Ryan Poles on Matt Eberflus: ‘When you know, you know’

The Bears are counting on Poles’ intuition to break the cycle of losing at Halas Hall. “The moment he walked into the room, I knew he was the guy,” said the new GM, who needed less than 48 hours to hire Eberflus.

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Bears general manager Ryan Poles (right) and head coach Matt Eberflus (left) were introduced at Halas Hall on Monday.

Bears general manager Ryan Poles (right) and head coach Matt Eberflus (left) were introduced at Halas Hall on Monday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The Bears hired a Hall of Fame executive in Bill Polian, brought in their director of player engagement and a team diversity expert and cast a wide net to snare Ryan Poles — interviewing 13 candidates for their general manager job. But Poles needed only a good night’s sleep and a sixth sense to find Matt Eberflus.

“The moment he walked into the room, I knew he was the guy,” Poles said, “especially when he started going through his plan.”

With his dream job in hand, Poles, 36, had the opportunity that new NFL general managers don’t always get — the chance to conduct his own search and hire his own head coach. It’s an extremely critical first hire that usually requires thoroughness, diligence and patience.

Poles finished the job in less than 48 hours.

“I reach out to a lot of people to make sure I’m lined up the right way — people who have done it and been successful at it,” Poles said. “Every single person said, ‘When you know, you know.’ When you got one, you got one. And I’m a guy that when I have conviction about it, it’s time to go. That’s how everything fell into place.”

The Bears’ process to find replacements for fired general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy was all about conviction. The Bears quickly ended their general manager search after interviewing only one of three finalists, hiring Poles before he could have a second interview with the Vikings.

“At the conclusion of Ryan’s second interview at Halas Hall, we went around the room, and it was unanimous,” chairman George McCaskey said. “It was an easy decision for me.”

Let the record show that the Bears have been in unanimous agreement before, including on Pace. “When he left the room,” McCaskey said after that 2015 GM search, “Ernie [Accorsi], Ted [Phillips] and I looked at each other, and you could tell by the looks on their faces, he was the guy.”

Intuition about football people is not a strength at Halas Hall. But they’re counting on Poles to change that trend. His two-day “search” was unusually quick. Even Pace needed a week to hire his first coach, and his search ended suddenly when John Fox — a two-time Super Bowl coach — became available.

After getting the GM job, Poles conducted in-person interviews with three candidates, all of whom the Bears had previously interviewed — former Lions and Colts coach Jim Caldwell, former Falcons coach Dan Quinn and Eberflus.

He hired Eberflus — who was on Poles’ list of preferred candidates he gave the Bears during his initial Zoom interview on Jan. 21. But the process — which paired Poles with a fellow client of agent Trace Armstrong, an extended Bears family member — gave the impression that Poles was hiring the Bears’ preferred candidate and not his own. What about the others on his list? Would he have conducted a more expansive search if given the opportunity?

Poles couldn’t have responded more emphatically: “I was given that opportunity — and I found him,” he said, pointing at Eberflus next to him on the podium at the George “Mugs” Halas Auditorium at Halas Hall.

Though it seems like quite the coincidence that Poles found his soul mate that quickly — one who just happened to be on the Bears’ initial list — his explanation was at least convincing.

“The in-person [interviews], I wanted to know the plan,” he said. “And I wanted to know the plan from today, short-term and then long-term. And then I wanted to see how deep these guys went — and that’s where Matt separated himself. He had Plan A, Plan B, Plan C. Because we all know that things get shaken up all the time. Maybe you get a coordinator, and he [gets hired as] a head coach quickly. Well, what happens after that?

“He had a plan that made sense to sustain success for a long period of time. It wasn’t shortsighted. We saw with Atlanta with [offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan] leaving. And then it crashes. What’s the progression [after] that. He had that laid out.”

That said, Poles’ instinct about people and coaches is an unknown. This is his first time being a boss. It’s the first time he’s gone through an interview-hiring process. But it’s not his first time evaluating people. It’s part of what he’s done for a living for the past 13 years.

“When you interview a lot of players over the last 10-14 years, you’re looking for key things,” he said when asked about his experience in hiring people. “You have a checklist of what you’re looking for in that person and that player and it’s not really that different in looking for a leader.

“There have been times where we interview players and say there’s something good about that guy. Sure enough, they have a good career and end up being successful and embody everything you’re looking for.”

This is very true — and the interview process in player evaluation is a fair rehearsal for the big job he has. But even Ryan Poles knows that that process is a famously hit-and-miss proposition. Sometimes you’re right. And sometimes you’re wrong. Hiring coaches isn’t like finding draft picks. Poles’ instincts about people can’t fail him now.

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