While the NFL season continues on, for the Colts it has long been over. They have been ravaged by injury. A roster that has numerous holes has only gotten more porous as players dropped like flies. At the center of the black hole of disappointment is the failure of a truly underwhelming coaching staff. Perhaps the primary source of excitement for Colts fans is the prospect of Chris Ballard getting his opportunity to sweep away this unimaginative staff and replace them with one that can lead this team forward.
On the short list of names that keep coming up in the discussion about who might be the next head coach is Matt Nagy. The natural question for most people is: who is that? It is a good question, so let’s take a look.
Like all coaches in the NFL, Nagy has been a beneficiary of knowing people in the right places and taking advantage of opportunity. A quarterback in high school and then at the University of Delaware, Nagy played his college football alongside Brett Veach. If that name sounds familiar, it should. Veach became the general manager of the Chiefs after they fired John Dorsey.
After his time in college, Nagy felt he had more to give to football. He did not get a chance at the NFL level and felt he had something to offer. So he began playing in the Arena Football League, where he spent six years in hopes of working his way into the NFL. When the AFL folded in 2009 it was back to square one for Nagy. It was not long though before one of Nagy’s relationships would open a door for him.
His old teammate Brett Veach was working as the assistant to the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles at the time--Andy Reid. Reid offered Nagy a position as a coaching intern for the team’s training camp on the suggestion of Veach. According to B.J. Kissel, a reporter for the Chiefs, it wasn’t a coaching position that Nagy was interested in, but an opportunity to show the Chiefs what he could do as a player.
"At that time, I went there to see if I could open up some eyes throwing the ball or something," Matt explained of the first summer interning for the Eagles in 2008. "I went there with the mindset of a player."
"At that time, they had cut our numbers on how many players we could have, so having a camp quarterback was virtually impossible," Reid explained. "So, I said to Matt, 'Listen, come be an intern-coach. You can throw all of the drills.'
"He was also learning how to be a coach, too," Reid added. "That was important to him, and I'm going, 'This guy has really got a knack.'
The first season was a great opportunity. It came in the summer when the AFL was in its off-season. When Nagy was invited back, however, it was more complicated.
"I'm no longer playing six months of football, with six months off," Matt explained. "I'm working full-time at a new home construction company, and to ask your boss for three weeks off isn't going to go so well."
He had needed to find a way to provide for his family, but it seemed like his dream of being a part of the NFL might be dead. To make ends meet, Nagy had taken a job as a realtor. It was not his passion but he was good at it and it paid the bills. The decision was tough. Football was what he loved but the internship was not a job offer and he had a good job.
Again it was Veach who pushed Nagy forward with a conversation that resonated with him.
"[Veach] told me, 'You never know where this can take you, and if you don't do it, out of sight, out of mind.'
"That always stuck with me," Matt recalled.
Nagy benefitted again from the graciousness of a relationship. When he asked his employer, Larry Wisdom, for time off to pursue the internship, Wisdom agreed. That meant that he would have a job waiting should he need it. When camp had wrapped up that year it was back to the real estate business.
Despite rubbing shoulders with the right people, and even getting signed to a deal to play as a backup quarterback for the Eagles in a preseason game (though it was nixed after just a day), the right doors had not opened. That all changed at the end of that season.
When the season was over, Nagy’s old friend Brett Veach was promoted. He moved from the assistant to the head coach over to a pro and college scout on the personnel side of the organization. With his old job opening up, Veach came through for Nagy again when Reid asked if he had any recommendations for filling the position.
"[Reid] just said, 'Oh by the way, now that you're moving over (to personnel), if you have any names for your old spot – I already have a list of guys – but if you have somebody that would be good, let me know'" Veach recalled.
Veach immediately thought of Nagy. Andy Reid called him up and offered him the job, telling him to talk it over with his wife and get back with him. Proving the kind of man that he is, Nagy’s first call after his wife was to his boss, Larry Wisdom. Wisdom had helped Nagy and his family get through their difficult times. He had given him a good job and held it for him while Nagy had pursued his dream during the previous summer. To Nagy that meant there was no other choice but to lay things out honestly with him.
"I immediately realized that this call was a moment," Wisdom recalled of that conversation. "Matt was genuinely talking everything through with me, and when you think about that, that's not necessarily the world we live in today. I remember thinking that I wasn't happy to hear it, but I didn't tell him that. I just told him that he did the thing of integrity by picking up the phone and calling me.”
Ultimately, the opportunity was too good to pass up. Just one year later, Nagy would be promoted to the position of Offensive Quality Control coach. He coached alongside not only Reid but Doug Pederson and one of Colts fans’ favorites, Howard Mudd. After two years in that role with the Eagles, Andy Reid and the coaching staff were fired. Nagy would not be unemployed long.
Reid was hired as the Chiefs’ head coach on January 4, 2013. One week later, he had hired Nagy to be the quarterbacks coach. It was a big step forward, but Nagy proved up to the challenge. In his time with the Chiefs, he led quarterback Alex Smith to improve significantly.
Over his first seven years in the league, Smith averaged 12 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 2,040 yards passing, a 59.3% completion percentage, and a passer rating of 79.1 per season.
In his time with Nagy, he has averaged 20 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, 3,461 passing yards, a 65.2% completion percentage, and a 94.8 passer rating per season. Smith has made two pro bowl appearances in his career. The first was the year that Nagy took over as the Chiefs’ quarterbacks coach. The second was in 2016 when he took over as the offensive coordinator for Doug Pederson who left to become the head coach of the Eagles.
When the Chiefs came out this season with a white-hot 5-0 start, including the thrashing of the defending champion Patriots at Gillette Stadium on opening night, Nagy’s name immediately began coming up. After dropping 6 of their next 7 games, that conversation grew much quieter. Why? Because the offense was simply not good enough to win and struggling offenses don’t get their coaches promoted.
Many were quick to point to this failing as an indictment that Nagy was not ready to be a head coach. Then, heading into week 13 and trying to find a way to stop the proverbial bleeding, Andy Reid handed over play-calling duties to Nagy.
In the previous two weeks, the Chiefs had suffered losses to the lowly Giants and the Bills in low scoring and embarrassing affairs. In those two games, the only scraped together 19 points and 599 yards of offense.
In the games Nagy called against the Jets and the Raiders they scored a combined 57 points and an impressive 882 yards of offense. His success continued in the Chiefs’ most recent 30-13 win over the Chargers.
Arrowhead Pride’s Kent Swanson breaks down some of the changes to the offense that Nagy made and how they impact the offense, and it is worth a read. While questions are justified about whether Nagy is quite ready to be a head coach, anyone who watches his play calling and looks at the stat sheet will have a hard time arguing that he doesn’t at least have a head coaching job somewhere in his future. Given how past relationships have opened up doors for him, it would be no surprise at all to find out the next person knocking is Chris Ballard.
For more on Matt Nagy check out Chief’s reporter B.J. Kissel’s long-form story here. It is a great read and I relied heavily on it for this story.
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