A lengthy and thorough search for a new general manager and coach came to an end when the Chicago Bears hired Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus, who were officially introduced Jan. 31 in the George “Mugs” Halas Auditorium.
So where do the Bears go from here? And how quickly can Poles and Eberflus get the franchise back on a winning track? Our team of Bears writers reflects on the search process and the results by exploring the following four topics.
1. The most encouraging part of last week’s introductory news conference at Halas Hall was ______.
Brad Biggs: The energy Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus projected.
That likely came across well in the interview process and helped set them apart from other candidates. It’s a huge step for both men, who are assuming their respective roles for the first time, and an incredible amount of work lies ahead with a roster that got older and hasn’t produced the gains necessary to improve in the win column.
The Bears are at an interesting point where they have a young quarterback entering Year 2. Many teams attempt to strike with a quarterback on a rookie contract because of the salary-cap flexibility a cheap quarterback provides. It’s precisely what the Bears attempted when they were in this position in 2018. This time around, the defense is older, many starters need to be replaced on offense and the Bears are short on draft capital.
They will be full speed ahead developing Fields, but some patience might be needed as they fill in around him. The process could take a couple of years, so hopefully Poles and Eberflus have plenty of energy in reserve along with some patience from ownership.
Colleen Kane: Hearing from a grounded, thoughtful Ryan Poles in a small-group media session.
Poles did well in introducing himself and his philosophies and explaining why Eberflus was his choice during the news conference. But he came across better in a more casual setting as he explained how his background under three Kansas City Chiefs general managers gave him different tools and how his playing career as an offensive lineman shaped his evaluation of building a line.
One news conference was not going to tell us how the 36-year-old Poles or Eberflus will perform in their first time as the leaders of an organization, dealing with issues and challenges they never have faced. But it was understandable why George McCaskey said Poles’ “intelligence, confidence, direct manner and his plan to bring the Bears back” impressed the search committee. Whether that will translate to Bears wins, however, is a question we won’t be able to answer for a while.
Dan Wiederer: The realism expressed by Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus.
Sure, Poles made a pretty big pep-rally-esque vow when he declared, “We are going to take the North and never give it back.” And it’s easy to get carried away with such eagerness and boldness, especially as a 36-year-old first-time NFL general manager.
But that was one of only a few moments that came close to qualifying as a bluster. Instead, Poles and Eberflus seemed to have a grounded understanding of where the Bears stand and how much heavy lifting they have ahead. After all, this team finished 6-11 this season and needs many more big-time playmakers to establish itself as a legitimate contender. Poles and Eberflus understand that. The new GM openly acknowledged his need to prevent the temptations of ambition from overpowering his patience and discipline.
“We all want results fast,” Poles said. “There are shortcuts around every turn when building a roster. (But it’s about) being disciplined and doing things the right way.”
Eberflus, meanwhile, referenced 2022 as a year to pour the concrete for the foundation of what the Bears are trying to build.
Both new Bears leaders have grand visions of where they want to carry the organization in the years to come. Out of the gates, though, they don’t seem to be in instant gratification mode. And if they can retain that forbearance, it will be a positive.
2. Justin Fields’ presence at the event was _____.
biggs: A smart move by the Bears.
Everything needs to be aligned for the Bears to improve a stagnant offense. That starts with Poles and goes down the line to Eberflus, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko, receivers coach/passing game coordinator Tyke Tolbert and then Fields.
So rolling out Fields to take a few questions as he’s getting to know the new staff made sense. They won’t be able to really begin working together until April – when the voluntary offseason workout program begins – but so far, so good.
Neither Poles nor Eberflus went into a ton of detail about their evaluations of Fields or any player during the main news conference. It seemed like a strategic approach given both were less than a week into their jobs. They will have plenty of time to talk about Fields’ development as they get to work in the months to come.
But having Fields there to talk about the transition to new leadership was important. It was a good look for the team to have its most important player weigh in on how he thinks having a head coach with a defensive background might aid him, and it was a gesture to show Fields he is a leader and face of the team. Fields noted during his Q&A that his role as a leader felt odd at times in 2021 because he started the season as the backup to Andy Dalton.
As significant as the hiring of Poles and Eberflus is, Fields remains the most important person inside Halas Hall with more potential than anyone to be a major catalyst in getting the Bears’ fortunes turned quickly. Coming off a bumpy and oft-interrupted rookie season, Fields must begin his bounce-back efforts immediately. And it starts with his partnership with new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.
Poles and Eberflus stressed their intention to study Fields’ rookie season at a deeper level, looking to identify the strengths they will have to accentuate while developing plans to address Fields’ weaknesses. And Fields seems eager to dive into the work. During his 10-minute session with reporters, he seemed happy to have a clean slate and liberated to be moving on from a trying and sometimes awkward rookie season.
Simply having Fields speak on the day the new GM and coach were introduced was a symbol of empowerment, a sign that the Bears expect him to emerge as one of their most important team leaders.
“Last year was kind of weird,” Fields said. “Just me not starting the season as the starting quarterback, it was kind of a weird leadership role. Me and Andy (Dalton) would kind of switch off. But now that I am starting the season as a starting quarterback, I think I’ll be more comfortable playing that leader role. There’s no more, ‘Oh, he’s a rookie,’ this and that. It’s time now.”
3. The union between Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus seems _____.
They share the same agent, Trace Armstrong, and it sounds as if they knew each other previously and respected one another’s work from afar. Eberflus worked with new Bears linebackers coach Dave Borgonzi in Dallas and Indianapolis, and Borgonzi’s brother Mike had worked with Poles since 2009 in Kansas City, so there’s a tie-in there.
They’re tied together at the hip now, ready to attack the challenges ahead.
It was fair to question Poles’ hiring process for a new head coach. He accepted the GM job Jan. 25 and needed just two days and three interviews with finalists to land on Eberflus. That’s fast given the Bears search committee interviewed 10 coaching candidates. But Poles was firm that he wanted Eberflus, whom he said he first got to know years ago.
“The moment he walked in the room, I knew he was the guy, especially when he started going through his plan,” Poles said.
And when asked whether he would have liked the opportunity for a more expansive coach search, he said: “I was given the opportunity. I found him.”
Both Poles and Eberflus described the hope that their relationship would be like a brotherly bond as they set forth to fulfill their vision of what Eberflus said is a “healthy identity” for the Bears. It’s important that they’re starting off in lockstep, though the real tests are ahead.
“We’re going to have some disagreements,” Eberflus said. “But that’s OK to have healthy disagreements on things.”
Wiederer: Natural – I think.
Both stressed that their connection stretches back years and didn’t suddenly begin when Poles interviewed Eberflus for the coaching job at Halas Hall. Still, that meeting was significant too. Poles and Eberflus share an agent – former Bear Trace Armstrong. So that’s certainly notable.
But they start their partnership with confidence they are aligned on how to build the Bears back into a team that can sustain success. Several other GM-coach tandems have tried to revive the Bears and failed, so this will not be an easy task. But starting off on the right foot is paramount. And Poles and Eberflus seem to have a genuine bond.
4. George McCaskey’s decision to pick up Ryan Poles from O’Hare was ___.
biggs: Representative of the kind of guy McCaskey is.
And also the type of person Poles is. McCaskey extended the offer and told Poles he could get a limo if he preferred. Both men were interested in getting to know one another better, and it’s obvious they clicked.
Kane: Clearly appreciated by Poles.
I thought McCaskey’s trip to the O’Hare claim was great, and not just because the video of it gave us such a colorful setup for Poles’ career in Chicago. It was great because that’s who McCaskey is – the chairman of an NFL franchise who parks his Honda Accord farther away than I park at Halas Hall, a guy who has been spotted riding a scooter at training camp and wandering the Soldier Field tailgates.
Not every GM candidate would have loved the approach—and some Bears fans didn’t either—but the GM that McCaskey wanted the most did. Poles said it almost brought him to tears to think about it because, as someone who values personal relationships, having that time to talk and get off on the right foot meant something to him. He asked around the building about the gesture and received affirmation it was in character for McCaskey. And that helped convince him he was in the right place.
Wiederer: Vintage George.
Drove the ol’ Honda Accord to ORD to scoop up his top candidate for the GM position.
“Parked in the garage,” McCaskey said. “White Sox level. Three bucks to the city.”
Say what you want about McCaskey’s leadership abilities and his pronounced failures over the last 11 years to return the Bears to prominence. That criticism is justified. (And trust us, plenty has been said and written on the topic.) But one thing you can’t knock George for is his ability to connect in his own unique way. The airport pickup was just a new high-profile example.
Simply put, McCaskey is delightfully quirky, a grounded and sincerely kind man with an underappreciated wit. He cares about those who work for him and has a wholesome touch that can be rare in NFL ownership circles.
Poles, for whatever it’s worth, was impressed with the ride service.
“I value people and relationships,” he said. “And that told me everything I needed to know about you and this franchise.”
Milestone moment for the Bears? no chance. And Poles might reflect on the experience a little differently after he has spent a few years in the organization and becomes more familiar with the McCaskey family’s idiosyncrasies. But as first impressions go, it was a plus. And it has given Bears fans a fun little anecdote to play with. Nothing wrong with that.