Matt Eberflus has found a way to measure almost everything on a football pitch.
When his player tackles someone along the sideline, Eberflus watches to see how far he pushes them out of bounds. At least the ball carrier must fall on the 6-inch chalk border that surrounds the field and land on the other side.
“From green to white,” he told the Sun-Times. “It’s a way of measuring intensity.”
In open ground, Eberflus measures the last three yards of possession. Does the tackler accelerate towards the ball carrier and push off their feet? Does he do a hamstring tackle? Unlike most coaches, Eberflus teaches that the top of a player’s shoulder pads should be level with the height of the ball carrier. The defender should cross the player’s hips, curl near the hamstrings, and take three firm steps while bringing them to the ground.
Any additional tacklers must attempt to force a fumble. Eberflus measures if they do it and what technique they try: the punch, the hammer or the rake. The punch is an uppercut through the fat part of the ball and the hammer is a downward strike. The rake is more violent – peeling a ball carrier’s fingers and reaching for the tip of the ball to dislodge it.
“If you don’t hit the ball every play, the way we train it, that’s a mistake,” Eberflus said.
Coach watches exactly where defenders hit: Former Bears cornerback Charles Tillman taught Eberflus teams in Indianapolis and Chicago to try to time the punch with the swing motion of the ball carrier while he runs. Don’t hit where the ball is, Tillman preaches, hit where it’s going to be.
“Do you really strip it every game?” said Eberflus. “Not just reaching out to appease me, but are you really going after this?” he said. “We coach every game.
“Everything is measured, so you can coach the details of every play. What you will see is that when you do it attacking, defending and kicking, your team will understand the exact standards because everything is on the table. You are not hiding anything.
These defensive principles helped the Colts finish second in the NFL during Eberflus’ four years as defensive coordinator, earning him his first-ever head coaching job.
The main premise of its HITS system – which has found a way, according to Eberflus, to quantifiably measure restlessness, intensity, takeaways and intelligence by ranking game movies – is that it looks still.
Sunday at Soldier Field, the 52-year-old will have his first exposure to the ultimate measurable: wins and losses as an NFL coach. Because a rebuilding Bears team thinks they have a lot more of the former than the latter, that raises the ultimate conundrum for someone whose coaching philosophy is based on scoring the unclassifiable. Other than wins and losses, what would the Bears consider success?
The boss of Eberflus has an idea.
“Resilience,” said general manager Ryan Poles. “I’ve been on teams, a Super Bowl team and teams that, you know, anywhere in between. And teams that can just stay level and go, ‘What are the solutions? instead of pointing the finger at the problem and being negative and saying ‘Look at this!’ This is not good.’ No. ‘How are we going to fix it?’
“So as an organization, as a team, as a dressing room, as a staff, to just be resilient through the ups and downs and keep fighting and having that arrow pointing up. “
• • •
Eberflus collects sayings like other men his age collect vinyl records or bottles of Bordeaux. He uses so many, so often, that those inside Halas Hall not only have favorites, but old favorites.
“This is the take-out,” linebackers coach Dave Borgonzi said. “He says that every day.”
“To get the ball, you have to be fanatical,” defensive line coach Travis Smith said.
“Together we can,” said safety coach Andre Curtis.
Secondary coach James Rowe, who spent last season as Eberflus cornerbacks coach at Indianapolis, cites one specific saying as the most important. They are in fact only two words, pronounced twice each: “Player-coach, coach-player”.
This is what separates Eberflus from its predecessor, Matt Nagy.
“You can be a player’s friend, of course, without a doubt,” Eberflus said. “But first you have to be his trainer.”
Nagy hosted dance competitions and ice cream parties on Saturday nights for his players. He devised “Club Dub” in the locker room after the game – although Joe Maddon’s Cubs are credited for the inspiration – where he stood in the center of a circle and waved his right arm towards the floor as if he was made a soccer ball. .
“Boom!” shouted the players.
When the Bears won, Nagy was an inspiration. When they lost, his players said they wanted to win for him. But something was missing. Nagy was 39 when the Bears hired him; Eberflus was 51 years old. Perhaps the age gap creates more of a professional distance.
“The coach is there to serve and help the player,” Eberflus said. “It’s your job. And you have to have the right mindset as a coach because it’s not about you. This is the player.
“The player is the product we put on the pitch. And that’s the product of the Bears. So he comes first – whatever we can do to help him be his best. And the coach has to show it to the player. And when he does, a relationship is built. They have this relationship where it’s a partnership – coach-player, player-coach.
• • •
Eberflus was a 22-year-old assistant at Toledo when head coach Gary Pinkel held a soccer ball aloft and, in a moment of coaching zen, sent a simple message.
“Guys,” he said, “it’s all about that.”
Pinkel’s zeal for takeout – and against turnovers – has been successful. He retired in 2015 as the all-time leader for wins at Toledo and Missouri. At the time, only two coaches could make the same claim about two schools in Division IA: “Bear” Bryant and Steve Spurrier.
Eberflus, his defensive coordinator at Missouri from 2001 to 2008, brought Pinkel’s attention to takeout in the NFL. He was the Cowboys’ linebacker coach in 2014 when Rod Marinelli, the Bears’ former assistant, was named defensive coordinator. At first, Eberflus wanted to be like the man he called a “master trainer,” but then he decided he wanted something unique. His HITS principle, which combines elements of Marinelli’s player “loaf” tracking and Eberflus’ meticulous film color grading, was born.
“Most people just look at the pattern, like, ‘OK, he did his job and got the pass and all that,'” Eberflus said. “Well, we don’t see the game that way. We look at the game in a different way.
At Halas Hall, that meant teaching the system to defensive assistants who haven’t followed it since Indianapolis and creating offensive rating points.
The meetings lasted for hours. He was greeted with wide eyes.
“The coaches had the same response as the players – ‘God, I didn’t know it was like that’,” Eberflus said.
Eberflus spent his first few months at Halas Hall finding ways to measure attacking performance with the same level of obsession as in defense.
Just as cornerbacks need to tackle the right way, receivers need to block them correctly.
“There are no guests here,” Eberflus said.
Just as defenders’ punches to the ball are meticulously measured, so are the actions ball carriers take to thwart a takeaway. They should maintain five pressure points on the ball – fingertips, palms, forearms, biceps and chest – and clasp their hands together as they pass through traffic.
When Smith was interviewed for the Bears defensive line job, he asked about Eberflus’ takeout secret. Eberflus said he was fanatical about it. It wasn’t until Smith arrived at Halas Hall that he saw what it looked like.
“Watching how we train and how we attack the ball makes sense,” he said.
It’s palpable. Which means it can be measured.
“So everyone knows what the norm is,” Eberflus said. “Instead of saying, ‘Hey, just play hard.’ Or, ‘Hey, take the ball away.’ ”
• • •
Eberflus didn’t raise his two daughters shouting aphorisms and measuring agitation, though he does have one inescapable phrase that makes sense to a protective father of Grace, who just graduated from college, and the high school student Giada.
“I always tell my girls, ‘Keep your head on a pivot,'” he said.
Otherwise, Eberflus said, he’s not the same man at home as he is on the sidelines.
“I know how to have fun, how to relax,” he said. “The whole principle and foundation is not a tense thing. It’s just our way of life. It’s the norm. »
His new boss is all in.
“I love this guy,” Poles said last week. “He is consistent. His message is clear. There is no gray area. When he walks up to the team meeting and gets in front of the guys, he’s got juice. But it’s not fluff. It’s not false. It’s true. And you can feel that energy he has. Guys love it. I love it. I’m so excited about his leadership and how he’s going to lead this team.
Security Eddie Jackson noticed Eberflus’ big ideas and small gestures. The coach hasn’t been late for a meeting yet.
“You just have to hold everyone to that responsibility and let their action match their words,” Jackson said. “I feel like that’s the big thing.”
Rowe, the secondary coach, can sense Eberflus’ personality on game day. It’s the same “hard intensity” the Bears expect from their players.
“All the greats have a switch that they turn on and off, and it’s probably more important to turn it off,” he said. “He is intense. It is intentional. His passion for winning is unmatched. And it feels at home when he talks about football.
This intensity, of course, can be measured.
“If you turn on the film, the film reflects the coach,” said Borgonzi, the linebackers coach. “If you have an intense team, it is a reflection of the coach, the position coach and the coordinator. The film is your resume. The film speaks. »
He will speak for the first time on Sunday.