Over the last four years, when Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich would chat with opposing coaches on the field on game days, he often would hear a similar refrain.
“Somebody is going to comment to me how hard our defense plays — how hard our team plays, but really how hard our defense plays — and how they run to the ball,” Reich said. “A lot of people talk about how they run to the ball and how we take the ball away. That says it more than anything. Just watch the tape. Look at the results.”
The defense Reich was talking about was run by his former Colts coordinator, Matt Eberflus, now the head coach of the Chicago Bears.
Reich spent nearly 20 minutes on a video conference call with Chicago media Tuesday singing the praises of Eberflus, with whom he had worked since 2018, noting “Bears fans are going to see what leadership looks like.”
On Monday, Eberflus laid out his coaching principles during his introductory news conference at Halas Hall. That included his HITS principle — which stands for hustle, intensity, takeaways and taking care of the ball and smart situational play.
“Let me just tell you, man, he eats, sleeps, drinks, bleeds that in every aspect,” Reich said. “So those are the standards.”
Reich said the proof that Eberflus can get players to buy in to such principles could be found in those conversations with other coaches who saw the way his team played. And it could be found in the results, which included a defense that ranked in the top 10 in takeaways for all four of Eberflus’ seasons and was No. 2 in 2021 with 33.
Reich and Eberflus were an arranged marriage of sorts with the Colts. Eberflus had signed on to be the Colts defensive coordinator when he thought Josh McDaniels was taking the head coaching job. When McDaniels backed out and the Colts brought in Reich, Eberflus stayed on board.
Reich said they had an instant connection because both are principle-centered, family-oriented, faith-based and process-oriented people.
He felt right away that Eberflus could be a head coach one day because of his vision, process and standard — and his ability to communicate those things. He wasn’t able to watch Eberflus’ full news conference Monday, but he guessed Eberflus found “the right economy of words” to describe his philosophies.
“He’s very thoughtful and deliberate in his communication,” Reich said. “There’s not going to be a lot of fluff. He’s not going to play games. He’s going to be direct. He’s going to stick to what he believes in. You’re not going to be able to find ways to manipulate him, or you’re not going to be able to fool him. Strong conviction, clear vision. Those are some of the things that stick out.”
Reich was especially complimentary when it came to Eberflus’ skills as a talent evaluator, saying he was “excellent, excellent, excellent” at evaluating all levels of the defense. Eberflus then was able to communicate with Colts general manager Chris Ballard so they could find the right players for their scheme.
Reich saw Eberflus take a methodical approach as he implemented his system when he first arrived in Indianapolis. But he also thought Eberflus showed an ability to adapt to his players’ strengths and to counter offenses as the years went by.
Now, however, Eberflus is in charge of running more than just the defense, and Reich has some tips.
Reich made the transition from Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator to Colts head coach in 2018, and he stressed the importance of Eberflus hiring the right coaches, training them in how he wants to operate and then trusting them to do their jobs. Reich also learned to be intentional about scheduling time and trying to connect with coaches and players from all three phases.
Reich, who runs the Colts offense with coordinator Marcus Brady, would schedule meetings with Eberflus to offer an offensive perspective on the defense, noting what a quarterback might be looking at or feeling against certain coverages and then suggesting tweaks.
In that way, Reich thinks Eberflus could be helpful as Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy gets his offense running. He also thinks Eberflus could connect with quarterback Justin Fields in a similar way.
“It can put the quarterback at ease to know: ‘My coach has my back. My coach understands. He’s going to grow with me. He’s going to teach me some little things along the way. This is going to be a process,’” Reich said. “You hear all the chatter about offensive coach, defensive coach — I think both work. I think it’s all about the leader personally and the teacher and the man and the vision and all those qualities.
“This is an opportunity for Flus to come alongside a young franchise quarterback to provide not only defensive expertise but really a leadership mentality.”