Matt Nagy’s Note to Self: The Silver Lining in the Bears' Loss

         I was in 6th grade when the Chicago Bears won Super Bowl XX in 1986. I had the white sweat pants with a blue and orange stripe down the leg. I knew all the words to the “Super Bowl Shuffle.” I had the Monsters of the Midway poster on my bedroom wall. When I ran into Coach Ditka outside his restaurant in Chicago, I got him to sign the only piece of paper I could find (a deposit slip from my dad’s checkbook).


Imagine my delight, when after a decade-long playoff drought, the Bears hosted the Eagles for an NFC Wild Card game. And my great dismay when they lost on a missed field goal attempt at the end of the game. But for all the drama, I didn’t wake up drowning in disappointment. The moment that I’ll remember most from this game isn’t the outcome or the score. It’s the feeling I had after catching a glimpse of two words on Bears’ coach Matt Nagy’s play call sheet.


If you’re not a football fan, the play call sheet is an over-sized laminated piece of paper with plays coaches can use in specific scenarios. Typically, the call sheet is a color-coded spreadsheet for easy reference. Often, you’ll see head coaches calling plays into their headsets with the call sheet covering their mouths, to prevent any lip-reading spies from knowing their plans.


Usually, the words are too small for home viewers to read anything. Except for Nagy’s. At the bottom of the call sheet, in large yellow block letters, are two words: “BE YOU.” Coaches at Nagy’s level have to plan for every contingency. There are plays for when you’re winning or when you’re behind, for certain personnel packages and for special teams. There are standard plays and trick plays. The call sheet is there to ground coaches in reality, to keep them focused and committed to the game plan.


I love that Matt Nagy’s overarching principle for the best days and the bad days are: BE YOU. I recently had a peer in my industry conduct a successful event. His style is radically different than mine. My core insecurities kicked in and I started wondering “Should I change my approach to match his?” According to Nagy’s note to self, “no.” It doesn’t mean I can’t learn transferrable principles from others, but I must fundamentally reject the temptation to “be” others.


I kept that Bears poster in my childhood bedroom for a long time. It was still there when I entered high school. Somewhere in those four year, I tacked a quote to the opposite wall in my room. It read: “Be yourself. No one can tell you you’re doing it wrong.” It was true then and it’s true now.


 Thanks for the reminder coach. And better luck next season.





Craig Custance