Column: As Shane Waldron gets started as Chicago Bears offensive coordinator, finding his ideal fit is the top priority

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Maybe it’s best to start here, late in the fourth quarter of Week 15 with the Seattle Seahawks trailing 17-13 and pinned inside their 10-yard line. The two-minute warning had just passed, right after the Philadelphia Eagles downed a punt at the Seahawks 8.

After kicking a field goal two possessions earlier, the Seahawks had life but faced a pressure-packed challenge against a quality opponent in the late stages of a “gotta have it” game. On the sideline at Lumen Field, offensive coordinator Shane Waldron grabbed quarterback Drew Lock — an emergency starter that night due to Geno Smith’s groin injury — and went to work.

It was showtime in Seattle for a 6-7, playoff-contending team in need of a big moment on the “Monday Night Football” stage.

The ensuing drive began with an incompletion — a Lock bullet over the middle that ricocheted off tight end Noah Fant’s hands and almost was intercepted. Over the next nine snaps, there were a few other near-disasters too. But the series also included five Lock completions, including a third-and-10 shot play up the right sideline to DK Metcalf for 34 yards.

Then, in the moment of truth, facing another third-and-long from the Eagles 29, Lock identified rookie Jaxon Smith-Njigba in single coverage, had the ideal play call from Waldron and dropped a game-winning bomb into the end zone with 28 seconds remaining.

Seahawks 20, Eagles 17.

That was a relatively small moment folded into a disappointing season for the Seahawks. But for all involved, it was a game-on-the-line triumph and represented the kind of resilient, poised and fearless football Waldron wants his unit to play.

Six days later, with Smith back at quarterback, Waldron put his fingerprints on another game-winning touchdown drive that ended in the final minute, this time a grinding, 14-play, 75-yard march that finished with Smith’s 5-yard pass to Colby Parkinson in a 20-17 road win over the Tennessee Titans.

That marked the second time in NFL history — and the first since 1999 — a team had two quarterbacks throw game-winning touchdown passes in the final minute of regulation in consecutive weeks. And it provided added evidence of Waldron’s ability to adapt and set up his players for success in the critical stages of games.

The Chicago Bears hope to lean into those skills and many more with Waldron as their new offensive coordinator. That union became official Tuesday. Waldron, 44, will begin the next leg of his football journey at a potentially landmark time in Bears history.

He will be the offensive visionary tasked with fueling the team’s championship pursuit while bringing out the best in whichever quarterback(s) the Bears choose to lead them into 2024 and beyond.

Waldron also will walk into an offensive coordinator’s office at Halas Hall where — with the exception of Adam Gase — the inhabitants almost always leave through a trap door rather than on an up escalator.

The pursuit of consistency

Within league circles, Waldron is regarded as an up-and-coming offensive architect, an intelligent and creative coach with strong teaching skills. His work with Smith in Seattle in 2022 is particularly notable as the once-forgotten quarterback enjoyed a career year (4,282 passing yards, 30 TDs) on the way to earning Pro Bowl honors and the league’s Comeback Player of the Year award.

Waldron has worked under some of the sport’s coaching greats — Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots (2008-09), Sean McVay with the Los Angeles Rams (2017-20) and Pete Carroll for the last three seasons in Seattle.

He was the Rams passing game coordinator for three seasons and Jared Goff’s quarterbacks coach in 2019. He spent one season with Russell Wilson in Seattle before preparing Smith to be a productive starter for a playoff team in 2022.

When it comes time for the Bears to formally introduce Waldron, he likely will detail three key tenets within his offensive philosophy. Ball security is a must. Fundamentals require a daily investment to stay sharp. Buy-in from the entire group will be the blowtorch that ignites everything.

Waldron likely will talk often about being committed to the pursuit of consistency. He strives for balance in his offense, wanting to establish a strong running game while embracing an attacking mentality when explosive-play opportunities present themselves.

And as was the case in those two late comeback victories last month, Waldron surely wants the identity of his offense to include composure, determination and high-level mental toughness.

As a play caller, he will have to connect on a heightened level with his quarterback, striving to consistently bring out the best in whomever that turns out to be.

The presumption is, at the very least, he will be afforded input as his new bosses at Halas Hall work to solve that riddle in the coming weeks and months. That work will include both pre-draft homework and in-house discussions on the developmental progress of Justin Fields.

Fit process

Like with any coaching hire, it’s easy to gravitate first to feelings of hope, to the optimistic visions of the significant improvements that can catalyze a meaningful breakthrough. Waldron’s experience calling plays was a definite plus for the Bears. For general manager Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus, that removes a chunk of the guesswork that comes with trying to forecast how he might handle those duties in Chicago and what kind of productivity they can expect.

Still, Eberflus and Poles are less than two years removed from hiring their last offensive coordinator — the January 2022 union with Luke Getsy that triggered significant excitement at Halas Hall.

Like Waldron, Getsy was hailed as a rising, young offensive coach with high intelligence, proven teaching skills and impressive creativity. He had been with the Green Bay Packers for six of the previous seven seasons, including three working under Matt LaFleur in a Kyle Shanahan/McVay-style offense. Getsy was endorsed by those who knew him best — players and coaches — as a strong communicator, steadying leader and sincere, relatable team builder.

He had been Aaron Rodgers’ quarterbacks coach for MVP seasons in 2020 and 2021 and, while serving as Mike McCarthy’s receivers coach in 2016 and 2017, had been credited by Davante Adams as influential in his breakthrough.

“He’s been on my radar for a while,” Eberflus said after hiring Getsy, later emphasizing his attraction to the timing-based, quick-decision passing attack Getsy was likely to bring.

For the next two seasons, Getsy was regarded as an imaginative football mind with strong collaborative skills and a comprehensive understanding of all the moving parts within an offense. But the Bears, under his guidance, also had significant inconsistency issues, and the desired breakthrough for Fields never reached the level the team hoped.

All the positive traits the Bears identified in Getsy didn’t mean enough when his offense too frequently found itself sputtering.

Fields worked his hardest to master a system that was not ideal for him. Getsy’s troubleshooting efforts sometimes steered Fields away from concepts and plays he was most comfortable with.

It became a frustrating square dance. The quarterback was frequently adjusting to the play caller. The play caller was adjusting to the quarterback. The offense, in turn, was adjusting, readjusting, then adjusting yet again for large chunks of two seasons, impeding the opportunity to build momentum or expand, particularly in the passing game.

It was a fit issue. A significant one. And it’s a lesson Eberflus and Poles must learn as they try to set up Waldron for success.

Waldron’s experience and adaptive qualities should help. But with the Bears potentially at a pivot point at quarterback, striving to marry the offensive vision with the personnel must remain a priority as well.

For whatever it’s worth, Waldron’s Seahawks ranked behind the Bears this season in total offense, first downs, touchdowns, third-down conversion percentage and red-zone efficiency. They also had a bottom-five rushing attack.

Waldron must find ways to make his next offense much more potent. Whatever it takes. He must have solutions and ideas for maximizing his quarterback’s gifts while also playing to the strengths of the supporting cast.

And when the pressure rises? When the Bears reach those critical stages of close games? Waldron will be expected to consistently be at his best, bringing out the best in every player in his offense.

The Bears, naturally, are hopeful for what’s ahead. Ultimately, the results Waldron produces and his ability to help the team’s quarterback(s) shine will define his time in Chicago.


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