Emma: At start of pivotal offseason, Bears confident in what’s to come
LAKE FOREST, Ill. — When Kevin Warren first broke into the NFL as a legal counsel with the St. Louis Rams in 1997, he was hired into a franchise in a state of flux.
The Rams hadn’t reached the playoffs in nearly a decade and had two tumultuous seasons in store, finishing 9-23 in Dick Vermeil’s first two years as head coach. But Warren recognized the patience and belief within that organization entering the 1999 season, one in which the Rams finished 13-3 and won the Super Bowl.
Warren has held firm to those memories over the last calendar year since he was hired by the Bears as their new president and CEO, understanding that the plans set at Halas Hall would take time.
The Bears finished 7-10 last season after a 3-14 campaign in 2022, and while progress has come slowly – testing their patience at times – Warren has remained steadfast with his belief in what’s to come.
After a methodical evaluation on the Bears’ football operations, Warren signed off on general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus leading this team forward for a third season.
“I’ll firmly believe,” Warren said Wednesday during the Bears’ year-end press conference at Halas Hall. “Go back 12 months ago and look at the progress that we’ve made. We’re not where we want to be. We’re not where we’re going to be. But we’re going in the right direction.
“Unequivocally, I believe that we have the right set of individuals and my expectations going into this season are extremely high.”
The Bears set a direction for this pivotal offseason Wednesday with their decision to retain Poles and Eberflus while firing offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and four other members of the offensive coaching staff.
It was Poles who led the decision to retain Eberflus, who directed the need for changes with the offensive staff. The Bears must now hire an offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator, in addition to overhauling the majority of the offensive staff. Eberflus could turn to his close friend Frank Reich to lead his offense, while Kellen Moore, Kliff Kingsbury and Byron Leftwich could also be options in play. That will be a critical hire given the defensive-minded Eberflus needs a firm leader for his offense.
Rather than cleaning house of the entire coaching staff – exploring top candidates like Jim Harbaugh (University of Michigan), Ben Johnson (Lions offensive coordinator) and more – the Bears stuck with their belief that Eberflus can lead them to championship contention in 2024.
Poles pointed to Eberflus’ role as a leader as an instrumental factor behind his faith.
“I saw a lot of progress,” Poles said. “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 through those hard times, allowing us to push through. You saw a lot of those wins happen at the back of the season. If it’s not for him, I don’t think that’s the case. I think it starts to crumble, everyone starts to do their own thing. To me, that was a critical piece of that.
“What I pride myself on, really pride our entire organization, is we take this step after the season to let the dust settle, let the emotions get out and make the most sound decision that you possibly can make. That’s what we did the last few days, is just make sure we settle down, look at the big picture and make sure we’re going in the right direction.”
Once the Bears have set their coaching staff in place, the focus will turn back to the looming decision at quarterback. Justin Fields proved himself with notable progress in his third NFL season, throwing for 2,562 yards, 16 touchdowns and 9 interceptions over 13 starts. But Chicago owns the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, representing the opportunity to select a prized prospect like Caleb Williams (USC) or Drake Maye (North Carolina).
The Bears may not have a decision on their quarterback future until early March, as teams begin to form their plans for roster construction. By that point, Poles will have a firm grasp of trade offers for the first overall pick – as well as what the trade market will look like for the 24-year-old Fields.
Poles has options and opportunities as he prepares to make this potentially franchise-altering call at quarterback.
“We are in information-gathering mode right now,” Poles said. “We are going to turn over every stone to make sure that we are going to make a sound decision for our organization. I did think Justin got better. I think he can lead this team. But at the same time, there’s a unique situation where I have to look and our staff has to look at everything. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.
“Seeing the things that Justin did this year, his ability to make plays, keeping his eyes down the field, taking less sacks, you see a lot of growth there where he can continue to get better. So, I’ll have the same mindset.
“There’s a whole process here that we have to figure out. But what we’re going to do is do what’s best for the organization. I’m sure there’s going to be similar situations in terms of the trade back, and I got to weigh all of those things to see what’s going to help our team take the next step.”
When Warren officially began his role in April, one of the most important tasks he set forth was holding meetings with each of the Bears’ 211 employees – conducted in alphabetical order. He wanted to hear feedback from members of this organization and asked a simple, straightforward question: How can the Bears be great?
The answer to that question is clearer now than it was a year ago when Warren first arrived at Halas Hall. The Bears believe there are great days ahead – and their patience will pay off.
“I’m excited about the challenge,” Warren said. “I’m excited about 2024 and I’m excited about seeing all of this come together.”