As Sean McVay outfoxes NFL, Bears’ Matt Eberflus opens tenure chasing him
The two Super Bowl teams hired inexperienced, offensive-minded coaches. The Bears went the opposite direction. But there are some early signals that Eberflus and GM Ryan Poles have the Bears on the right path.
LOS ANGELES — Sean McVay is the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl, and he sounded every bit like a 36-year-old after walking into the Los Angeles Convention Center before 8 a.m. after what surely was a sleepless night of celebrating the Rams’ victory.
“It’s an incredible honor to be here,” he said hoarsely. “It’s also torturous to have a team win a championship and they make you come the next morning to do a press conference this early.”
It’s exhausting work outfoxing the rest of the NFL all season. Hopefully, McVay gets to sleep in now that it’s over.
Every team has been trying to find its own McVay, including the Bears, who thought they nailed it when they hired Matt Nagy at 39 in 2018.
Now they’re going a different route — taking the exact opposite approach of the two teams in the Super Bowl. Bengals coach Zac Taylor is just two years older than McVay.
Instead of a young, offensive mastermind, the Bears chose defensive guru Matt Eberflus. He’s a 52-year-old who did it the old-fashioned way: three decades climbing the ladder from student assistant at Toledo to Colts defensive coordinator before getting his first head-coaching job last month.
Eberflus begins his tenure chasing the kid, though he catches a break by not having to face McVay in the upcoming regular season. The teams faced off in each of the last four seasons, with the Rams winning the last three by double digits.
But as McVay described the philosophies that governed the Rams’ ascent, key elements of it paralleled what Eberflus has laid out for the Bears.
McVay talked about cohesion with general manager Les Snead, and there’s promise that Eberflus and new Bears general manager Ryan Poles can align their visions the same way. Poles called Eberflus his “brother” at their opening news conference with the intent “to create an elite partnership.”
McVay highlighted “foundational pieces” such as left tackle Andrew Whitworth and defensive tackle Aaron Donald that have kept the team steady.
The Bears have solid leaders in Khalil Mack and Darnell Mooney, and they need to make sure they facilitate the growth of Justin Fields and Roquan Smith into those roles. They also need to move on from anybody who isn’t on board.
“We’ve made a lot of good decisions to bring in the right people,” McVay said. “When [my father] was in advertising and sales, he said, ‘We compete with our products, but we win with our people.’ For us, we try to compete with our schemes, but we win with our players, coaches and people in our organization. That’s what’s been right about the Rams.”
That starts at the top. McVay praised Stan Kroenke for being a “willing owner,” which translates to spending money and being patient. Chairman George McCaskey must make sure he’s an asset rather than an impediment.
Eberflus is off to a strong start when it comes to drawing a straight line from his mind to the field. This will be fully his defense. He hired several of his former assistants in a commitment to keep from straying, including defensive coordinator Alan Williams.
When Nagy took over, conversely, the Chiefs prohibited him from taking any assistants. He hired Mark Helfrich to be the offensive coordinator even though Helfrich had never coached in the NFL and never worked with Nagy.
That doesn’t sound like the kind of mistake McVay would make, and it’s clear Eberflus also knows better.
“When you get around great players and great coaches that are all committed to working in the same direction, good things can happen,” McVay said.
That’s the goal for Poles and Eberflus. They can’t build the Bears into the Rams overnight, but every step of this rebuild is crucial. It starts with these first moves and charting a viable course, then beginning the process of making sure they have players and coaches capable of venturing ahead as planned.