LAKE FOREST, Ill. — At Halas Hall, where the football is bad but the culture is “outstanding” and “awesome” and “the trust is stronger because we take action,” Bears coach Matt Eberflus met the media Wednesday.
It went about as expected, given the context. At least the stage didn’t collapse or a light didn’t fall on him.
It was just a run-of-the-mill midweek news conference for the losingest head coach in Bears history (so far), who had to gingerly avoid answering questions about why another coach on his staff has been fired for reasons he can’t talk about.
On Wednesday morning, The Athletic’s Kevin Fishbain and Adam Jahns broke the news that running backs coach David Walker was fired and that the team’s human resources department was involved. Way back in late September, it was defensive coordinator Alan Williams who was forced to resign for some messy off-the-field reasons. I don’t know if two coaches have ever been dismissed in-season for non-football reasons before, but it’s certainly odd.
And you thought last year’s 3-14 season was bad. Somehow, the Bears, at 2-6, have gotten more embarrassing. So who’s to blame?
Part of Eberflus’ job is serving as the public voice of the team and he was left to defend his team’s standards and internal culture, uttering what might become the defining quote of his tenure: “The culture in our building is outstanding.”
Maybe he was talking about the yogurt in the cafeteria. But if he’s talking about the vibes in the weight room, he should know that no one really cares if the results don’t show up on the field, and before you say anything, Matt, not the practice one.
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I’ve covered the team since 2009 and I’ve seen, well, mostly losing. The Bears have had just a few winning seasons in that span and only one since 2012. That’s why the GMs and coaches have rotated in and out, each talking about culture and building things the right way.
Eberflus, who is 5-20 as a head coach, sounds like he’s grasping at straws as he watches the opportunity of a lifetime slip through his fingers.
“The last four games we’re 2-2,” Eberflus said. “I think the direction is good. Obviously, we had an injury to our starting quarterback. We had a backup come in and win a game for us. The defense is on the rise. We’ve played good run defense. We’ve played good on run offense. We’re solid there. And we just got to continue to work on the ball. We get that right, we’ll be right. The guys are positive, upbeat and looking forward to New Orleans.”
Wait a second, is he really trying to sell 2-2 in the last four games?
“Because we’re in the present right here, right now,” Eberflus said, channeling his inner Jesus Jones. “So that’s where we are. We’re focusing on New Orleans. We’re focusing on, we’ve got a different set of circumstances here offensively, defensively. Special teams. We’re focused on that. We’re focused where our feet are.”
Typically head coaches who win at a .200 clip don’t last too long in their jobs, though GM Ryan Poles, speaking on Wednesday, didn’t sound like he was too upset at his head coach. Poles gave him credit for keeping a positive attitude and “chipping away” amid all the losing, why is a pretty low bar to clear.
Ryan Poles on Matt Eberflus’ work leading for the Bears: “Most teams fold and they’re not folding. It’s been hard. It’s been really hard. Especially from where we started last year, trying to build this and do it the right way. … To me, I see a grown man that has leadership…
— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) November 1, 2023
The Bears aren’t folding? They’ve lost four games by double digits and in one of their two non-blowout losses, a 31-28 Broncos win, they got outscored 17-0 in the fourth quarter. I don’t think anyone has watched this team and felt inspired by its losses.
Because Eberflus’ record is so poor, the team’s play is so uninspiring and his assistant coaches keep getting canned under mysterious circumstances, Eberflus is getting the traditional Chicago “Why don’t you fire yourself?” line of questioning.
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But while he has to take the blame for his record — despite some clear front-office tanking going on last season — the context of how we interpret the Bears’ failures is out of his control. He’s still relatively new here.
Do you know the team’s record since former GM Phil Emery fired Lovie Smith after the 2012 season? It’s 66-104. That’s a .389 winning percentage. The Ryans and Matts change, but the results remain … actually they’re worse. At his introductory news conference, Poles said his goal was “to take the North and never give it back.”
Ryan Poles: “We’re going to take the North and never give it back.” pic.twitter.com/lS6iZK9vk9
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) January 31, 2022
The Bears are 0-8 in the NFC North since. Maybe they have a shot against a Kirk Cousin-less Vikings team in a few weeks? Or how about a completely meaningless season-ender at Lambeau Field? If they go 0-for-two seasons in the division, yikes.
All the talk about culture reminds one of the infamous George McCaskey-Ted Phillips press conference after the 2020 season, when Phillips said, “Have we gotten the quarterback situation completely right? No. Have we won enough games? No. Everything else is there. … We have a solid football culture.”
So they keep saying. Maybe eventually it will translate into actual victories. But probably not this week as the Bears are 7.5-point underdogs in New Orleans.
Imagine what the spread would have been if the oddsmakers didn’t factor the Bears’ renowned culture into their lines.
(Photo: Quinn Harris / Getty Images)
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