Red Zone

Thoughts on what Bears can expect from Matt Nagy, plus Chiefs’ top OC candidates

This is the Andy Reid coaching tree

Andy Reid has been a head coach in the NFL for 19 years, and has produced a number of coaches that went on to coach their own NFL teams. 8 of 32 head coaches in the NFL are either Andy Reid or Andy Reid products.
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Andy Reid has been a head coach in the NFL for 19 years, and has produced a number of coaches that went on to coach their own NFL teams. 8 of 32 head coaches in the NFL are either Andy Reid or Andy Reid products.

Kudos to Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace for hiring Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy. It’s a smart move.

First off, the Bears’ future rests in its ability to develop quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Period. They gave up resources to get him, and Pace’s tenure will likely depend on how well Trubisky plays. Giving him a creative, offensive-minded head coach with a quarterbacking background was paramount, and Nagy, a former Arena League quarterback, fits the bill.

At 39, Nagy is still young enough to relate to players, and I can’t stress enough how many positive things I heard about him from players. Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, who had a career year this season as he finally started to consistently push the ball downfield, loves Nagy.

“Awesome — killer,” Smith told me when asked about Nagy’s ability to relate to players. “When he got to be up in the room in front of everybody as a coordinator, you never know how guys are going to handle that. I think the thing all of us appreciate is that he didn’t even blink.

“A lot of guys get up there and puff their chest or something and change. But (here) you’re just like, ‘Same old Nags.’ Still laid back and having fun, loves what he’s doing, loves ball, loves joking with the guys. You can see that and I think guys really appreciate that, and I think that’s only carried on even more.”

Nagy’s personality also shines through in interviews, where he answers questions genuinely and with a smile, while adequately walking the tightrope between giving just enough to fill reporters’ notebooks but not giving away too much. He has the look of somebody who can be the face of a franchise.

But what Bears fans should really like is Nagy’s creativity and knack for calling plays. Since he took over as the primary playcaller for coach Andy Reid in early December, the Chiefs’ offense came alive again after a miserable two-month slump, as Nagy consistently dialed up the zone-running plays they used to so much success earlier this season. Nagy is a sharp guy who also increased the reliance on run-pass options that Smith likes so much and cut down the “trick-ya” plays the offense had grown too fond of.

“I think he thinks a little different from Coach (Reid) and kind of adds to that, where now you’re kind of getting some of the spice that’s not your typical West Coast offense,” Smith told me. “Coach lets him put that in here and there and we showed we can handle it. I think that’s why, the last couple years, there’s a little more diversity in the stuff we do. That’s what I appreciate. I think he loves to stay aggressive and I think that’s what’s rubbed off on us.”

Now, I know Bears fans want to know who was calling plays in the second half of the Titans’ loss, in which the Chiefs blew an 18-point lead. I don’t think that will be easy to find out; despite Nagy’s increased playcalling role, Reid still had oversight and involvement, which means he deserves some credit for the late-season offensive revival, too. It’s not as simple as saying Nagy called the good plays while Reid called the bad ones, as Reid consistently joked when asked about the playcalling after the game.

Overall, the inability to put the Titans away was a team failure, one in which everybody shared a piece of the blame. The Chiefs dialed up all those second-half passes, I suspect, because they knew running the ball against the Titans would be tough sledding.

The Titans had the league’s fourth-best run defense, and they devote multiple resources to stopping the run. Running the ball against that front consistently was never going to happen with this offensive line, and I suspect the coaches knew that, which is why they dialed up so many passing plays. Those were open, by the way; there was a failure to execute by the quarterback (missed shots) and receivers (drops).

So, really, who cares who was calling the plays in the second half (well, except for that horrendous third-and-1 sprint option — there was no excuse for that). I honestly don’t think an increased emphasis on the run would have helped. The Titans’ physical front would have shut that down, they would have still blown the lead, and everyone would be crushing Reid for “going into a shell” anyway. What needed to happen was for the passes they dialed up against the league’s 25th-ranked pass defense to work. They were open, but nerves got tight as the Titans mounted a comeback, they couldn’t catch a break and execution was off.

Anyway, Bears fans, nothing is certain in the NFL, but I think Nagy, because of his personality and playcalling knack, is one of the best head coaching candidates Reid has had in Kansas City (better than the Eagles’ Doug Pederson), and I think your team made a good hire. Take that for it’s worth.

▪ As far as the Chiefs go, Nagy’s departure leaves a void, for sure. Reid has some interesting internal candidates, however, including running backs coach Eric Bieniemy, who has consistently gotten the most out of his position of any assistant since his arrival in 2013 and called plays at Colorado from 2011-12.

For my money, my guess is that the Chiefs go with Bieniemy, who is easy to like for his fire-and-brimstone approach as a running backs coach but is eager for more in his coaching career. Bieniemy, I believe, wants to have an opportunity to call plays and climb the coaching ladder, and to be honest, I’m not sure how much longer he’ll stay here if he gets passed up for this opportunity. If I’m Bieniemy, who is 48 (nine years older than Nagy) that might make me think Reid believes I’ll never be ready.

Assistant head coach Brad Childress — who was the co-offensive coordinator with Nagy in 2016, following Pederson’s departure — has at least been thinking about retirement, a source told The Star, and NFL Network reported on Monday that he will.

Besides, I think Bieniemy might be a nice compliment to Reid; we saw this year that a fresh approach can be good for Reid, who still had a role in putting together the offensive gameplan even after Nagy’s promotion, because he still did the weekly installs. It’s Reid’s decision, however, and it will be very interesting to see what he does.

Here’s what Reid said when asked about Bieniemy last week, by the way:

“I’m a big fan of his,” Reid said. “I’ve got good coaches and I’ve said before I think he’s a phenomenal football coach.”

▪ Lastly, I think it will be interesting to see what happens with special-teams coordinator Dave Toub. His name has been bandied about for the Chicago and Indianapolis jobs, but the Bears hired a young offensive mind to groom the quarterback, ala Sean McVay and the Rams, and it would be interesting to see if other teams with openings follow suit.

I get the thinking there, considering the success McVay had this season reviving a moribund franchise. But in my opinion, teams are really missing out on a good head coaching candidate in Toub, an honest, hard-working man who is appreciated by his special-teamers and always gets them to play their tails off, despite his willingness to consistently hold them accountable.

Those traits carryover to becoming a head coach, too, especially in a CEO-type role, so as long as Toub has top-notch offensive and defensive coordinators, I think he’s someone else who has the look of someone who can be the face of a franchise, especially if he lands in a rough-and-tumble division like, say, the AFC North.

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