By Jack Savage
“Cautiously optimistic,” said Mikey Williams, 24, a lifelong Bears fan, born and raised in Chicago. “I love bringing in a tough, defensive-minded, Midwest guy to a team that looked resigned to defeat under (former coach Matt) Nagy. The love (new coach Matt) Eberflus gets for turnovers makes me nervous as that can be a fickle stat often returning to the norm as we saw with the Bears in 2018 to 2019.”
Williams reflected the reactions of other fans following the Jan. 27 hire by the Chicago Bears of the team’s next head coach, Matt Eberflus. The 51 year-old Toledo, Ohio, native comes from the Indianapolis Colts, where he served as their defensive coordinator for the past four seasons. From 2018-21, Eberflus led a unit that was ranked 11th, 16th, 8th and 16th in total defense and in the top 10 every year in rushing defense. Eberflus has been coaching in the NFL since 2009, and 17 years at the collegiate level before that.
After moving on from offensive-minded Nagy, Bears ownership and newly hired general manager Ryan Poles decided to zag and hire a coach with a defensive background, while the rest of the league continues to zig. However, Bears fans are no strangers to this approach, as it was as recent as 2015 when the franchise hired John Fox as head coach. Fox only lasted three seasons, finishing last in the division each time while accumulating an overall record of 14-34. Bears fans are hoping Eberflus will pan out differently, Williams and others said.
“I’m confident he’ll get the most out of our team with Roquan Smith as his new Darius Leonard and a hopefully revamped secondary,” Williams said, referring to Bears linebacker Smith and Colts linebacker Leonard. “However, the future is (Justin) Fields, and if we can’t get the most out of the closest thing to a franchise star quarterback since (Jay) Cutler, then it’s all for naught.”
“A competent to elite defense and subpar to abysmal offense has been the story in Chicago forever, but in a league with a present and future of (Kansas City quarterback Patrick) Mahomes, (Buffalo’s Jared) Allen and (Cincinnati’s Joe) Burrow as the future, we need to be able to keep up. If Eberflus can bring in the right coaches to unlock the offense and bring back the fearsome defense we’ve grown accustomed to in Chicago, then I can see a consistent NFC contender,” said Williams, who currently resides in Los Angeles and now watches the Bears from afar.
The development of franchise quarterback Fields going into year two is the most important thing to this franchise, Williams pointed out. With the hiring of Eberflus and his defensive prowess, it only puts more pressure on newly hired offensive coordinator Luke Getsy to unlock Fields’ potential. That is where a lot of tried-and-true Bears fans take pause, as they have seen this movie before.
“Wasn’t particularly excited about the hire at first, but I want to trust Poles,” said Ethan Senner, longtime Bears fan. “I hope that Eberflus and more importantly Getsy help coach and develop Fields, so we can run the North and have pride in our team again.”
The Bears’ offense ranked 24th last year in yards per game with 307.4 and 27th in points per game with a resounding 18.3. The quarterback position was a revolving door for a variety of reasons (injuries, poor play, COVID-19 protocols) with the rookie from Ohio State and veterans Andy Dalton and Nick Foles all starting games at different points in the season. The patience behind former general manager Ryan Pace and Nagy had run out, while Nagy’s “offensive genius” moniker became laughable.
“I like the hires of Poles and Eberflus. They definitely seem to be much more credible compared to our last joke of a coaching staff,” said Anthony Johlie, who has been tailgating and going to games with his friends and family for as long as he can remember.
The sentiment being reported from around the city is exactly as Williams put it: “cautiously optimistic.” The Bears are a proud franchise, as Senner alluded to, with a long and storied history in the NFL. Eberflus will be looking to restore that glory and pride to a team that hasn’t won a postseason game since 2010. Time will tell if the man from Toledo is the right man for the job, but until then, the cautious optimism will have to do.
Jack Savage is a sports reporter at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter at @jackksavage.