Steady and smart, coach Matt Eberflus proves to be sensible choice for Bears

Eberflus oversaw the shift in the offensive scheme leading into Week 7, and it wasn’t just that the changes worked, it was that he made changes at all. Stubbornness is no virtue, as his predecessor Matt Nagy learned the hard way.

SHARE Steady and smart, coach Matt Eberflus proves to be sensible choice for Bears
A photo of Bears coach Matt Eberflus celebrating with players during the game against the Dolphins.

Eberflus is a defensive specialist, but his offense looks much better through nine games.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

In typical Bears style, rather than chase the flashiest candidate when they rebooted their coaching staff in January, they went the quiet, restrained route.

They didn’t go for the coveted upstarts — Yale-educated Mike McDaniel or Bill 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 his never having held the top 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 a record along those lines was expected with a stripped-down roster in the initial phase of a 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 is the way he has handled Fields and the offense. His entire career before had been exclusively on defense — a significant concern when the Bears hired him. But his choice of Luke Getsy as offensive coordinator has proved prudent, and his oversight of Getsy reworking the offense after a dreadful first four games is evidence he knows how to run a team.

The shift that Eberflus and Getsy made during the Bears’ extended break between Weeks 6 and 7 was incredibly promising. It’s not just that their changes have worked — it’s that they made changes at all.

Stubbornness is no virtue, as Eberflus’ predecessor, Matt Nagy, learned the hard way in four seasons. As the Bears’ offense cratered en route to a 29th-place finish in 2020, Nagy was pressed on whether he needed to consider significant changes to his scheme.

“The big thing is just . . . not changing a whole lot,” he answered.

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, Nagy 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 the Bears a season.

Nagy’s inflexibility was exposed repeatedly; Eberflus and Getsy have shown adaptability at every turn. 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 skills; Getsy has embraced Fields’ elite running ability and made it the centerpiece.

Getsy, by the way, has more or less maintained he didn’t make significant changes to an offense that produced just 16 points per game over the first four weeks, resulting in Fields being statistically the worst quarterback in the NFL. Getsy’s 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. It’s a sign of strength. This offense was plummeting, but now it’s skyrocketing. Fields is making a strong case to be the quarterback of the future. Reassessing and redirecting are not causes for embarrassment. Making the shift was impressive.

And it’s reassuring to the Bears 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 Eberflus has his hand on the offense will enable him to identify a new coordinator when needed.

That’s 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 — while giving his defensive coordinator autonomy. When Vic Fangio left in 2019 to coach the Broncos, Nagy effectively made Chuck Pagano, and subsequently Sean Desai, head coach of the defense. In that sense, Nagy was still just an offensive coordinator, but 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 have been a game-winning field goal in 2019. His timeouts often were confounding. Game management was always an issue with Nagy. Eberflus hasn’t been perfect in that department, but there hasn’t been anything outright laughable. Even when his decisions are debatable, his logic is 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 there still has been a net loss in talent, and general manager Ryan Poles is going to need another offseason to shore it up.

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 he can.

There are no magic tricks with Eberflus, and no wild, lofty declarations 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.

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