In typical Bears’ style, they went the quiet, restrained route when they rebooted their coaching staff in January rather than chase the flashiest candidate.
They didn’t go for the coveted upstarts Yale-educated Mike McDaniel or Belichick-groomed Josh McDaniels, and they didn’t make offers to Super Bowl winners Doug Pederson and Dan Quinn.
Instead, they chose Matt Eberflus. Hardly a household name, but sensible, experienced, organized, calm. No splash, just substance. He’s the coaching equivalent of a pair of khakis.
They liked that he had a thorough, long-range plan. They liked his three decades of coaching experience, regardless of him never having held the head job before. And they liked that he’d take a CEO-style approach to running the team.
So far, it’s working.
The Bears are 3-6, but something along those lines was expected all along with a stripped-down roster in the initial phase of their rebuild. Just like quarterback Justin Fields, it’s possible to evaluate Eberflus within the context of adverse conditions. He can show progress even as losses accumulate.
Surprisingly, the biggest indicator of Eberflus eventually succeeding with the Bears is the way he has handled Fields and the offense. Given that his entire career had been exclusively on defense, that was a significant concern when the Bears hired him.
His choice of Luke Getsy as offensive coordinator has proven prudent, and his oversight of Getsy reworking the offense after a dreadful first four games is further proof that he knows how to run a team.
The shift Eberflus and Getsy made during the Bears’ extended break between Weeks 6 and 7 was incredibly promising. It wasn’t just that their changes have worked, it was that they made changes at all.
Stubbornness is no virtue, as his predecessor Matt Nagy learned the hard way.
As the Bears’ offense cratered toward a 29th-place finish in 2020, he was pressed on whether he needed to consider significant changes to his scheme and said, “The big thing is just… not changing a whole lot.”
He added, “That’s a sign of weakness when you just come in and start changing everything, especially when you’ve seen something that’s worked before. It’s not broken.”
On the eve of last season, he was still unbending in his belief that his offense was finally about to click. The Bears finished 27th in scoring. Staying the course cost him his job and them a season.
Nagy’s inflexibility was exposed repeatedly, and Eberflus and Getsy have shown adaptability at every turn so far.
Nagy couldn’t make halftime adjustments; Eberflus seems like a master of them. Nagy tried to jam Fields into an offense suited for Andy Dalton’s skillset; Getsy embraced his elite running ability and made it the centerpiece.
Getsy, by the way, has more or less maintained that he didn’t make significant changes to an offense that produced just 16 points per game over the first four weeks and resulted in Fields being statistically the worst quarterback in the NFL. His view is that this has been a linear trajectory, boosted by players executing better.
That seems implausible, and besides, there’s nothing wrong with making changes. That’s a sign of strength. This offense was plummeting, but now it’s skyrocketing. Fields is making a strong case to be the Bears’ quarterback of the future. Reassessing and redirecting are not causes of embarrassment. Making that shift was impressive.
It’s reassuring to the Bears to know that Eberflus was involved in that. If things keep going well, Getsy will emerge as a head-coaching candidate for other teams, and the fact that Eberflus has his hand on the offense will enable him to identify a new offensive coordinator when needed.
It is starkly different from the Nagy era. Nagy wanted to micromanage the offense, retaking play calling going into last season after giving it up in 2020, and gave his defensive coordinator autonomy. When Vic Fangio left, Nagy effectively made Chuck Pagano, and subsequently Sean Desai, head coach of the defense. In that sense, Nagy was still just an offensive coordinator, only with a bigger paycheck.
His deep engrossment in the offense also limited his ability to see the big picture on game day. He mismanaged the setup for what would’ve been a game-winning field goal in 2019. His timeouts often were confounding. Game management was always an issue, whereas it hasn’t been with Eberflus.
Eberflus hasn’t been perfect in that department, but there hasn’t been anything outright laughable. And even in his debatable decisions, his logic was coherent.
The next step for him is to figure out his defense, which won’t be easy after an exodus of top-shelf players. Look at the departures since January: Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, Roquan Smith, Akiem Hicks, Bilal Nichols. And that’s from a group that struggled last season anyway.
The Bears have gotten good play out of rookies Jaquan Brisker at safety and Kyler Gordon at cornerback, but it still has been a net loss in talent, and general manager Ryan Poles is going to need another offseason to shore it up.
But limited personnel can’t be an excuse for Eberflus. He has to reassess and redirect just like he did with the offense. No coach could transform this into a top-10 defense, but he needs to make it respectable. And based on his other moves, there’s optimism that he can.
There are no magic tricks with Eberflus. No wild, lofty declarations that he can’t possibly fulfill. He has simply been steady and smart, and if that’s how he continues to coach this team, the Bears picked the right guy.