When Matt Nagy’s Bears host the Eagles on Sunday, it will be the first time an ex-Eagles quarterback has coached against his former team since Norm Van Brocklin.
Matt Nagy played for the Eagles?
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Well, sort of. He’s not listed anywhere in the team’s official register, nor was he ever paid, but Nagy spent one training camp morning in an Eagles uniform nearly 10 years ago. By the afternoon, though, he was back on the sideline as a coaching intern after the NFL thwarted Andy Reid’s attempt to circumvent the rules.
Nagy jokes now about his missed opportunity.
“Yeah, I thought I was going to be a starter in the NFL for like the next eight years,” he said Wednesday.
But Nagy, who had played quarterback at Manheim Central High in Lancaster, then at the University of Delaware, and then for six seasons in the Arena Football League, was distraught when his dreams of playing in a 2009 preseason game — and possibly opening doors elsewhere — were dashed in a matter of hours.
One moment, he was slinging passes alongside Donovan McNabb and snatching up extra tickets at Lincoln Financial Field.
The next, he was being told by then-general manager Tom Heckert to switch back into coach’s gear, and had to break the bad news to family and friends.
“We were going to have like 200, 300 people from eastern Pa. and Lancaster," Nagy said during a conference call with Philadelphia-area reporters. “They were fired up. They already had like homemade jerseys ready to go. It was awesome.
“And then the NFL nixed it and I was, like, crushed. Had to rebound. But, you know what, it’s probably good that it happened, because it made [Reid] know who I was and we’ve kind of started our relationship, getting close after that.”
Nagy, then 31, was in just his second year as an unpaid intern. That is why Reid thought he could sign him to a contract, according to then-offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. The Eagles had only three quarterbacks at camp, and backup Kevin Kolb had injured his knee three days before the preseason opener against the Patriots.
Reid, then the Eagles coach, didn’t want McNabb playing more than a series or two, and he didn’t want to tax third-stringer A.J. Feeley. So, rather than sign another quarterback off the street who would be unlikely to learn the offense in a few days, he thought he’d give Nagy the shot of a lifetime.
“We’re walking off the field that Monday and Andy goes, ‘Can Matt Nagy do this?’ And I’m going, ‘Do what?’ ” Mornhinweg said by phone. “And he goes, ‘Play in a game.’ I’m going, ‘Play in a game Thursday night? Yeah, he could, but that’s illegal because he’s a coach. There’s a rule there.’
“And he’s going, ‘He didn’t sign anything.’ And I’m going, ‘So he signed nothing? We’re just paying him.’ And he’s like, ‘I’m not even sure we’re paying him.’ ”
Heckert, who recently died after a long battle with amyloidosis, went back and forth with the league office, which finally gave the Eagles the OK. Reid called Nagy into his office at Lehigh, where the Eagles held camp, and he asked “if I had an agent, if I was in shape, and if I knew the playbook,” Nagy said.
As an intern, Nagy did grunt work in all areas. But he had spent some time in the quarterback room, according to Eagles coach Doug Pederson, who was an offensive quality control assistant at the time. Nagy knew enough of the playbook and he had a strong arm.
“He had a hose,” Pederson said.
When the Eagles were first filling the intern spot a year earlier, they were looking for someone who wanted to coach but who could also throw. One of the job’s responsibilities was throwing to running backs and receivers in warm-ups.
Brett Veach, then Reid’s entry-level assistant and now his GM with the Chiefs, had just the guy.
“It was a college teammate of his,” Mornhinweg said. “I’m going, ‘Oh, no, Delaware? [Shoot], they run the Wing-T there. Guy can’t throw.’ And he goes, ‘He’s played in the Arena League for six to eight years.’ And I’m going, ‘He played in the Arena League?’ ”
Mornhinweg was once an Arena League quarterback and a camp arm with the 49ers. The Eagles brought Nagy on.
A year later, the most public thing Nagy had done for the team was toss passes off to the side to the resting Brian Westbrook.
But when morning practice opened on Aug. 11, there was Nagy in a No. 9 red jersey. Asked Wednesday about his workout, Nagy first mentioned the interception he threw. But Mornhinweg and Pederson remembered how well he had run the two-minute drill.
“I think he checked to a ‘Q-9,’ which is roll out left, sprint left, which we usually don’t do with a righthanded quarterback,” Pederson said.
Actually, Nagy said, the Eagles didn’t have a “Q-9” option in the playbook.
“I went ‘Q-9, Q-9,’ and we only went Q-8 at the time — to that right,” Nagy said. “And so, [the offensive linemen] looked back at me like, ‘What the hell are you saying?’ But I said, ‘Q-9, we’re going to the left,’ and we did it, and it kind of shocked them.”
Afterward, Nagy was ambushed by reporters.
“That might be all it is. It may be more. I don’t know,” Nagy said then. “But how can you not have a smile on your face with this opportunity?”
Four hours later, the Eagles held their second practice of the day, but Nagy was back in coaching shorts. The NFL rejected his contract. They said it was because of a preexisting Arena League contract that hadn’t technically expired, even though the league had.
The real reason, according to Mornhinweg, was that the league didn’t want teams to be able to stow potential players on their coaching staffs.
“It’s not illegal, but we got a call saying, ‘Please don’t do it,’ ” Mornhinweg said. “One of those deals.”
The Eagles signed former Temple quarterback Adam DiMichele the next day and gave him the No. 9 jersey, but he didn’t play that Thursday. McNabb and Feeley split the snaps, but few remember how either performed. News had broken during the game that the Eagles had signed Michael Vick, who had just been released from prison, to a contract.
Nagy, meanwhile, went back to coaching, and when his internship was over, back to selling homes. But he was hired back by the Eagles during the 2010 offseason — this time to a full-time position. He was promoted to quality control, taking Pederson’s spot after Pederson was bumped up to quarterbacks coach in 2011.
“He was so good at the coaching bit that we ended up hiring him at an entry-level deal,” Mornhinweg said.
Nagy and Pederson, of course, would tag along with Reid to the Chiefs in 2013, with the former following in the latter’s footsteps along the way. Reid declined to be interviewed for this story, or any story related to Nagy and Pederson, because he said he didn’t want to be a distraction.
“I love both of them,” Reid said in a text message. “This is their time.”
Nagy’s time as an NFL player was brief. But it wasn’t meant to be.
“I went to the ultimate high to an ultimate low,” Nagy said. “It’s just how life goes and everything happens for a reason.”