Coach Matt Eberflus making good on promise to let DC Alan Williams run Bears’ defense
Eberflus is taking a much different approach to his defense than predecessor Matt Nagy did with the offense. And, in that context, “different” always means “better.”
Alan Williams is here to run the show. He’s not going to be a defensive coordinator in name only, merely an understudy to defensive-minded Bears coach Matt Eberflus.
There’s much overlap and alignment in their defensive philosophies — Eberflus wouldn’t have hired him otherwise — but they’ve been clear about their roles. Eberflus is a CEO-style coach rather than a micromanager, and Williams is thrilled to have the autonomy.
‘‘He’s kind of stayed away so I can put my stamp on it,’’ Williams said. ‘‘I commend him for that. Every meeting or every practice, he’s not looking over my shoulder, so I gotta go, ‘Oh, am I doing things right?’ He’s said, ‘Alan, you take it, you run with it, you build it, you do it, put your stamp on it.’ He’s been A-plus in every way about that.’’
It won’t be Eberflus’ defensive scheme anyway. It’ll be a blend of the ideas he and Williams bounced back and forth when Eberflus was the Colts’ defensive coordinator and Williams was his defensive backs coach. And those ideas were launched by their collective mentors, such as Tony Dungy, Rod Marinelli, Leslie Frazier and Nick Saban.
Williams, 52, is entering his 21st NFL season as a position coach or higher and spent two seasons as the Vikings’ defensive coordinator before linking up with Eberflus. So there’s no doubt he brought plenty to the table as Eberflus built the Colts’ defense into a powerhouse.
Everything about the Eberflus-Williams dynamic seems different than what the Bears endured under former coach Matt Nagy. And, in that context, ‘‘different’’ always means ‘‘better.’’
Eberflus made his intentions clear the day the Bears introduced him: He wanted to hire coordinators capable of running things on their own. He said outright he wouldn’t be calling defensive plays. So if the Bears’ defense flourishes, don’t forget to give Williams his credit.
That structure sounded reasonable when Eberflus announced it, but it was unconvincing. Would someone who waited three decades for a head-coaching opportunity really stay hands-off once he finally had his own team to run? It’s early, but Williams said Eberflus has kept his word.
‘‘I don’t know if many people could do that — have a defensive background and let someone [else] go and put their stamp on it,’’ Williams said. ‘‘So far, he’s done that. I can’t say how much I appreciate that.
‘‘He is an extremely disciplined guy. When he says he’s gonna do something, he can will himself to do whatever that is. So he’s allowing me to do it. I do think it’s genuine.’’
It fits Eberflus’ overall vibe of making the big picture his top priority. He expects to be coaching the Bears for the next decade and thinks the most sustainable approach is for him to be looped in on every facet of the team. It would be hard to do that if he basically was serving as their defensive coordinator.
It’s tiresome to rehash the many stumbles of the Nagy area, but the contrast is helpful when examining how Eberflus intends to run the Bears.
Nagy often struggled for answers as his defense tumbled the last few seasons, ultimately deteriorating to the point that it couldn’t keep his floundering offense afloat anymore. But that made sense, given that it wasn’t actually his defense. Vic Fangio, Chuck Pagano and Sean Desai were on their own.
Similarly, it was tough to discern exactly what Mark Helfrich’s and Bill Lazor’s jobs were — other than when play-calling was thrust into Lazor’s hands in a panic in 2020 and last season — because Nagy had total control.
‘‘I do believe that to be the head football coach and be efficient at that, you are exactly the head football coach,’’ Eberflus explained. ‘‘So I can be involved in all aspects of the game.’’
He’ll be a valuable resource to Williams, but he’ll give him creative freedom to make this defense his own. And that’s the best arrangement for everyone involved.