With win vs. Belichick, Bears coach Eberflus gets A on progress report

Before an improbable win on Monday night, the Bears had become experts in mucking up games. The losing was ugly –even the winning was ugly. None of it was truly enjoyable. But in Foxborough, Mass., they gave fans a pretty gift box with a bow of progress pressed on top.

Focus is almost always on quarterback Justin Fields and it should be, but during Matt Eberflus’ short tenure as Bears coach, we’ve learned something about him; The man can coach a little.

There are always going to be comparisons to his predecessor, Matt Nagy, but soon that might be obsolete. Don’t get me wrong, I still have a lot of questions about how high Eberflus’ ceiling is as a coach, but there are two things about his approach that should be noted and appreciated.

First, Eberflus arrived as an accomplished defensive coordinator. He had been an assistant his whole career. A really good one. Usually when those types of coaches get an opportunity at the top job, they stay on their side of the ball and call plays. In most cases, this is a huge mistake. Calling plays on either side of the ball is as much art as it is science. Understanding game flow and paying close attention to what your players are doing is critical. Head coaches have so much on their plate on game day that handling play-calling often ends in disaster.

Eberflus walked into Halas Hall with a plan to be the CEO of the Bears’ sideline. He puts faith in his staff to do their jobs while he does what traditional head coaches have always done–supervise the people put in place. It’s a small thing, but it smacks of a coach that doesn’t have a heavy ego weighing him down. Eberflus seems to understand that if the team is successful, he’ll be seen as successful. That’s not a small thing.

With huge salaries being thrown around at the college and NFL level, tons of coaches and coaching candidates have been tagged with the moniker “guru.”

There are a few coaches who have lived up to that –Andy Reid and Sean McVay have proved they can handle dual responsibilities. Most cannot. Fighting the allure of everyone telling you how smart you are is a narcotic that many coaches, including Nagy, can’t shake.

The other notable thing about Eberflus is his constant assessment. One win isn’t going to fool me. The Bears have a talent deficiency that will be hard to overcome. To move in that direction means tough decisions and honesty. After the Bears’ demoralizing loss against Washington, Eberflus kept his word by taking the extra time and doing a deep dive into what’s working and what’s not. It takes humility to do that.

It was clear to anyone watching the Bears that this team needed to make changes. Plenty of coaches would hear criticism from the outside and reflexively double-down on their decisions. With 11 days in between the Washington game and meeting up with the Patriots, Eberflus was honest in his “self-scout.” You don’t get an effort like that, on the road, without a true diagnostic of what your team is and isn’t.

But then you have to put a plan into action. Even though the change at center was short-lived, after an injury to Lucas Patrick, the willingness to change is significant and worthy of celebration.

To put what Eberflus has done into context: Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell hasn’t won a road game yet. In 23 games, his team is 0-11-1 away from Detroit. Eberflus picked up his first road win in one of the toughest environments imaginable. Bill Belichick’s record against rookie or second-year quarterbacks in Foxborough entering Monday’s game was 3-42. Think about that. Eberflus and his crew stared the best coach in the world in the eye and didn’t blink.

I don’t know what the future will bring but I know that Eberflus’ lack of ego serves him well. Monday night the Bears won pretty — and it feels pretty good.

You can hear Laurence Holmes talk Chicago sports Monday to Friday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on 670 The Score with Dan Bernstein.

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