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PALM BEACH, Fla. — Matt Eberflus and Lovie Smith first got to know each other when both were coaching in the state of Missouri.
Smith was the St. Louis Rams’ defensive coordinator. Eberflus held the same title at the University of Missouri.
“That was the first time we started collaborating a little bit with what we believe in defensively,” Smith told CHGO Monday at the NFL Annual Meeting. “When I went to the Bears as a head coach, I know he came up there and visited. So our relationship kind of started back then.”
Years later, Eberflus is now the head coach of the Bears, and Smith is the head coach of the Houston Texans. And, as more and more NFL teams migrate to 3-4 systems made popular by Vic Fangio and Brandon Staley, Eberflus and Smith are sticking to the 4-3 they believe in.
“There’s no doubt it still works. I know that it still works. And I’m not the only guy out there who feels that way,” Smith said. “Matt and I, we’ve talked football for long periods of time. I know his general belief on how defensive football should be played. I think it’s a good move for the McCaskey family, for the Bears, to get a guy like that leading the program.”
Today, most NFL defenses are somewhat interchangeable because of the need to have defensive backs on the field the majority of the time. But the crux of what Smith and Eberflus believe in (which still carries old-school Tampa 2 principles) comes down to hustle, rallying to the football and taking it away. Eberflus took what he learned from Smith and longtime NFL coach Rod Marinelli and developed the H.I.T.S. principle. Both coaches use “loafs” to downgrade players who are caught not hustling.
“We don’t change what we believe from year to year. Absolutely. I think playing hard from snap-to-snap is a foundational piece that we believe in,” Smith said.
Eberflus’ challenge will be to get his players to buy in. As he explained to CHGO at the NFL Combine earlier this month, he has a plan for that, and he acknowledges the H.I.T.S. principle won’t be for everyone. His Colts defense ranked No. 8 in Defensive DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. Smith, meanwhile, jumped back into the NFL last year as the Texans’ defensive coordinator and Houston made a modest jump from No. 30 to No. 23 without an impressive roster. Smith maintains that today’s NFL players still respond well to being pushed.
“You and I fighting, one-on-one, you may be able to take me down, I don’t know if you could, but still, that’s debatable,” Smith said, acknowledging that this reporter didn’t stand a chance. “But I bring 10 of my other buddies with me, I got a lot better chance. That’s all it’s about — pursuing to the football. Get as many of your guys as possible. The object and the goal is to take the ball away. One guy takes it away, you need others there. So it’s just common sense that you want guys there, as many as possible, each snap. You never know when that one play is going to make the difference in the game.”
Andy Reid loves Pringle(s)
Wide receiver Byron Pringle didn’t strike gold as a free agent, signing a one-year deal with the Bears with $3.9 million guaranteed, but his former head coach in Kansas City didn’t exactly sound excited about losing him.
“He was phenomenal. Hard worker. Great human being. I can’t say enough good things about Byron. He has speed and quickness. He can catch. He’s one of my favorite guys,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said on Monday.
Pringle, 28, was signed by the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2018 but injuries and a lack of opportunity on a crowded offense limited him to just 50 catches, 710 receiving yards and six touchdowns in four seasons. Pringle signed with the Bears before the Chiefs traded Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins, and Kansas City ended up signing JuJu Smith-Shuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling instead. Still, there’s some optimism about Pringle with greater opportunity in Chicago, especially considering 42 of his career receptions and five touchdowns came during the 2021 season.
“One of my goals was to get him a potato chip contract and he got one.” Reid said. “He was doing something right.”
Yes, after a good start to the 2021 season, Pringle managed to land a sponsorship deal with Pringles in September.
No hesitation to bring Nagy back
Despite Matt Nagy’s offense never taking off in Chicago, Reid didn’t think twice about bringing the former Bears head coach back to Kansas City.
“I wasn’t sure he would want to do it. So it wasn’t my side of it, it was his side,” Reid said. “He still had another year on his contract so he could have looked at a couple jobs and then sat out, or wait for a head coaching possibility. But that’s not the route that he wanted to do. He wanted to come back. I mean, I threw it out there and he wanted to come back.”
Nagy, who was Reid’s offensive coordinator before he took the Bears job in 2018, was given the official title of senior assistant/quarterbacks coach in his return to Kansas City. The move reunites him with Patrick Mahomes, who developed under Nagy’s close watch in 2017 when Alex Smith was still the Chiefs’ starter.
“I have a friendship with (Nagy), but if I thought he was a bad coach I wouldn’t have brought him back,” Reid said. “I think he’s a good football coach and I think he’ll be great with Patrick. Those two have a good relationship. They had a good relationship before he left and they have a good relationship now.”
Just so we could sneak another former Bears head coach into this column, the Indianapolis Colts announced Monday that John Fox is joining the team as a senior defensive assistant.
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