While Mike Vrabel, the former Patriots linebacker was interviewed as a potential head coaching candidate, the Colts will be hiring a different former linebacker as their defensive coordinator according to reports.
Matt Eberflus (pronounced ee-burr-floos) played the linebacker position in college at the University of Toledo and received All-Conference honors for his contribution there. When he finished his playing time, he stayed with his alma mater, first as a student assistant, then as a graduate assistant. In 1994 he took a full-time role as the recruiting coordinator/outside linebackers coach and two years later transitioned into solely focusing on the outside linebackers. He moved to the defensive backs for two years before moving on to the University of Missouri. Toledo had a record of 56-22-2 during Eberflus’ time with the team.
At Missouri, Eberflus was the team’s defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach from 2001-2006 before Missouri made him the assistant head coach/defensive coordinator/safeties coach. During his final two seasons at Missouri, the team won two division titles and held a 22-6 record. It was then that Eberflus made his transition to the NFL.
While his background at Toledo may have been a humble beginning, Eberflus soon began amassing time learning and working under a who’s who of defensive coaches. The Browns’ head coach at the time, Eric Mangini, hired him as the linebackers coach under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. His first year was tough, they lost both starting inside linebackers due to injury mid-season. In his second year, the linebacker group had four starters finish in the top ten in the league in tackles, and Football Outsiders ranked the defense as moving from 30th in the league to 22nd in total team defense. At the end of that second season, as is customary with the Browns, the whole coaching staff was fired.
Eberflus followed Rob Ryan to Dallas and took over the same role with their linebacker group in Jason Garrett’s first year as head coach. In his second year, both Anthony Spencer and Demarcus Ware went to the Pro Bowl after they both secured double-digit sack seasons. After Rob Ryan was fired in 2013, Monte Kiffin was brought in as the defensive coordinator, with Rod Marinelli working under him. Both men spent time working with Tony Dungy and brought with them a transition to a 4-3 base scheme. Despite this, Eberflus was viewed as a valuable contributor and was kept on staff during that transition.
He is considered instrumental in the development of Sean Lee, the centerpiece of the Cowboy’s defense, as well as Anthony Hitchens. In 2016 he added the position title of passing game coordinator to his linebacker coach title. The title has been a point of some confusion. What it means is pretty simple. Eberflus got more influence in the planning and execution of both the linebackers and secondary in passing situations.
According to Blogging the Boys, the hope among many Cowboys fans was that Eberflus would be the guy whose name would be called when Rod Marinelli chose to retire. However, with Eberflus leaving an offer on the table for an extension before this season, it seems he bet on himself and will reap the rewards.
Colts fans should be excited about the unique experience that Eberflus will bring to the job. Despite not necessarily being the flashiest name on the docket for a coordinator position, Eberflus has worked with several well regarded defensive coaches and has coached effective linebacker units in both the 3-4 and 4-3 systems, as well as being present for the transition between the two. This gives him a ton of perspective on what works and doesn’t, as well as the ways to best utilize the personnel the Colts have to maximize their talents.
His time spent over the past two seasons helping to coordinate the pass defense elements of the defensive game is a great half-step toward a defensive coordinator position, which means that his learning curve for the elements of the job that are unique to the defensive coordinator should be lessened.
With the linebacker group as possibly the weakest link on the team as a whole, and certainly on the defense, bringing in a guy who has spent his entire football career, both as a player and as a coach, working with linebackers makes sense.
What type of system will he bring? That is difficult to say. Chris Shepherd speculated several weeks ago about what kind of vision Chris Ballard might have for the defense going forward. What we do know, is that this is a guy who has worked with a variety of good defensive minds and in multiple kinds of schemes. That means that he could lean toward one type of base set or another while leaving room to have the significant flexibility that is so important in today’s NFL.
It will be exciting to hear exactly what kind of system and philosophy the Eberflus brings to the Colts, but for that, we will have to wait until the move is official.