down defense. Trubisky also followed it with a two-point conversion pass to linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski (again demonstrating Nagy’s creative play-calling).
Chicago’s No. 3-ranked defense, which leads the league in turnovers and interceptions (27), is expected to play well in postseason. So most NFL analysts believe Trubisky’s play will be the key to how far the Bears go. There can be little doubt that Nagy will have the QB totally prepared.
So take heed, teams looking for a quarterback whisperer for their hoped-to-be stars at the game’s most important position. An offensive-minded head coach in the Nagy mold would be the smartest move to make as a starting point.
Jeff Diamond is a former president of the Titans and former vice president/general manager of the Vikings. He was selected NFL Executive of the Year in 1998. Diamond is currently a business and sports consultant who also does broadcast and online media work. He makes speaking appearances to corporate/civic groups and college classes on negotiation and sports business/sports management. He is the former chairman and CEO of The Ingram Group. Follow Jeff on Twitter: @jeffdiamondNFL.
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