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Professional

NFL: Nagy takes coaching award

Fangio recognized as league’s top assistant coach by PFWA

In his first season with the Bears, Matt Nagy went 12-4 and won the NFC North after Chicago’s five-win campaign in 2017.
In his first season with the Bears, Matt Nagy went 12-4 and won the NFC North after Chicago’s five-win campaign in 2017.

In Matt Nagy’s first year as a head coach, he guided the Bears to their second-biggest single-season turnaround since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, and Nagy’s accomplishments were recognized Thursday afternoon when the Professional Football Writers of America named him the NFL Coach of the Year.

The Bears’ 5-11 season in 2017 represented their fourth straight last-place finish in the NFC North and a fourth straight season of
double-digit losses. But Nagy transformed the perennial losers into division champions for the first time since 2010, which was also the last time the Bears qualified for the
playoffs.

The Bears’ 12-4 record was the best the franchise had produced since 2006. The 16-15 loss to the Eagles in the wild-card round of the playoffs was a bitter setback made even more gut-wrenching by Cody Parkey’s missed 43-yard field goal attempt with 5 seconds remaining.

But for all he accomplished in Year One, Nagy clearly was not satisfied.

“It’s sickening to be sitting there doing what we did last week,” Nagy said when he addressed the media earlier this week. “I don’t want that. None of our guys want that. I’d be lying to you if I told you I didn’t watch the [divisional-round] games. I just got that junkie in me that wants to watch it. I just figured you get better doing that.”

But that did not distract from the monumental shift in the fortunes of a franchise that was resurrected under Nagy’s leadership.

In less than 12 months, Nagy transformed the culture at Halas Hall, urging players to be themselves and to think in terms of “we,” not “me.” A favorite mantra of the 40-year-old’s was “Be You,” which was written on his play-calling chart lest he forget his own advice.

That’s what general manager Ryan Pace says most impresses him about Nagy, who took what he learned from 8 years on Andy Reid’s staffs in Philadelphia and Kansas City and put his own spin on it.

“I know he says it all the time, but [it’s] just how comfortable he is in his own skin,” Pace said. “Just be yourself. Just be you. He has a blueprint from 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 everyday, it comes off as natural and organic, and I think it’s very attractive.” 

In just one year, the Bears improved in scoring from 29th to ninth. Their average gain per pass play rose from 25th to 14th, and their passing yards went from dead-last 32nd to 21st. In total yards, the Bears improved from 30th to 21st.

It’s the first PFWA Coach of the Year honor for Nagy, and the sixth Coach of the Year honor for the Bears’ franchise. Jack Pardee was the NFC Coach of the Year in 1976 (the PFWA selected separate AFL/NFL and AFC/NFC winners from 1967-76 and 1978-89), Mike Ditka was the NFC Coach of the Year twice (1985 and 1988), Dick Jauron was the NFL Coach of the Year in 2001, and Lovie Smith was the NFL Coach of the Year in 2005.

Vic Fangio, who left the job as Bears defensive coordinator last week to become the Broncos’ head coach, was named the PFWA’s Assistant Coach of the Year.

“We couldn’t be happier for him,” Pace said of Fangio. “Talk about a guy who’s done it the right way. He’s just kept his head down and worked and earned this opportunity, and there’s only 32 of them. Matt and I met with him a lot over those last couple days, and you’re just so happy and proud of Vic to be in that spot. Wish him nothing but the best, because you know how we feel about him.”

Fangio’s defense was No. 1 in points allowed, takeaways, interceptions, rushing yards allowed, lowest passer rating allowed and highest percentage of forcing three-and-outs.

Four of his players were voted to the Pro Bowl.

With 50 sacks and 27 interceptions, the Bears became the first team since the 2006 Ravens to have 45 or more sacks and 25 or more interceptions in a season. The defense also forced multiple turnovers in 11 of 16 games. 

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