I couldn’t shake a certain feeling while watching Monday morning’s introduction of new general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus.
Where the two men seemed earnest, thoughtful, calculated, and even a little emotional (the 36-year-old Poles, especially) at the opportunity they have ahead of them, I felt as if I had seen this discussion somewhere before. Not in the sense of buzzwords and effective politicking, the way so many Bears regimes of the past have made their mark when speaking in public. And not in a manner of taking these two, at face value, with nothing (yet) to show for it on the field.
When Eberflus discussed his “HITS” (Hustle, Intensity, Takeaways/Taking care of the ball Smart) while denoting how important discipline is to him as a coach, I knew I was time-traveling. When Ryan Poles read off a well-prepared script of his fine-point plan that was punctuated with a vow that the “Bears will take the (NFC) North and never give it back,” I knew where I was: 2004, with a modern version of the Lovie Smith regime.
Back then, the former hot Rams defensive coordinator laid out a confident plan for how the Bears would return to glory under his stead. He was going to relate to his players. He was going to have them play sound football. Last but not least (drum roll), he would unify them. It was standard boilerplate material for any coach. But Smith had a genuine presence, and the Bears had a natural leader for the first time in years.
Years later, in 2022, both Poles and Eberflus emphasized how vital player development and relationships are to them. The Tampa/Cover-2 scheme is making a return with Eberflus professing he wants the Bears to play “Chicago tough.” And Poles’ “take the North” was much like Lovie’s bold and candid “Beat Green Bay” from his introduction years ago. We saw every expected note of red meat and warranted; genuine enthusiasm, in other words.
Of course, the main distinction between Lovie and Poles-Eberflus is that this pair seems keen on breaking new ground on bringing the Bears into the modern fray. Before making the formal hire of Ian Cunningham as his Assistant General Manager (a fresh, first-ever title at Halas Hall), Poles denoted how the Bears are already working on the expansion (or rather, creation) of an analytics department that can help with scouting and finances.
Meanwhile, Eberflus was profuse in maintaining that he was going to delegate. Not only in his abdication of play-calling responsibilities on defense but, more importantly, in how he was going to let Justin Fields and the Bears’ offensive staff also operate as an autonomous unit.
That last part is the Bears’ ultimate trump card between the present and the Lovie Smith era. Because where Lovie talked about getting off the bus, running the ball, and dominating the Packers, Poles-Eberflus spoke about building an offensive line and supporting cast (coaches and players) that can protect Fields while prioritizing his placement in an offense that accentuates his gifts as a quarterback.
Not by coincidence, as part of their General Manager-Head Coach-Quarterback united front, the duo made sure their talisman was also present, answering questions about their new direction. There had been some concern that perhaps Poles-Eberflus wasn’t that sold on Fields’ potential as a star quarterback and that they could’ve moved on. New regimes often elect to start over completely, after all. Instead, Fields was there alongside the Bears’ new leaders as their primary leader on the field in front of a microphone. That speaks volumes of where they’d like to take his future and what he means for theirs.
For as great of a coach as he was in Bears history, Lovie Smith never figured out to pick an offensive staff. He also never had a quarterback.
I don't know if Matt Eberflus will have a great offensive staff—though Luke Getsy certainly appears to be a catch on paper. But I do know they think they have a quarterback and want to prioritize him above all else. That matters.
Belief in your signal-caller can go a long way. (Just ask Lovie.) Supporting him to become the best possible quarterback—the best avenue to consistent championship contention— is another leap entirely for even Mr. Smith. Few manage to do it successfully. That Poles-Eberflus is keen on centering Fields where they can is a great initial harbinger of their hopeful direction.
For once, the Bears seem to have a plan to operate differently. It’s evident there’s a strong desire to break up an old boys club’ committed to the elevation of groveling yes-men that has plagued them for almost four decades. As the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Well, the Bears have been fundamentally broken. They need a remaster from the ground up and have for some time. Finally, someone’s been empowered and willing to take that ambitious job on.
For once, under Poles and Eberflus, the Bears appear committed to leaping into the modern generation of football, with the proper process, full-throttle.
Tradition states that you usually can’t take away much from these sorts of press conferences. In the past, they have been exercises of frustration. But I felt like I learned a lot about the new Bears on Monday, and was calm while watching—which is a strange feeling when it comes to the perennially downtrodden Bears.
That’s because I saw a blast to the past with a franchise that looks like it might be ready to step into the future.