Substance over style: New coach Matt Eberflus could be perfect for Bears

Eberflus laid out his plan Monday. It wasn’t thrilling, but it was sensible.

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Matt Eberflus joined the Bears after four seasons as Colts defensive coordinator.

Matt Eberflus joined the Bears after four seasons as Colts defensive coordinator.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Matt Eberflus’ introductory news conference as Bears coach Monday was as simple and unexciting as an office meeting. It was as though he was the new CEO brought in to boost a struggling operation, and he’d called everyone into the conference room to lay out something that sounded more like a business plan than a game plan.

And Halas Hall was long overdue for this approach.

Eberflus made no effort to “win the news conference” because he probably sees how little value there is in it. New general manager Ryan Poles didn’t do much of that either, aside from a line about wresting the NFC North from the Packers and never giving it back, which is a mostly harmless thing to say — anyone who took this job would set the same goal — other than the risk of it being thrown back in his face if it doesn’t happen.

There are no championship trophies for winning people over in January. And this particular fan base is so jaded by Matt Nagy and other previous coaches that it would be impossible for Eberflus to convince them on Day 1 anyway.

Rather than be consumed with popularity or delivering just the right sound bite, Eberflus gave a straightforward vision of how he intends to steer the Bears from their current state of disarray to a solid, consistent team. Adding to the corporate vibe he gave off, he conveyed his core philosophy in an acronym: H.I.T.S.

He’s blissfully unaware of how vulnerable that leaves him to people sticking an extra S at the front if things go sour, but here’s what the letters represent:

The H is for hustle, which he will demand in every snap of practice; I is for intensity, as in having a powerful style of play; T is for turnovers, meaning to create them and not commit them; S is for smart, aimed mostly at eliminating the Bears’ persistent penalty problem.

“We have ways to measure them and be very detailed with those,” Eberflus said.

It’s easy to get lost in the droning dryness of canned explanations like that, but he made clear it was substantive and enforceable. And that’s better than the opposite: big talk about culture change such as imploring players to metaphorically “sweep the sheds” but continually tolerating sloppiness.

You could see Eberflus presenting H.I.T.S. on PowerPoint once he holds his first meeting with players. And you could see it resonating as an adult-to-adult way of working with players. He’s old-school, but not out of touch.

If he made one mistake, it was saying he planned to drive home his principles to players by showing them “the why” and explaining how it’s “all about the why.” A groan rumbled throughout the Chicago area when he used that term. But even then, at least Eberflus implied that he already had “the whys” and wasn’t adrift in an endless search for them.

Eberflus’ overview of how he’ll proceed was comfortingly practical — no promises, no getting ahead of himself, nothing that sounded weird or unrealistic. He sounded capable and qualified, and he plans to apply that CEO-style thinking to his role as head coach.

“To be the head football coach and be efficient at that, you are exactly the head football coach,” he said. “So I can be involved in all aspects of the game, the defensive coordinator we hire will call the defensive plays. I will not do that.”

That fact that he’d say that without even knowing who the defensive coordinator is gives significant insight into how he operates — plus it’s refreshing after the shell game of who was calling plays the last two seasons. Even as a defensive-minded coach, Eberflus wouldn’t hire a coordinator unless he trusted him to truly run the defense.

He did clarify, though, that he and the new coordinator will shift the Bears from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense. That change is likely to be embraced by star pass rushers Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn.

Likewise, he’s not detaching himself from the offense. Many NFL coaches stick to their area of expertise and give the coordinator on the opposite side of the ball autonomy. Eberflus hired Packers quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy as his offensive coordinator, but he’s still going to be involved.

He should be. His job depends on it.

Offense is the bigger problem of the two for the Bears right now, and the development of quarterback Justin Fields will be the biggest factor in whether Eberflus flourishes or gets fired in a few years. He has 30 years of experience coaching defense exclusively, but he’s going to be accountable for the Bears’ offense at every turn.

“I’m excited about that,” Eberflus said of the new responsibility.

It’s only going to be exciting if he and Getsy can engineer an offense that scores more than 18 points per game.

Ultimately, that’s the bridge between his ho-hum news conference and the thrill of a playoff run.

Eberflus doesn’t need to be compelling. He needs to be prudent.

He doesn’t need style points. He needs actual points.

He doesn’t need to be a dynamic talker. He needs to be a winner.

If Eberflus does that, there won’t be anything boring about it.

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