Bears stuck in a holding pattern

Matt Eberflus is going to be better than Matt Nagy, who was going to be better than John Fox, who sure as hell wasn’t going to be as bad as Marc Trestman, who was going to be better than Lovie Smith, who was going to be better than Dick Jauron and was, just not better enough.

Jauron was going to be better than Dave Wannstedt, who was going to attempt to fill Mike Ditka’s roller skates but couldn’t.

Feel better now about the Bears’ coaching situation? I didn’t think so. But look at it this way: My first sentence could have been: “Justin Fields is going to be better than Andy Dalton, who was going to be better than Nick Foles, who was brought in to push Mitch Trubisky, who . . . .” That’s a lot of pain I saved you right there.

A new Bears season is upon us, this one full of new faces, the most prominent being Eberflus and his locked jaw. The new coach has vowed to bring toughness to his team, which is good because football tends to lean toward violence, bloodshed and general mayhem. But there’s also a new general manager, Ryan Poles, who is going to be better than Ryan Pace, who sure as hell wasn’t going to be as bad as Phil Emery, who . . . OK, I’ll stop.

But I think you Bears fans get the picture. The franchise, the one you’ve given your heart to, hasn’t gotten it right with coaches and personnel men since Ditka and the late Jim Finks, whose name still elicits mass genuflection across Chicago. If the idea is a Super Bowl title, then it has been forever (1985) since the Bears have found the kind of leaders capable of delivering a championship.

It’s not fair to mention Eberflus-Poles in the same breath as Ditka-Finks, but it’s difficult to find a stratum in which to place them. We know so little about the two men, which makes sense: This is their first rodeo as coach and general manager. Is there gold in there? Or are they just a couple of rocks that will serve as door stops until team chairman George McCaskey realizes two or three years too late that he has made another mistake?

The Bears were trying to win last season and finished 6-11. This is going to be a rebuilding year, which means that your pain will come with cushioning. I’m not sure you’ll understand the distinction when the Bills are beating the Bears’ heads in on Dec. 24.

So, how to judge the new coach and the new general manager? For Eberflus and his staff, the obvious goal this season will be progress from Fields, whose obvious goal is to stay healthy behind a very shaky offensive line in his second year in the league. For Poles, the obvious goal will be very few victories and high picks in next year’s draft, though you won’t hear him say that. The really, really obvious goal will be linemen who can actually block for Fields in the coming years, receivers who can actually catch passes from Fields and a definitive answer on whether Fields is as remotely good as the massive hype says he is.

If he is, Bears fans can start thinking about a Super Bowl rather than fantasizing about one and a Mega Millions victory.

If he isn’t, Poles can start looking for the next quarterback who is sure to be better than the previous one, an ongoing Bears exercise that is the longest tease in recorded human history.

So, yes, progress. Progress from Fields this season, but not too much progress from everyone else so as to win too many games. It’s hard to get a slogan out of that. Get Better, But Not So Much That You Can Tell in the Standings?

A victory for Eberflus this season will be widespread respect, which sounds overly broad and definitely unmeasurable, so perhaps there’s a better way to put it: If the Bears don’t look like a clown show in 2022, it’ll be a win for the coach. That’s a reflection on Nagy, who went from being embraced for his offensive “genius” and daring early in his career in Chicago to being excoriated for failing remedial offensive play-calling. To be loved, all Eberflus and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy have to do in 2022 is do the logical thing. Forget about “Be You,” Nagy’s exhortation to his players. Just “Be Smart.”

It’s not much to ask. Low expectations are all the rage. Maybe that’s why this season feels strange before it even begins. Eberflus won’t have much to work with, and Poles will be in a holding pattern before he can do anything of real substance. They’re more likely to get an incomplete than a letter grade when the schedule runs out. If you’re looking for more uncertainty, there’s the Bears’ stadium situation. The team might move to Arlington Heights in the coming years. It might play in an improved Soldier Field, which could include a dome.

The Bears are an agnostic’s dream. Will Eberflus succeed? I don’t know. What does Poles’ personnel acumen look like? I don’t know. Are Fields and quarterbacking a match? I don’t know.

The best the 2022 season will be able to offer are partial answers. There’s too much work to be done, and much of that work will be done next year and the year after that.

Weird? Well, weird is what you’re getting. A big bowl of it. We’re used to immediacy with the NFL. This week’s game means everything, until next week’s game means more. But a rebuild, so popular in Major League Baseball and the NBA, is relatively new in the NFL. How are Bears fans supposed to react to what is, in effect, purposeful losing? With skepticism and cynicism. With some humor thrown in to account for the inevitable slapstick that comes with having below-average players. With one eye on the future and one eye on the past.

Will Eberflus be a good coach? He has to be better than Abe Gibron, who was supposed to be better than Jim Dooley, who . . .

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