Reigning NFL Coach of the Year Matt Nagy has come under the media microscope recently, largely due to a report in Sports Illustrated detailing the Chicago Bears bizarre–and to some–off-putting search for a kicker. The Bears have conducted an unconventional (by NFL standards) search for a kicker this offseason, and many have been critical of the way Nagy and the team have handled it.
One thing getting lost in the criticism surrounding the kicker competition is that Nagy’s breaking new ground–he’s doing things no other coach or team has done before. Is it odd? Sure. Is it effective? That remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: there is no other coach like Matt Nagy in the NFL. Here’s why Nagy is the league’s most innovative coach right now.
He’s Breaking the Coaching Mold
In 2013, Bleacher Report examined the different types of coaching styles present in both contemporary NFL football and throughout NFL history. They found three different coaching styles most prominent among coaches: Player’s coaches, who tend to “lead democratically and peacefully and are often adored by their players,” disciplinarians, who tend to be all business all the time, and the “mad geniuses who have mastered the X’s and O’s of the game,”–so basically, offensive or defensive gurus.
Bleacher Report acknowledged that the majority of all coaches often possess a slight combination or overlap of these traits, but usually one trait is much more predominant than the others. Bill Belichick, for example, was listed as a “defensive genius first and a disciplinarian second.” The thing about Matt Nagy is–he’s a complete and even mixture of all three types.
Nagy is clearly an offensive mastermind–he was hired in part to help develop young franchise quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. But he is also very well loved and respected by his players, and the way he swiftly and appropriately handled Kyle Long’s recent punishment after a practice fight shows he can be a firm but fair disciplinarian.
His Players Don’t Just Like Him–They Respect Him
In his brief time in Chicago, Nagy has installed a relentlessly positive environment and has completely changed the culture surrounding the team and the organization in just one year. He has also given his team license to be themselves, which was reflected in his season one motto, “Be You.”
Nagy’s “Be You” philosophy has given the team a very key ingredient to success that many hyper-controlling coaches never attain: he has given his players the freedom to express who they are as individuals, and they love him for it. And when this kind of autonomy is given to NFL players, only good things generally come from it.
Autonomy of Players
The current Bears roster is made up of diverse players from all walks of life, and Nagy has fostered an environment where each player feels comfortable being themselves. Look at the different and unique ways various Bears players arrived to training camp: Allen Robinson showed up to training camp in an Obama jersey, while Tarik Cohen pretty much arrived in his own version of the Batmobile:
Why does this matter? Because studies have shown that coaches who allow their players a good degree of autonomy tend to get much more positive results than coaches who are mega-controlling:
“When autonomy is supported and athletes become self-determined in their motivation, research shows that these athletes achieve greater success in their overall improvement and performance when participating in their respective activity or sport.”
Nagy knows that the NFL is changing, and he understands how to get the most out of his players. This is one way. Another is his incredible work ethic.
Matt Nagy is Highly Organized
A recent study titled “Leadership Dimensions of Exemplary NFL Coaches” examined coaches throughout the history of the NFL, with a special emphasis on Bill Belichick and his unprecedented success to determine what factors make an NFL head coach great.
The study examined the common traits of the NFL’S most successful coaches, and found that not only were the most lauded coaches highly organized, they
“pushed their players to the limit to make them better, but never without a greater lesson being involved in the training. Each of these great coaches had hundreds of short term goals that, if accomplished, lead their team to perform at the highest possible level.”
Nagy is frequently striving for consistent, incremental improvements, and this description fits him to a T. The study also notes that “most of the highly successful coaches in NFL history have acted as role models,” which is another refreshing quality that makes Nagy stand out.
Nagy is a Community Servant…and He’s Fun
Since coming to Chicago last season, Matt Nagy has already become a huge fan favorite, and a favorite of people in and around Chicago, as well. Whether he’s throwing out the first pitch at a Cubs game, giving Mitch Trubisky beer-chugging props, or donating cleats to local kids, Nagy understands the importance of having fun–and of fan and community interactions. His personality stands out in a sea of milquetoast NFL coaches. Name another current NFL head coach who does this during practice:
It would be remiss to not note that Nagy is part of a current NFL trend: the young offensive-minded genius with little head coaching experience. First there was Sean McVay, then Doug Peterson, followed by Nagy and now young coaches like Zac Taylor and Matt LaFleur. But Nagy is different. He stands out. He isn’t merely part of a trend. From resting his starters in the preseason to the recent search for a kicker–he’s not following trends. He’s making and breaking them.
And while coaches like LaFleur are copying his methods and ways, Nagy keeps doing the one thing that has made him so unique thus far: he keeps on being himself.