LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Matt Eberflus can relish the moment.
He’s a first-time head coach trying to turn around a founding NFL franchise, and the next big step will come this week when the Chicago Bears host the San Francisco 49ers in the season opener.
“It’s always special when you do something for the first time, you call a defense in the NFL for the first time or when I called it in college when or when you come into a new role as head football coach,” Eberflus said on Monday.
“It’s part of the journey. It is part of your story that you write, that you help to write with all those who help you. And you certainly think about it as you go.
The Bears have hired general manager Ryan Poles and Eberflus to replace laid off Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy after going 6-11 and missing the playoffs for the ninth time in 11 years.
They’ve since restructured the roster and established a culture that he hopes will steer the franchise in a different direction. As he contemplated the opener, Eberflus took the time this weekend to reflect on the franchise’s past.
He went through a book published a few years ago, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the franchise. One thing that impressed him was the barnstorming tour led by Red Grange, just after dropping out of the University of Illinois, in the winter of 1925 and 1926. The 19-game showcase to boost a struggling league s took place over 67 days in 17 cities.
“I think it’s really important that the story gets out to the guys,” Eberflus said Monday.
It’s something he tries to convey to his players, whether he’s reading about the barnstorming days, the dominant decades of “The Monsters of the Midway” or bringing in stars from the more recent past. as Charles Tillman to speak to the current group.
Chicago’s history includes nine NFL championships – but only one since the 1963 team gave founder George Halas his last title. The 1985 team, of course, won the Super Bowl.
Chicago’s only other appearance came late in the 2006 season, when the Bears lost to Indianapolis. Since then, they have only three playoff trips and one playoff victory.
Eberflus, 52, has spent the past four seasons as Indianapolis’ defensive coordinator. Prior to that, he coached linebackers for seven years at Dallas.
Eberflus was also on staff at Cleveland after several college stints, including as defensive coordinator at Missouri. Eberflus, a former linebacker from the University of Toledo, began his coaching career at his alma mater and school in his hometown.
In Chicago, he drew praise from the Poles and the players for his organization and the tone he sets. He insists on the “HITS” principle – his acronym for Hustle, Intensity, Takeaways and Playing Smart – and counts the loaves in practice.
“I love this guy,” Poles said last week. “He’s thorough, he’s organised, he has people around him to help him get organised. He’s consistent. His message is clear. There’s no gray area. When he approaches team meeting and gets in front of the guys, he’s got juice. But it’s not fluff. It’s not fake. It’s real.”
He said the energy given off by Eberflus was palpable and the players “loved it”.
“I love it,” added Poles. “I’m so excited about his leadership and how he’s going to lead this team.”
NOTES: WR Byron Pringle (quadruple) and C Lucas Patrick (right hand) returned to practice on Monday. “We’ll see what happens throughout the week,” Pringle said when asked if he would play in Game 1. “We’ll have a practice on Wednesday and we’ll see. Today I felt good.
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