From Baron to Bear

By on January 10, 2018
New Chicago Bears Head Coach Matt Nagy (right) stands with Bears General Manager Ryan Pace after addressing members of the media during a press conference Tuesday, at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Ill. Photo by Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune

New Chicago Bears Head Coach Matt Nagy stands with Bears General Manager Ryan Pace after addressing members of the media during a press conference Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Ill. (Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune)

Nagy named Chicago’s 16th head coach in franchise history

As a young volunteer coach at his alma mater in the early 2000s, Manheim Central grad Matt Nagy was like a sponge.

“He was always competitive and wanted to soak up all the knowledge he could soak up,” said Mike Williams, the Barons head coach then. “He was very interested in learning everything he could.”

That trait continued as Nagy eventually went on to coach with the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs under Andy Reid.

And on Monday, Nagy’s hard work paid off when the Chicago Bears named him as their 16th head coach in franchise history.

Word spread fast in his hometown, from Chad’s Barber Shop to Francesco’s Pizza and Restaurant, where there was a clear buzz.

“It’s happening in Manheim right now,” Manheim Central head coach Dave Hahn said. “It’s awesome. We’re excited.”

“It’s just fabulous,” said Williams, a current Baron assistant. “Dream come true for him, that’s for sure. Obviously, you’re proud. Anytime you have a former player that rises to that position, it’s amazing. I’m more proud for him than anything else. He worked very hard to get there and the dream came true. But of course, now you worry, ‘Hey, you’re only as good as your last season,’ so hopefully he can live his dream and it will be successful.”

The Bears — who finished last in the NFC North with a 5-11 record under John Fox in 2017 — introduced Nagy to the media on Tuesday. With Nagy as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator this year, Kansas City ranked fifth in the NFL in total offense.

“This is truly an honor,” the 39-year-old Nagy said at his introductory press conference Tuesday at Halas Hall. “It’s special. It’s a dream and I’m still pinching myself. Everything happens really fast, but it means a lot to be here. The direction of this team and this organization, you see, you feel it. There’s a want there to be great.”

According to a tweet from Around the NFL writer Chris Wesseling, Reid told ESPN’s Adam Caplan that Nagy is the best head coaching prospect he’s ever had.

“No kidding? Wow, that’s impressive,” Williams said. “That’s great to hear that. That’s impressive because Andy Reid’s been around.”

Nagy no doubt hopes to be around for awhile as an NFL head coach.

His pedigree is a splendid one, going all the way back to when he was the quarterback for the Barons as they advanced to the PIAA Eastern Championship games in 1994 and ‘95, losing both times to Berwick, 37-30 and 18-17.

Williams jokes now about hearing that the ultra-competitive Nagy was tough to coach in his Midget football days and how he got a first-hand look at it when Nagy joined the varsity squad.

“I soon learned that it wasn’t too far from the truth,” Williams laughed. “If I would kinda get on him a little bit, he would get a little bit angry and he’d fire back at me. We soon learned to compromise. He got a little more mellow and so did I, but it was a good combination. He had a lot of great success and we got along great and we still get along.”

Hahn, the Barons’ offensive line coach at the time, said Nagy was always a tough competitor.

“He wasn’t afraid to vocalize what he thought,” Hahn recalled. “Mike and I always talked about this that you never coach kids the same. Everybody’s different. I was always impressed with how Mike handled Matt because Matt was a competitor and he felt the way he felt and it was good. You need a quarterback to be that way.”

Nagy’s competitive nature didn’t change as he went to the University of Delaware, where he established more than 20 career passing records at the time, including career marks for passing yards (8,214) and touchdowns (58). Only Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco ranked ahead of him in most career attempts and career completions.

After graduating from Delaware with All-American honors in his senior season, he got a handful of NFL tryouts, but to no avail.

Nagy had some “what-ifs,” and he was quoted on chiefs.com as saying, “I wasn’t given the opportunity to play Division I football out of high school, and in my opinion, I felt I could. I wasn’t given the opportunity to play in the NFL out of college, and I felt I should have.”

In 2008, he was nearly signed by the Eagles to play in a pre-season game against the New England Patriots after QB Kevin Kolb got hurt, but the NFL nixed the contract.

But Nagy was not deterred.

Chad Knouse, of Chad’s Barber Shop in Manheim, has been friends with Nagy for about 20 years, going back to when Nagy was a quarterback at the University of Delaware. Knouse noted that Nagy, when talking with people, likes to use the quote, “Persistence over resistance.”

“If I had to say something, it’s not the opportunities that he’s gotten that got him where he is. It’s the opportunities he didn’t get,” Knouse said. “The guy’s been a star ever since he’s been 8 years old, so it’s kinda one of those things that he never stopped.”

Still, Williams likes to think of the successes that Nagy has enjoyed in his career, like leading the Barons to back-to-back PIAA Eastern Championship games, then taking the Blue Hens to the Division I-AA National semi-finals in both his redshirt freshman and senior seasons, and playing six seasons professionally in the Arena Football League from 2002-08. He took the Georgia Force and Columbus Destroyers to the ArenaBowl.

Even in high school, Hahn could sense Nagy’s intrigue about playing at the next level.

“You knew he wanted to play football in college and you knew he wanted to play as long as he could and maybe eventually coach,” Hahn recalled. “That’s what he wanted to do.”

All along the way in his football journey, he made a lot of fans, as Williams can attest.

“He always had those good people skills,” Williams said. “After he got into college and even his senior year in high school, those people skills really really stood out. Everybody loved Matt Nagy, they really did. At Delaware, the kids loved him, fans loved him. He was great with people.”

That characteristic stood out, not only in Nagy’s stint coaching with in MC 2001, but also as the quarterbacks coach at Cedar Crest (2002-03) and the offensive coordinator at Palmyra (2008-09).

Nagy also worked at Jim Cantafio’s SVS quarterback camps.

“Matt was one of the best quarterbacks to ever come out of the Lancaster-Lebanon League,” Cantafio said. “He was just a physically tough kid. He was just a heck of a competitor and a hard-working guy, and I’m telling you, if anybody knew the story, how hard he had to work to get to where he is right now, it’s almost one of those fairy tale stories, oh my God.”

Mike Brown, a Warwick teacher who coached under Cantafio at Conestoga Valley, in addition to Clever Daihl, Mark Snyder and Bob Locker with the Warriors, described Nagy as a technician while coaching with him at SVS.

“Technically sound with all of his drills,” said Brown, who played football at CV and then at West Chester University. “He knew when he could have light-hearted humor with the kids and when it was time for business. You could tell he had a good relationship with whoever he came in contact with.”

While staying involved in football, Nagy also had a job working in real estate, which he used to provide for his wife, Stacey, and their four children.

Then in 2008, an old friend and teammate from the University of Delaware, Brett Veach, helped Nagy land a spot as a coaching intern with the Eagles.

“He would commute from Lancaster to Philadelphia and go down there and volunteer,” Cantafio said. “He didn’t even get paid. He’d get up at early-morning hours and not get home until late at night. There were times that he would actually pull a cot out and sleep in the coaches’ offices at the Eagles’ camp. I mean, he sacrificed a number of years, and keep in mind, he had four children and a wife.”

Later, Nagy was a coaches assistant under Reid in 2010, then was promoted to the Eagles’ offensive quality control coach from 2011-12.

When Philadelphia let Reid go following the 2012 season, he took Nagy with him to Kansas City, where he served as the quarterbacks coach, then became co-offensive coordinator with Brad Childress in 2016 before taking over as the sole coach in that role for the Chiefs in 2017.

“He wasn’t going to be outworked by anybody,” Brown said. “You knew he was a football guy.”

It all led to the opportunity he is now getting to coach the Bears and their up-and-coming quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

“I would honestly say,” Knouse said, “that every opportunity he’s ever gotten, he’s taken it to the fullest potential of his abilities. It’s no surprise that he’s put himself in this position just due the fact that, from being an athlete, to being a coach, to being a father — all those things — he takes it to the highest of his potential. There’s all these things that makes him who he is and he deserves everything he’s getting due to the fact that he sacrificed everything to get to this point.”

“You had the sense that he knew what he wanted,” Brown said, “and he’d eventually get there. Now the pressure’s on.”

Williams believes that one of Nagy’s keys will be his ability to relate with today’s high-priced players, and the Barons’ former coach is confident he can.

“(Matt)’s got a charismatic personality,” Williams said. “One of his greatest character strengths is he’s never forgotten his roots. He’s never forgotten his friends back home, never forgotten his coaches, never forgotten the fans back here in Manheim, and he just has a certain charisma about him. It’s almost like James Franklin from Penn State. He could walk into a room and right away, you’re attracted to Matt. He’s got that personality that makes you feel like you’re very important.”

 

Williams texted Nagy a couple of days before the Chiefs faced the Titans in an AFC wild-card round playoff game last Saturday, and the two of them remain in touch with each other. It was just last May that Nagy spoke at the Manheim Touchdown Club banquet, and they spoke again when Williams and his family were hoping to get to Kansas City for a game during the regular season.

“It didn’t really work out because (the Barons’) season went long and my wife (Linda) and I came to Florida earlier,” Williams said, “so we didn’t really get a chance to go out there.”

But hey, if Nagy would happen to need a quarterbacks coach in the Windy City, Williams is available.

“I’ll wait for him to call me,” Williams joked. “I have my cell phone with me all hours of the day.”

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