How Matt Eberflus collected concepts from his mentors — and oldsters — throughout a 30-year journey to turn out to be Chicago Bears coach


Matt Eberflus generally likes to mud off a Lou Holtz quote that he has stored in thoughts throughout his 30-year profession climb to turn out to be the Chicago Bears head coach.

“You improve yourself by the people you meet and the books you read,” Eberflus stated, paraphrasing the Hall of Famer.

One model of Holtz’s quote additionally contains “the dreams you dream.” That half has been clear to Eberflus for a very long time.

It first occurred to him in highschool that he wish to be a coach when two assistants took a particular curiosity in serving to Eberflus, then a security, be taught the linebacker place. Since that realization, he has gathered data alongside the best way from profitable mentors: High expectations from Nick Saban. Establishing an identification from Gary Pinkel. Teaching gamers from Rod Marinelli.

Eberflus stowed away rules, abilities and ideas in order that when the Bears employed him in January to be the 17th head coach in franchise history, he knew how he needed to run his crew.

In the months main as much as the opening of coaching camp final week, Eberflus revealed himself as a critical, CEO-style chief whose emphasis on effort is obvious. People who know him effectively begin by mentioning his depth but additionally say he’s caring, sincere, detailed and mentally fast, all traits they hope will assist him reach a spot the place few coaches have over the past 4 many years.

“I’ve been around to see guys when they’re prepared for the job,” Marinelli instructed the Tribune. “He’s ready in all areas. His intelligence, he can flip over to offense and actually perceive it. And he’s a head soccer coach — not the defensive coordinator. He’s not calling (performs). He’s teaching the morale of the crew. He’s teaching the requirements of the crew, the hassle of the crew and what it’s going to appear like, so that they have one voice. That’s the factor that’s vital.

“He is so well prepared for this job and he’s humble and loyal, and somehow that all comes back to you.”

Eberflus’ preparation for the duty forward began in Toledo, Ohio, with dad and mom that first instilled the work ethic he guarantees to demand of gamers because the Bears get deeper into practices this month.

The basis

Stan Eberflus would come residence lined in grime — his pants filthy with soil, his palms cracked so badly from the Midwestern chilly that his spouse, Joanne, would rub cream on them for reduction at evening.

That’s the lasting picture Matt Eberflus has of his father, an electrician first with Laibe Electric after which the town of Toledo.

“It’s just amazing that he could never get his hands clean because he worked so hard,” stated Eberflus, the youngest of the couple’s 4 kids.

That work ethic carried over to the children, who had been required to get summer season jobs in the event that they weren’t taking part in sports activities, Joanne stated.

“Everybody worked every single day,” stated Joanne, who stayed residence to lift her kids earlier than going to work half time at a division retailer. “They didn’t loaf around and do nothing.”

They had been a soccer household.

Stan was an all-city middle at Woodward High who turned down a scholarship to Defiance to turn out to be an electrician. He would spend hours within the entrance yard educating his children tips on how to snap. His directions on taking part in to his two sons had been: “Never disrespect the game. You play it the right way, and that’s full speed.” Eberflus later came upon the foundations from his father had been rooted in a want to forestall accidents.

Joanne was the last word fan, renown by those that attended video games for her silver cowbell. She rang it anytime Eberflus made a sort out, generally utilizing it so typically she wanted to place a handkerchief across the deal with to keep away from blisters.

“I would tell everybody in front of me, ‘Now, I’m going to ring this bell whenever there is a good play, so if you don’t like it, you better move over,’ ” Joanne stated.

She recalled how Eberflus’ Whitmer High crew was within the playoffs on the day of her oldest daughter’s wedding ceremony. When the marriage group moved from the church to the reception corridor, Stan placed on his headphones, and the household shocked friends by hollering about Eberflus’ recreation. The wedding ceremony get together went to greet the crew buses at the highschool after their win.

Stan and Joanne continued to journey to video games as Eberflus superior his teaching profession into faculty and the NFL. Even after Stan was identified with ALS, Joanne took him in a wheelchair to their son’s Dallas Cowboys video games. Joanne stated Stan, who died in 2015, would have been “ecstatic” and “crazy” about his son’s teaching climb.

Their fervor for the sport matched Eberflus’ depth, which surfaced whilst a younger participant. Joanne referred to as him “just like a little bull, especially on defense.”

“I was over the top a little bit,” Eberflus stated. “The intensity meter was high. But I’ve calmed down since then. I channel it for the good of others.”

By the time Eberflus was a junior or senior in highschool, Joanne noticed him operating the protection, instructing different gamers the place to be. When the household would go to eating places, Eberflus drew up performs, X’s and O’s on paper napkins.

“I’d find them all over the house,” Joanne stated. “He was always doing football plays. I think that was the start of it.”

Eberflus’ love for the sport grew between his junior and senior seasons, when Whitmer assistants Rob Rose and Tim Rubino helped him transition from defensive again to linebacker on coach Pat Gucciardo’s crew. They performed hourlong movie classes after exercises, which sparked not solely an All-Ohio senior season for Eberflus but additionally an curiosity in teaching.

“Sometimes as a coach you have to believe in your player before he believes in himself, and that’s what they did for me,” Eberflus stated. “I didn’t really know I could do it. So they showed me belief and showed me trust and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to put you in there. You’re going to be the guy.’ And they challenged me along the way, no doubt. They really helped me with my path.”

Eberflus earned a scholarship supply to Kent State, and the household purchased hats and T-shirts on their go to to the college. On the best way residence, Eberflus introduced he didn’t need to go there. He would stroll on at Toledo as a substitute.

“I said, Ohhh-K,” Joanne stated. “It was a little bit disturbing, and I thought, ‘Wow.’ But he always has known what has been best for him because he’s very strong in his faith in God. Our church has always been the center of our life. … God has always put him in the right place at the right time according to his plan, and Matt has always believed that.”

It didn’t take Eberflus lengthy to go from walk-on to scholarship recipient at Toledo, and shortly he would meet the mentor who launched his teaching profession.

The profession mentor

It’s no shock Eberflus — who declared his Bears players should bring their track shoes for practices — nonetheless speaks with reverence about Saban’s “16 stations” offseason exercise program.

Toledo had gone 6-5 in back-to-back seasons below Dan Simrell when the Rockets introduced in Saban for his first head teaching stint in Eberflus’ junior season. Saban instantly raised the bar. The 16 stations consisting of agility, pace and mat drills had been so intense Saban strategically positioned trash cans in case gamers wanted to vomit, according to ESPN.

Watching Saban change the tradition of this system in his lone 9-2 season there in 1990 sparked a renewed curiosity in teaching for Eberflus — and an understanding of tips on how to set expectations.

“If you love football, and you exhibit that and you’re willing to work hard, you’ll have no problem,” Eberflus stated. “It’s going to be hard, but you’ll have no problem. You’ll dive in with both feet.”

Saban’s exit to the NFL the next season set the stage for Pinkel to reach in Toledo for his first head teaching job.

Eberflus was a captain in his senior season and approached Pinkel a couple of potential pupil assistant coach place the next yr. Pinkel had a intestine feeling.

“When you coach quarterbacks, you talk about ‘it.’ They have that something that makes them special,” Pinkel stated. “(Eberflus) has the stuff inside of him. He likes people, he cares about people, he’s trustworthy, he’s honest, he’s going to have a lot of friends. Even though some will be different from him, he’ll still be their friend. That’s the way he is. That, and he’s also a great competitor. This business, that’s what it’s all about.”

Eberflus grew his profession below Pinkel over the following 17 years, rising from grad assistant to exterior linebackers and defensive backs coach at Toledo earlier than Pinkel named him his defensive coordinator after they moved to Missouri in 2001. The impression of such studying experiences is probably immeasurable, however Eberflus can level to 2 key takeaways: You get what you emphasize, and you have to set up an identification.

“We believe in certain ways we’re going to do things,” Pinkel stated. “We stand for a lot of things: being mature, getting your job done, being a great competitor, having players be responsible and accountable to their teammates. … You have to define what you’re going to be, and that turned out to be pretty easy for us to do. Hard to get done but easy to set the base.”

It’s a fundamental philosophy that Eberflus hammers into his coaches and gamers as a result of that basis offers them one thing to “grab onto” in powerful occasions.

“You might lose a game, you might lose two games in a row, but what do you stand on?” Eberflus stated. “What do you stand for? Who are you? And if you know that without any question, any hesitation, you’ll be fine.”

Eberflus was at Missouri for eight seasons earlier than a chance got here to affix the Cleveland Browns in 2009. He had all the time liked the NFL — he rattles off the names of Jack Lambert, Dick Butkus, “Mean” Joe Greene, Lester Hayes and Jack Tatum as these he grew up admiring — however he stored his dream of teaching within the league principally to himself.

When he approached Pinkel with the thought — slightly afraid Pinkel is likely to be upset, he later instructed the coach — his mentor reminded him that transferring between faculty and the NFL might have an effect on his trajectory to move coach. Did he really need it?

He did.

The rules

The signal first hung within the Cowboys linebackers room about eight years in the past.

Eberflus, then together with his second NFL crew, was attempting to determine a option to talk his defensive rules to his gamers.

“I said, ‘Well, I like acronyms, they’re easy to understand,’ ” Eberflus stated. “The players can understand, coaches can understand it, the whole team can understand it. I made a sign.”

  • Hustle
  • Intensity
  • Takeaways
  • Smart situational play

HITS was born.

Of course, the genesis of Eberflus’ precept really got here a few years earlier.

Marinelli was part of Tony Dungy’s first Tampa Bay Buccaneers employees in 1996 that included Monte Kiffin, Herm Edwards and Lovie Smith. The group developed a grading system for a way gamers carried out, which included “loafs,” a time period for not totally hustling acquainted round Chicago throughout the Smith period.

“We want to see, within a game, how you impacted the game,” Marinelli stated. “What inspires a player? The grading should be there to inspire the players to go further.”

Eberflus was aware of the rules from studying Dungy and Smith, however when he teamed up with Marinelli, who was the Cowboys defensive coordinator beginning in 2014, Eberflus studied outdated Bucs tape of Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber. He developed his “standards of performance” to measure gamers in practices and video games, which incorporates wanting seven-plus gamers across the ball on intermediate passes or runs, and he furthered it when he grew to become the Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator in 2018.

“How do you measure what a good hit looks like? What a good tackle looks like? What does a good block look like? How do you finish your run the right way?” Eberflus stated. “The standards of performance of how we hit, run, block, hustle, give great effort, those are all measured, and there’s examples of the past. I could show (Brian) Urlacher and (Lance) Briggs and Brooks and (Sean) Lee and now it’s going to be Roquan Smith and Darius Leonard. I have tape, and I’ll show over and over and over again what it looks like.”

The concept takes buy-in from gamers. Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson laughed when requested on the opening day of coaching camp if he had been referred to as out for not going arduous sufficient.

“We all have,” Johnson stated. “If someone says they haven’t, they’re lying to y’all for sure.”

That’s the place the teachings from Marinelli are available in.

He and Tom Amstutz, who was the defensive coordinator at Toledo when Eberflus was a place coach there, taught Eberflus tips on how to work with gamers.

“Some of that is instinctual, and some of it is innate or you learn it from your parents,” Eberflus stated. “But how to get the best out of a guy. … They were masters at that, master teachers, master coaches. Unbelievable at their position being able to get those guys to max out and play their very best. Because they’re great encouragers. First of all, they’re great coaches, from the technical side of it. … But to be able to pull out from somebody their very best is a special trait to have.”

Marinelli stated telling gamers why is “everything” in educating. When gamers perceive why they do one thing, they’ve readability, and with readability comes pace.

He additionally stated the buy-in begins with constructing morale, and that begins with creating habits. Marinelli pointed to Eberflus’ insistence on depth within the opening particular person intervals of practices, setting the expectation that gamers would get one thing out of even these fundamental drills.

“I just really believe the No. 1 issue in the NFL is morale,” Marinelli stated. “It’s a coach’s and player’s responsibility to have good morale. What is good morale? It’s living to standards. If some guy can get away with something that somebody else doesn’t, then morale goes. If a coach walks by a mistake, morale goes. You can’t walk by mistakes. It’s hard.”

Earlier this yr, Eberflus’ job obtained rather a lot more durable.

The alternative

Eberflus doesn’t disregard “the books you read” a part of Holtz’s quote.

Eberflus, who has two daughters of school and highschool age together with his spouse, Kelly, reads the Bible within the morning, sending scripture passages day-after-day to his mother and siblings, Joanne stated. He chooses books that can assist him develop in his management and emotional intelligence, citing “Lead Like Jesus” by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges and “Laugh Again” and “Strengthening Your Grip” by Charles R. Swindoll as some he favored. He had three books lined up for his quick break between obligatory minicamp and coaching camp.

“He is extremely well-read, real disciplined in his reading,” Marinelli stated. “And sometimes if you read for the right reasons, you can help men with problems.”

And now the person Marinelli stated has turn out to be “a real historian of football” has new material to discover on the historical past of the Bears.

After seven seasons with the Cowboys, Eberflus grew to become the Colts defensive coordinator and helped create a top-10 protection in a number of classes by 2020-21, together with second with 33 takeaways in 2021.

In 2018, Colts coach Frank Reich inherited Eberflus, who initially was alleged to be a part of Josh McDaniels’ employees in Indianapolis earlier than McDaniels backed out of the job.

Reich stated they instantly related by their religion, process-oriented method and perception in working towards arduous. Eberflus referred to as Reich “a rock-solid human being” and stated he helped him develop in his Christianity.

Reich additionally left an impression on tips on how to lead a training employees. He visited the defensive room as soon as every week to talk from a quarterback’s standpoint, inform a narrative or ship the weekly message, however he didn’t micromanage Eberflus. Likewise, Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams stated Eberflus is permitting him to place his stamp on the protection.

“He let me do my job as the defensive coordinator,” Eberflus stated of Reich. “But he also would interject and help me when I needed some help from his point of view, from the quarterbacks’ point of view.”

Over the final six months, after Bears normal supervisor Ryan Poles launched Eberflus as his head coach — citing Eberflus’ requirements, self-discipline, ardour and plan to lift the bar — Eberflus has continued to attach together with his mentors.

Joanne stated she needed to expire of her home and scream when she heard the news of the hiring and loves the match with the Bears, not least the very fact she’s not too distant from video games. Marinelli visited Halas Hall in June to talk with Bears gamers at Eberflus’ request, delivering his message about morale.

And Eberflus has talked a couple of occasions to Pinkel, who spoke of his pleasure in watching Eberflus patiently climb the ranks — but additionally the problem forward because the Bears coach tries to get a rebuilding crew off the bottom. Eberflus should lead younger, inexperienced gamers in a metropolis thirsty for fulfillment after only one division title within the final 11 years.

“In college football, there are a lot of levels of football, there are a lot of head coaching positions open,” Pinkel stated. “There are solely 32 groups on the planet you can coach within the NFL. So there are a restricted variety of distinctive folks that have these alternatives to do it.

“Certainly I thought he was very capable. He’s very sincere. He genuinely cares. I keep using the word ‘competitor’ because that competitiveness is something you’ll see in him, and players will feel it and know it. That’s the kind of team he’s going to have. … It’s hard to win. We all know that. But he really has a plan — a detailed, A-to-Z plan on building this organization. And I don’t doubt that at all.”

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