Questions surrounded Matt Eberflus both times he was hired as a defense coordinator, and at every stop, he more than complied with requests.
Now the Chicago Bears are looking to find out if Eberfluss is the right fit for their next head coach.
The Indianapolis Colts defense coordinator gave a second interview to the team on Wednesday. The Bears are likely to make a significant contribution to hiring new general manager Ryan Poles, but the selection committee is clearly impressed with Eberflux.
“Everyone who’s been around Flux knows it’s a matter of time for him to become a head coach,” said former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Shawn Lee, who played for Aberflux from 2011 to 2017.
Some wondered if Eberfluss was ready to become coordinator in 2001, when Gary Pinkel was hired in Missouri and brought most of his staff with him from Toledo. Defensive coordinator Tom Amstutz replaced Pinkel as head coach of the Rockets, leaving Pinkel to sort through his options.
He kept going back to Eberflux, who was a linebacker at Toledo and became a two-time All-MAC selection and captain as a senior. He was a student assistant coach with Pinkel in 1992 before being promoted to coach.
The problem in Missouri was that Eberflux was 29 and the youngest Division I coordinator at the time. Athletic director Mike Alden wanted to make sure Pinkel was confident.
“A lot of people have guessed it, and it happens all the time in our business,” Pinkel said. “Matt has This. It’s like quarterbacks. They may be the best in the world to throw the ball and do all those other things, but do they have it? This factor? This is what Matt had.
“I said, ‘Mike, he’s going to be a young guy and we’re probably going to get some criticism for that, but he’ll do great.’ I’m not at all surprised that he continues to grow and become a great coach. I think he will be an exceptional head coach.”
The program grew slowly and Missouri finished first in an Associated Press poll for the 2007 season and won the Big 12 North Division title two years in a row before Eberfluss left to become the Cleveland Browns linebacker coach in 2009.
He worked for the Browns in 2010 when he went to State College, Pennsylvania for a UC pro day and met Lee the night before.
“A lot of trainers showed you set-ups for three minutes, then you talked for 30 minutes and they were like, ‘Hey, remember those set-ups?’,” Lee said. “It’s unrealistic for the way someone learns. Flux came in and said: “I will teach you football for 40 minutes, we will talk about it, and then you will pass the test.” I thought it was really effective.”
Lee scored 39 out of 40 on the exam. The Cowboys selected him in the second round, and the following year hired Eberflux to coach defensive linebackers 3–4 under Rob Ryan.
Ryan left after the 2012 season and the Cowboys hired Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator, installing the Tampa 2 system. Eberflux remained a natural as he learned the circuit by visiting Lovie Smith when Smith was the St. Louis Rams’ defensive coordinator.
“When we made the transition together and set up defense, he was in it all,” said Las Vegas Raiders defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, who held the same title in Dallas at the time. “It just jumps out of you. He’s smart, quick-witted and very good at communicating, and he did a hell of a job at Indy.”
Lee credited Eberflux for helping players learn defense quickly.
“That’s what makes it so special,” Lee said. “Whatever the scheme, he knows it and can teach it. He can teach the pattern, he can teach the technique and the basics, and besides that, he can motivate. The best coaches can do all three.”
On Wednesdays in Dallas, Eberflus hosted a breakfast club for players who weren’t at the Special Teams meeting. He would offer a head start in the week.
“I would go into the room and he would lay out the whole game plan,” Lee said. “You would come in and we would have an hour to discuss that this team is doing well in the running game and passing game and how we are going to fight it. It was paired with the scheme. Then we talked about practice. What fundamental principles are we going to work on that will play a role in this game? The level of detail was extremely high.
“This is where I learned a lot from Flus. The opportunity to sit and learn from him was enormous.”
Injuries plagued Lee, a two-time Pro Bowl competitor, and he missed the 2014 season with an ACL tear. Even during long periods on the reserve with injuries, when players can be tested, Lee felt like he was growing.
“He helped me get through a lot of hard times,” Lee said of Eberflus. “I have dealt with a lot of trauma and it was years where I missed huge periods of time or a couple of weeks and his ability to continue to teach me, support me through those difficult times and be able to come back after that, he was a huge reason why I was able to come back and sometimes come back better because of how much he taught me.
“There is no doubt that he can reach every corner of the dressing room. As a player, you need someone who will give you answers, will motivate you every single day, and he is. He will give you the answers to keep you better and he will stick to the standards. He will be ruthless about how hard you are going to work. Most footballers relate to it.”
Questions about Eberflux’s suitability as coordinator arose again in 2018. The Colts had an agreement to hire Josh McDaniels as head coach, and while they waited for his postseason duties with the New England Patriots to end, they began adding to the coaching staff. hiring Eberflux as defense coordinator with McDaniels’ approval.
The McDaniels then changed their minds about working for the Colts and they rushed to hire Frank Reich. Eberfluss had already joined the team, so it was a marriage of convenience with the new head coach.
This situation can be resolved quickly. The Colts, however, flourished. In 2017, the defense ranked 30th in the league in scoring. In four years under Eberflux, the Colts finished in the top 10 three times as the staff was completely revamped. In the 2020 season, four different Colts players were named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week.
Now, 51-year-old Eberflux will have a second chance to face the Bears after two interviews with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He is clearly on point. In 2019, the Browns interviewed Eberfluth for their head coach job, and last year he faced the Houston Texans, Los Angeles Chargers and New York Jets.
“When you look at the position of head coach, what is that role?” Marinelli said. “Matt can really teach, and more importantly, he can really teach his employees what he wants to. Each guy will have his own personality, but it will be one heartbeat like a staff, which is so important.
“When I was in Tampa, you could see it there with Lovie, Herm Edwards, Mike Tomlin, they all acted as coaches. Working under Tony Dungy, I had a good idea of what it looked like and Matt is in the same shape as him, just an amazing teacher and strong. I don’t have any doubts.”