Do we like Nagy or his 8-3 mark?

Bears coach seems gen­uine but may find pop­u­lar­ity is a prod­uct of win­ning

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - Sports -

In the lat­est episode of “ClubDub,” Matt Nagy cel­e­brated the Bears’ vic­tory over the Lions in a rau­cous locker room by pre­tend­ing to jug­gle imag­i­nary balls and throw­ing one em­phat­i­cally at the floor. Boom.

“Ev­ery­body in this or­ga­ni­za­tion de­serves a, ‘Good job!’ ” Nagy yelled.

All the Bears sur­round­ing Nagy went nuts. Then ev­ery­one started danc­ing as the mu­sic played.

The Nagy nov­elty looks un­likely to wear off any­time soon. Play­ers en­joy how he con­nects. Re­porters ap­pre­ci­ate the way he com­mu­ni­cates. Fans love nearly ev­ery­thing about the af­fa­ble 40-year-old Bears coach who knows what he doesn’t know, from his ap­proach­a­bil­ity to his au­then­tic­ity — even that silly vi­sor Nagy wears atop his bald head.

Nagy strikes me as a gen­uine kind of guy any­body would en­joy a beer with at the neigh­bor­hood bar. But, face it, the Bears be­com­ing a play­off-cal­iber team in his first sea­son makes Nagy much eas­ier to like — and if his first team opened 3-8 in­stead of 8-3, ev­ery­one would be less in­clined to buy the next round.

For­mer coach John Fox, gre­gar­i­ous enough to be known as “The Mayor” when he ar­rived at Halas Hall in 2015, was the life of the party un­til 34 losses in 48 games killed the buzz. Coaches must win to be in with the home crowd.

That’s the way it works in sports, with Nagy the lat­est ex­am­ple.

How much of a coach’s ap­peal re­lates to his pro­duc­tiv­ity? Why is suc­cess a pre­req­ui­site for pop­u­lar­ity? Or, maybe a bet­ter ques­tion: Why do suc­cess­ful coaches be­come more lik­able?

This crossed my mind again in the af­ter­math of Ohio State’s an­ni­hi­la­tion of Michi­gan as Fox an­nounc­ers un­com­fort­ably feted coach Ur­ban Meyer for over­com­ing ad­ver­sity, ig­nor­ing Meyer’s re­spon­si­bil­ity for help­ing cre­ate it. Lead­ing his team into the Big Ten cham­pi­onship game hardly ab­solved Meyer for his tone-deaf re­sponse to do­mes­ticvi­o­lence ac­cu­sa­tions against for­mer Buck­eyes as­sis­tant coach Zach Smith — neg­li­gence that re­sulted in Meyer’s three-game sus­pen­sion in Septem­ber. Beat­ing Michi­gan coach Jim Har­baugh made ev­ery­one for­get how Meyer han­dled Smith?

Noth­ing has changed since Au­gust, ex­cept Ohio State’s record.

The power of win­ning can be per­sua­sive. Noth­ing makes a coach harder to em­brace than the stink of los­ing. It re­mains one of sports’ most con­found­ing yet con­sis­tent tru­isms. Whether it’s fans or me­dia, we too of­ten let a score­board de­cide how much we like a guy.

The per­cep­tion of Har­baugh, for in­stance, swung dra­mat­i­cally on last Satur­day’s out­come. If Michi­gan had beaten its ri­val, the nar­ra­tive would have por­trayed Har­baugh as a mis­un­der­stood tra­di­tion­al­ist praised for stick­ing to his old-school ways. But be­com­ing the first Michi­gan coach to go 0-4 against Ohio State in­stead painted Har­baugh as a mis­cast ec­cen­tric who caused some crit­ics to won­der if he was right for the job. In re­al­ity, the only thing dif­fer­ent about Har­baugh this week is that his de­fense picked the worst pos­si­ble time to give up 62 points.

In most cases, pub­lic opin­ion sways more than coaches do. Take Illi­nois coach Lovie Smith, who spent 2004 to 2012 coach­ing the Bears in a city that loved Lovie. Cov­er­ing Smith since day one,

I can as­sure you he has changed lit­tle from al­most 15 years ago. From Chicago to Tampa, Fla., to Champaign, Smith’s stead­fast, se­ri­ous de­meanor has served him bet­ter with his bosses than with fans and me­dia.

Smith’s pop­u­lar­ity peaked when he coached the Bears to the Su­per

Bowl XLI in 2007; by the time he missed the play­offs for the sec­ond straight year in 2012, his firing hardly cre­ated an out­cry. And if Illi­nois ath­letic di­rec­tor Josh Whit­man had de­cided to fire Smith rather than re­ward a 4-8 sea­son with a twoyear con­tract ex­ten­sion, you won­der if it would have pro­duced much more than a shrug from a fan base that has yet to be re-en­er­gized since Smith’s ar­rival in 2016.

Cubs man­ager Joe Mad­don is no less fas­ci­nat­ing now than on the day he was hired in 2014, he of­fered to buy ev­ery­one at the Cubby Bear “a shot and beer, the Ha­zle­ton Way.” But some­time be­tween Game 7 of the 2016 World Se­ries and the two straight oddly dis­ap­point­ing play­off sea­sons that fol­lowed, Mad­don be­came more po­lar­iz­ing.

Mad­don’s schtick be­gan to wear on peo­ple — per­haps even on Cubs man­age­ment. But watch how quickly lik­ing Mad­don be­comes cool again if he man­ages the Cubs back to the World Se­ries in 2019.

White Sox coun­ter­part Rick Ren­te­ria, one of the most pleas­ant souls ever to oc­cupy a dugout, proves nice guys who fin­ish last of­ten are in the same spot when rank­ing pop­u­lar­ity. Nagy prob­a­bly has a higher Q rat­ing lo­cally af­ter 11 games with the Bears than Ren­te­ria has af­ter two sea­sons with the Sox.

Speak­ing of Q, for­mer Black­hawks coach Joel Quen­neville, a three-time Stan­ley Cup cham­pion, achieved lo­cal leg­end sta­tus be­fore the team fired him Nov. 6 and cast an im­pos­ing shadow over 33-year-old suc­ces­sor Jeremy Col­li­ton. Col­li­ton comes across as a sharp, sin­cere coach with an abil­ity to laugh at him­self. But whether any­one will no­tice de­pends largely on whether he can lead the Hawks back to the play­offs. Oth­er­wise, only friends and fam­ily will care.

Just look at Fred Hoiberg, who’s ex­cel­lent com­pany to keep. Hoiberg pos­sesses a dry sense of hu­mor, treats ev­ery­body with re­spect and views each day with the healthy per­spec­tive of some­one who sur­vived open-heart surgery. Re­lata­bil­ity re­mains one of Hoiberg’s great­est strengths. Yet, re­al­is­ti­cally, the Bulls even­tu­ally will fire Hoiberg be­fore Chicago ever gets to know who he re­ally is. With less ex­u­ber­ance, Hoiberg is as true to him­self as Nagy but has yet to suc­ceed enough for his gen­uine­ness to mat­ter. Lik­a­bil­ity only fac­tors into longevity for coaches who win.

David Haugh is a spe­cial con­trib­u­tor to the Chicago Tri­bune and co-host of the “Mully and Haugh Show” on WSCR-AM-670.

JOHN J. KIM/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

It’s easy to like Bears coach Matt Nagy — es­pe­cially when the team is win­ning.

David Haugh

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