Matt Eberflus, Bears find right fits in filling out coaching staff
As Matt Eberflus made plans to shake up his coaching staff and seek new hires, he coveted a particular quality in each candidate.
“You want to have somebody that’s a great teacher,” Eberflus said last month after dismissing Luke Getsy and four members of the offensive coaching staff. “And I think that’s the No. 1 trait of any great coach.”
With that in mind, Eberflus has hired a group of well-regarded coaches to develop the Bears’ young roster with hopes of emerging as a contender in 2024.
The Bears have hired a pair of new coordinators and rounded out the offensive coaching staff with some intriguing additions all around.
Eberflus landed one of the top offensive coordinator candidates available in Shane Waldron, who had previously led the Seahawks’ offense under the watch of former head coach Pete Carroll. Waldron, 44, will allow the Bears to build off their foundation with personnel while enhancing the scheme that was already in place.
Waldron is an innovative offensive mind who developed under the watch of Sean McVay and is part of the ever-fruitful Shanahan tree.
“He is a great teacher and communicator with a diverse coaching background among some of the game’s most elite head coaches,” Eberflus said.
Once Waldron was hired, he had an influence in hiring out the Bears’ offensive coaching staff. The next most important hire to make was at quarterbacks coach, selecting the man who will either oversee the development of prized rookie Caleb Williams (USC) or pressing Justin Fields for continued growth in his fourth NFL season.
The Bears officially hired Kerry Joseph as their new quarterbacks coach last Friday. He had previously worked as the Seahawks’ assistant quarterbacks coach alongside Waldron and respected quarterbacks coach Greg Olson, helping Geno Smith revitalize his career over the last two seasons.
Joseph was a former NFL safety who converted to quarterback in the Canadian Football League, winning the Grey Cup and Most Outstanding Player honors before entering the coaching ranks.
The Bears are expected to fill out the rest of their offensive coaching staff with Chris Beatty (wide receivers coach), Chad Morton (running backs coach) and Jason Houghtaling (assistant offensive line coach), sources have said. Beatty spent the last three years as the Chargers’ wide receivers coach and coached DJ Moore for two seasons at Maryland. Morton is a former NFL running back who spent seven years as the Seahawks’ running backs coach, including two years working with Waldron. Houghtaling was the Titans’ offensive line coach last season and has five years of head-coaching experience at Wagner. The team has not officially completed those hires.
The Bears also had a vacancy to fill at defensive coordinator ever since the abrupt resignation of Alan Williams in September. Eberflus had served as the de facto defensive coordinator but went into this hiring cycle seeking the right complement.
That man was Eric Washington, a well-respected coach who previously worked as the Bills’ assistant head coach and defensive line coach. He worked two seasons as the Panthers’ defensive coordinator alongside Ron Rivera and brings a strong foundation of developing talent from his career.
Washington, 54, is considered an excellent fit to work with Eberflus, who will continue forward calling the defense.
“He is a great communicator with elite leadership skills and he will enhance our current defensive staff,” Eberflus said. “His track record speaks for itself with coordinator experience as well as expertise in the area of defensive line.”
Eberflus was able to hire a strong group of coordinators and coaches despite the uncertainty of his own future leading the Bears. After going 10-24 over his first two seasons, Eberflus was carefully evaluated by president Kevin Warren and general manager Ryan Poles at the start of this offseason. Their belief was that the Bears are moving in the right direction with Eberflus, who will be asked to lead a contender this season.
The Bears elected not to give Eberflus a contract extension at the start of this offseason, which would’ve been a resource to attract the right coaches to his staff. But it wasn’t needed given how these coaches hired on seem to also believe in the direction of this team.
The Bears have a budding roster potentially poised to break through this season. Eberflus was able to identify the right teachers to help this team forward.
On the road
The Bears have boasted on-field representation at both the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Bowl, which have taken place this week.
The new quarterbacks coach Joseph, tight ends coach Jim Dray and assistant defensive line coach Justin Hinds have served as coaches for the Senior Bowl this week in Mobile, Alabama. That means a first-hand account working with some of the top prospects in the NFL Draft.
Last year, the Bears selected five players whom they scouted at the Senior Bowl – Darnell Wright, Tyrique Stevenson, Zacch Pickens, Roschon Johnson and Tyson Bagent (undrafted free agent). Luke Getsy, then Chicago’s offensive coordinator, served as a head coach last year at the Senior Bowl.
The Bears also have special teams coordinator Richard Hightower serving as head coach of the East Team in the East-West Shrine Bowl, which will be played Thursday night in Frisco, Texas. Linebackers coach Dave Borgonzi was brought on as Hightower’s defensive coordinator for the game.
Poles and members of the team’s coaching and scouting staffs have been present for both the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Bowl.
Cunningham set to stay
Bears assistant general manager Ian Cunningham is considered a highly touted executive in the NFL, but his opportunity as a general manager won’t come this year.
Cunningham was a finalist for the Commanders’ and Chargers’ general manager positions. Both teams went a different route, as the Commanders hired Adam Peters (49ers) and the Chargers went with Joe Hortiz (Ravens).
Cunningham has been careful about finding the right fit for his future. He declined the Cardinals’ offer as general manager last year and is believed to have turned down interest from other organizations. Bears co-director of player personnel Jeff King was also interviewed for the Chargers’ general manager role.
In leading the Bears’ front office, Poles hopes to develop members of his front office to become general managers.
“I want to produce as many GMs in this league as possible,” Poles said. “I think that’s a big thing. So, I’m proud of them, but at the same time those are big shoes to fill in terms of helping run the front office and get things done in evaluating players. That’s why development is so important to me in terms of our scouting assistants up to our area scouts — make sure they’re developed so everyone can keep taking that step up.”
Pro Bowl players
The Bears will have two of their own representatives this weekend at the Pro Bowl Games in Orlando.
Jaylon Johnson and Montez Sweat were each selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time in their respective careers, and will be present this weekend as festivities get underway. The games now consist of a skills competition and flag football for the second straight year as part of a revised format.
Johnson enjoyed a breakout season in 2024, hauling in a career-best 4 interceptions. He was ranked the top cornerback in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus grading. Sweat, whom the Bears acquired in a trade deadline deal with the Commanders, led both Washington (6.5) and Chicago (6.0) in sacks this season.