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Ryan Poles playing a dangerous game by retaining Matt Eberflus

The Bears had a chance to take a major swing to accelerate their rebuild. But Ryan Poles chose to keep the foundation Matt Eberflus laid in place. Will it backfire?

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Chicago Bears Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

My first thought after hearing the reports that the Bears intended to keep head coach Matt Eberflus in place – and then watching them actually do it on Wednesday – was simple: “The Bears stay the Bears.”

No matter who fills the decision-making shoes. No matter what incredible opportunity lies before them to change the future of the franchise.

The Bears stay the g— d— Bears.

With the No. 1 overall pick and the rights to take a franchise-changing quarterback in its hands, the franchise couldn’t bring itself to dare for true greatness.

After days of deliberation, general manager Ryan Poles tied himself to Matt Eberflus as the head coach of the Bears for the foreseeable future. Never mind trying to make a play for a bigger name, specifically an offensive coach to pair with a young quarterback.

Nope.

Eberflus’ improvement as a defensive play-caller down the stretch in 2023, along with a four-win increase overall, was good enough.

Of course, the offensive coaching staff led by coordinator Luke Getsy wasn’t good enough to retain. Everyone except for the offensive line coach and tight ends coach had to go.

The quarterback could very well be playing someplace else by the time the NFL Draft concludes, no matter how much Bears players advocate for them to keep Fields.

But the head coach who oversaw three of the most historic losses in NFL history in one system and only managed to beat one decent offense all year? The one who lost two coaches, including the guy who originally was calling defense plays, for HR-related issues? Nah, he’s fine.

That’s what the Chicago Bears are telling you.

We get it. Bears players seem to play hard for Eberflus. He’s created a good locker room environment and led a resurgent defense in the second half of the season, especially once Montez Sweat got there.

He raised the floor of the team from a terrible one to a potentially average-to-above-average one.

But why does that have to be what this team aspires to?

And why, for God’s sake, can’t the Bears one time create an environment that doesn’t feel like a first-year quarterback might have the rug ripped out from underneath them at any second and have to start over going into their second season?

The reason, it seems, is the Bears are building something they don’t want to interrupt – at least on the macro scale. (And I’m not talking about the stadium plans team president Kevin Warren appears to be more preoccupied with than the running of the team itself.)

Eberflus, maybe, isn’t the best in-game strategist in the world. But he can coach from Monday to Saturday just fine, and the defense responded well to him taking over as the play-caller after the unceremonious departure of Alan Williams.

He’s also created an air of accountability and humility behind the scenes that, as Justin Fields elaborated, allows everyone to hold each other to a higher standard.

Clearly, he can’t be trusted on his own to build an offensive coaching staff to develop a young quarterback, as seen with Justin Fields.

But when you view Eberflus as a mere figurehead for the “culture” Poles wants to see while the general manager has a bigger hand in how the football operation runs, perhaps the move makes a bit more sense. Perhaps.

Now, that culture, you might be thinking, includes Fields, whose football character is unimpeachable to anyone who’s watched him the last three seasons. That, more than anything he’s done on the field, makes the argument for him to remain part of what the Bears are continuing to build.

The problem, of course, is that Fields hasn’t been good enough to pay – either with a contract extension or a fifth-year option (though Poles said a determination hasn’t been made on that yet) – and won’t be cheap for much longer. If the Bears believe in him enough to keep him around after passing on two top picks, that’s going to have to change in very short order.

A new offensive coordinator means a third offensive season in four years, which is not ideal for Fields. Can he learn it? Sure. Would it be helpful not to have this change? Also yes.

Similarly, if things don’t go well next year and the Bears opt to move on from Eberflus, that could open the door for yet another lost year of development for a rookie quarterback.

Not saying Luke Getsy shouldn’t have been fired – he definitely earned that one. But it would’ve just been better to wipe the whole slate clean. The team probably would’ve understood.

Instead, the Bears are relying on Eberflus to keep this operation together for another season – hopefully without self-inflicted drama this time. If Poles decided to keep Fields, that might smooth things over from a locker-room standpoint, but it also puts pressure on Eberflus and the Bears to win next year. Should Chicago draft a quarterback, the Bears may well be better off long-term but will require an adjustment period that will test patience.

Again, that’s all going to be on Eberflus’ shoulders as he carries over the baggage from a disappointing 2023 into a (potentially) brighter 2024.

Poles had better pray his chosen coach is the right man for this mission, or Eberflus might not be the only one losing his job next season. (Unless you extend Eberflus right now, of course!)