Ryan Poles wanted to let the dust settle, to allow his emotions to run their course.
The Chicago Bears general manager craved a win “so bad” in the season finale against the Green Bay Packers to confirm the progress he felt the team made in the last two months. And then, with the opportunity to knock their biggest rival out of the playoffs, the Bears flopped in a 17-9 loss at Lambeau Field, confirming for Poles that the team is “just not there yet.”
The loss stung Poles and other Bears bosses, enough that President and CEO Kevin Warren kept the Packers security tag on his briefcase a couple of extra days as he processed the defeat.
In the 24 hours that followed, Poles conducted player exit interviews alongside coach Matt Eberflus. And then, finally with cool heads, he and Bears leadership sorted through the information they collected all season to determine the future of the coaching staff.
Three days after the loss, the Bears announced Wednesday that they had fired offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and four offensive position coaches — but that Eberflus would stay on after going 10-24 over his first two seasons.
Citing Eberflus’ leadership, stability and adaptability during a 7-10 season, Poles hitched the team’s future to the idea that Eberflus has laid the groundwork for a championship team — and that the best thing for the young Bears is to maintain continuity at the top, even though plenty will change on offense in 2024.
“The stability was a big piece of it,” Poles said. “The detail that he coaches with. Taking some of the mistakes from the game, bringing them to practice and making sure that we’re doing things the right way, I saw a lot of progress in that.
“There’s a reason why we went from three to seven wins. The player aspect of it is important but also the detail and bringing the team together. Sticking through those hard times allowed us to push through, and you saw a lot of those wins happening toward the back end of the season.
“If it’s not for him, I really don’t think that’s the case. I think it starts to crumble; everyone starts to do their own thing.”
Poles also noted how Eberflus embraced “sudden change” in his role as he began calling defensive plays midseason after the resignation of coordinator Alan Williams. The Bears defense under Eberflus totaled 28 takeaways and largely fueled the turnaround from a 2-7 start to a 5-3 closing stretch.
Poles’ decision might not be popular on the outside, given the quality of head-coaching candidates on the market and the need to bring in the right coach to develop whichever quarterback the Bears choose for 2024.
But it was consistent in how Poles has spoken about Eberflus since he hired him in January 2022. Poles believes in Eberflus’ leadership and insisted the Bears progress is “not a house of cards.”
Poles said it was his call to retain Eberflus, but he gathered input from Warren and Chairman George McCaskey.
“The nice thing about this is we were all on the same page,” Poles said.
Eberflus sat next to Poles on Wednesday at Halas Hall during the end-of-season news conference while Poles answered questions about the decision. That led to one slightly awkward exchange — but a necessary one given recent rumors.
Poles balked at a question about whether he talked to Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, whose potential move to the NFL has been widely speculated after he led the Wolverines to the national championship Monday.
“No, I haven’t talked to Jim,” Poles said. “He’s the coach at Michigan.”
And when pressed on whether he considered Harbaugh as an option, Poles said: “No, like I said, we’re going with Matt and I gave you the reasons why. I didn’t go talk to anybody.”
So Poles’ faith in Eberflus is clear, though he used an analogy about Eberflus weathering a storm that didn’t take into account that many of the storms the Bears faced were partially self-created.
With the firings of Getsy, quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko, wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert, running backs coach Omar Young and assistant tight ends coach Tim Zetts, seven of the assistants Eberflus brought on board when he was hired have left in the last four months.
That includes a coordinator in Getsy who didn’t mesh well enough with inherited quarterback Justin Fields to get the passing offense out of the bottom six in the league. And that includes Williams and running backs coach David Walker, who both left the team in the middle of the season for conduct-related reasons.
Poles said he will “work really closely” with Eberflus in selecting coordinators and assistants over the coming weeks, noting the hectic nature of the initial round of hiring in January 2022 after he and Eberflus were hired. Both Poles and Warren stated their belief that the jobs will attract top candidates because of the Bears’ nucleus of good, young players and resources to continue to build.
Poles also said he believes in the Bears’ process to learn from their mistakes.
“We take a lot of pride in the after-action setup where we look back at the issues that we had,” Poles said. “What’s avoidable? What’s not? If it’s avoidable, what can we do to make sure that we stay away from those storms so that we continue to improve and not repeat the same mistakes?
“I think we’ll continue to do that. We’ve done that a lot this year. So I feel confident in that.”
Warren followed Poles in Wednesday’s news conference and stated his confidence in Poles, Eberflus and their working relationship. He called himself “extremely impatient” but twice referred to his time with the St. Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings as examples of patience paying off.
In 1997 and ‘98, the Rams won nine total games before winning the Super Bowl in the 1999 season behind Hall of Fame coach Dick Vermeil and quarterback Kurt Warner.
“The worst thing you can do in an organization that is making progress is to turn around too quickly,” Warren said. “And you have to evaluate honestly. And so I just feel here, with the people that we have in this building, the changes that we’ve started to make today, the people that we will hire, the core group of players that we have, the draft capital that we have, the salary-cap situation that we’re in, the free agents, just look what was accomplished.
“Go back 12 months ago and look at the progress that we’ve made. You’re not where you want to be, we’re not where we’re going to be, but we’re pointed in the right direction.”
Poles is betting on Eberflus to keep the Bears headed in that direction.