Lights, camera, action: As Bears look to rise, Matt Eberflus aims to improve as face, voice of organization

The Bears’ upcoming season looks like it’s going to be fun. That’s up to Eberflus, though — on the field and at the microphone.

SHARE Lights, camera, action: As Bears look to rise, Matt Eberflus aims to improve as face, voice of organization
Chicago Bears head coach Matt Eberflus speaks at a sports conference.

Eberflus is looking to turn around his record (10-24 in two seasons) and his public image this year.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Coaches don’t usually change. They talk about adapting and evolving, but rarely do it. That’s usually part of what gets them fired.

Matt Eberflus, however, seems intent on growing as he enters his third season coaching the Bears. It’s a monumental juncture for the franchise, heightened by the arrival of No. 1 draft pick Caleb Williams, and his job is very much on the line.

The team was a mess on and off the field last season, and Eberflus spent much of it deflecting questions about his future. It took three days from the end of the regular season, in which the Bears underwhelmed at 7-10 and were plagued by controversy, before they clarified publicly that they weren’t firing him.

Expectations are higher for the Bears than they’ve been in years, and it’ll be hard to rationalize anything short of a playoff berth as acceptable. It’s imperative that Eberflus proves he’s ready for the moment and shows his bosses they were right to be patient.

It’s an ideal time for him to come into his own, and everyone will be watching. There will be national attention on the Bears, starting next month when HBO’s ‘Hard Knocks’ embeds itself in Halas Hall, and everything about Eberflus will be scrutinized. He must be adept in strategy, management and being the most public-facing person in the organization.

That last part has been perilous for Eberflus, who was a first-time head coach with limited experience talking to the media when the Bears hired him in 2022. Too many explanations have been haphazard, too many news conferences have gone sideways and too many times he’s been unable to tamp down the fan base’s concerns about whether he has everything under control.

To his credit, he sees that and grasps what an important part of his job it is. He’s been focused on fixing it and has come across as a clearer, more confident communicator over the last few months. He seems much more at ease at the podium, even cracking jokes, and some who work with him at Halas Hall notice a significant difference from last season.

“It’s an adjustment for anybody who becomes a head coach,” Eberflus told the Sun-Times. “There’s a lot of new jobs that you take on, and one of them is the media part of it. You have to get used to it.

“It’s a little bit challenging at times... I’m more comfortable now. I’m just gonna be myself in all aspects.”

It’s obvious that Eberflus, 54, assessed his public presentation this offseason. His haircut is sharper, he grew a new beard and stepped up his wardrobe considerably. His wife, Kelly, and their college-aged daughters were the masterminds behind that.

Eberflus said he didn’t get any consultation or training on public speaking, though it’s notable that the Bears have overhauled their media relations department during his tenure. They promoted Aaron Clark, who has been with the organization since 2016, to work directly with Eberflus on a daily basis and made a splashy hire by prying Ted Crews from the Chiefs.

Eberflus said both have “done an awesome job” assisting him.

Crews is way up the chain as chief administrative office and special advisor to president Kevin Warren, but remains involved in the communications department. Eberflus shouted him out by name as a key player in helping the Bears navigate “Hard Knocks.” He also has valuable experience working for veteran head coach Andy Reid and spent the last several seasons at the NFL’s epicenter of attention. Eberflus meets with him regularly.

Still, none of his progress would’ve happened had he been unwilling. If Eberflus had dismissed being the face of the organization as superfluous and stuck to a singular focus on scheme, as some coaches do, he would’ve missed the chance to help himself and the team. Fans and reporters are far less tolerant of struggles when they aren’t getting solid explanations of why they’re occurring and what’s being done to fix them.

“It’s important, really,” Eberflus said. “My dad always says, ‘How you do one thing is how you do everything.’ So I’m always looking to improve all the aspects of my job, whether it’s game management, working with the press, calling defenses, managing the coaches.

“I always look at my improvements like everybody else’s: Here’s my strengths, here’s my improvements that I need, and then I have an action plan to get that done. It’s no different than any other aspect of my life.”

He did himself few favors amid the Bears’ tumult last season.

None of his answers about the absurd collapses against the Broncos, Lions and Browns calmed concerns that they’d happen again. He exacerbated the drama with former defensive coordinator Alan Williams by dodging questions as simple as whether he had spoken to him or if he was still employed.

Eberflus came across tone-deaf after the firing of running backs coach David Walker for non-football reasons and praised the Bears’ culture as “awesome” while holding up going 2-2 in the previous four games as a milestone. None of that went over well as his record tumbled to 10-24.

When wide receiver Chase Claypool was banished, Eberflus misspoke on why he wasn’t on the sideline for a game and left his status with the team ambiguous, which led to the story mushrooming for a week rather than being over and done in a day. A video clip of him talking in circles about whether Justin Fields would play against the Panthers went viral.

Bosses see those stumbles, of course, but so do players. They had to have winced. He acknowledged that what he says publicly “sends a message to players and fans.”

For his part, Eberflus hasn’t tried to excuse his miscues. He told the Sun-Times late last season there were times he left news conferences knowing they’d gone badly and that it was “important to grow” from those.

The Bears will hit more pitfalls. Every team will. So what will be different for Eberflus next time he’s in a tough spot at the microphone?

“To be yourself and be relaxed and be able to just tell it the way it is,” he said. “I’ve learned that. If you just tell it the way it is — You might not be able to tell [the reporters] every single detail, but what you can tell them, just tell them the way it is and how you’re going to work through the adversity.”

That would help. Coaches often miss this: transparency leads to credibility. Trying to convince Bears fans that the latest debacle isn’t as bad as it looks has never worked.

“A lot of times when you’re talking to the media in front of the podium, you’re guarded a little bit sometimes,” he said. “And I don’t think you need to be that way. I just need to be myself.”

Eberflus is carrying that approach to “Hard Knocks,” which the Bears fought to avoid for years before having it forced on them for the upcoming training camp. Whether they like it or not, it’s happening, so there’s little choice but to embrace it.

Nearly everything will be recorded. HBO will install cameras and microphones all over Halas Hall, and while the Bears have final say on what makes it into each episode, the series surely will impact Eberflus’ public approval rating.

“I’m just gonna be relaxed, be myself, let them see who I am as a person and not be guarded and just let it flow naturally,” he said, pivoting to what he told players in a recent team meeting about the show. “You don’t want people, when ‘Hard Knocks’ comes in, pining for camera time. If you’re mic’d up, don’t act any different.”

That’s the key principle in his makeover: Don’t change just because the lights are up and the cameras are on. He’s been looser lately behind the scenes and in public. He said there’s “no doubt” this is the most he’s shown of his personality since taking this job.

That’s a good step. But the best thing he can do for his public image is to win. The best crisis management strategy is to prevent crises. The best way to avoid uncomfortable questions is to be so good that they don’t come up.

The Bears’ upcoming season looks like it’s going to be fun. That’s up to Eberflus, though — on the field and at the microphone.

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