Aaron Rodgers says Luke Getsy’s next stop is ‘probably head coach.’ But first Getsy must unlock Justin Fields’ potential and revive the Chicago Bears offense.
When the Chicago Bears left the field at halftime of Sunday’s season opener against the San Francisco 49ers down 7-0, the offensive coaches and players didn’t have a lot of positive stats to discuss on the rainy day.
The Bears didn’t reach 49ers territory until there were 2 minutes, 17 seconds left in the second quarter and even on that drive failed to get points because of an odd towel penalty on a field-goal attempt. Bears quarterback Justin Fields had completed 3 of 9 passes for 19 yards with an interception and a 2.8 passer rating. The Bears had 68 net offensive yards, and no wide receiver or tight end had a catch.
Yet as the Bears regrouped in the locker room for what would become a 19-point second half in a comeback win, Fields saw body language from offensive coordinator Luke Getsy that “brought everybody (to) their feet.”
Getsy was smiling.
“It’s confident,” Fields said Wednesday. “That’s one thing that I take from him, he’s a very confident guy. He gives the rest of the guys confidence. I didn’t ask him why (he was smiling). That’s just how he is.”
As Getsy prepares this week to return to Green Bay, where he spent seven seasons coaching for the Packers, the first-time NFL offensive coordinator still has a long way to go to have Chicagoans smiling on a consistent basis.
There has been a lot of false hope over the last decade about the Bears offense, which finished 22nd or worse in the league in scoring in seven of those seasons.
Enter Getsy, who spent his previous three seasons as the quarterbacks coach for Aaron Rodgers, the player whose brilliance on the field has deepened the wound of the Bears’ ineptitude at the position. Again there’s hope, though maybe more tentative and fragile this time, that Getsy, the offensive leader hired by defensive-minded head coach Matt Eberflus, can help unlock a different style of brilliance from Fields.
Getsy is operating with confidence as he tries.
When asked Thursday about his halftime demeanor, Getsy returned a compliment to Fields, saying the quarterback’s “stone cold” mentality helped get the Bears through their struggles. It’s an attitude Getsy tries to model for his players.
“I try to be as consistent of a person every day for those guys,” Getsy said. “Positive energy is important to me.”
Getsy’s conviction comes from a coaching climb in which he has solidified his belief in who he is, how he wants to teach and what he values in an offense.
A ‘pretty strong dream’
Bears fans’ fear, premature but potentially valid, already has been expressed on sports radio and social media.
If Getsy actually succeeds in reviving the Bears offense, he could go the way of so many young, gifted offensive coaches before him — to a head coaching job. And with forgiveness for being asked about the topic before he even started his first game as Bears offensive coordinator, Getsy agreed that is his ultimate goal.
“I think so, yeah,” he told the Tribune last week.
Getsy, 38, thinks at one point in his career he might have said he didn’t want to be a head coach. He was turned off by his experience as a player at the NFL combine, when “they try to turn you into a recording” and subsequently feeling like he needed to conform to some predetermined mold in coaching interviews.
But working under guys who brought their own personalities to their jobs helped convince him he would like it. That started with former Packers coach Mike McCarthy and continued with Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State, Matt LaFleur with the Packers and now Eberflus.
“I watched (McCarthy) and I got to see a guy be humble, a guy get to be himself and not have to put on some show or be a fake person,” Getsy said. “(Watching all of them) proves you can be yourself and you can attack it the way you want to and still have success and people will rally around you. So it’s becoming a pretty strong dream of mine now.”
Coaching wasn’t necessarily the dream when Getsy was a quarterback at Akron, where he threw for 6,117 yards and 41 touchdowns over two seasons.
He signed with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent in 2007, but they released him before the season, and he went back to Akron to train between tryouts with other teams. Zips coaches asked him to help, noted his aptitude for coaching and suggested he try it full time.
Getsy had to discard the idea of playing in other professional leagues as he began a coaching career that took him to five colleges in seven years, but the NFL dream was still alive.
“Even though maybe I didn’t have the ability to play in the league, I wanted to be a part of it,” Getsy said. “How it happened, it happened organically. I wasn’t necessarily chasing it, but when it was there, I was prepared to jump on it.”
After joining the Packers as an offensive quality control coach in 2014, he was promoted to wide receivers coach in 2016 and worked with Davante Adams during Adams’ rise to becoming one of the best receivers in the league. Former Packers offensive coordinator and current Denver Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said at the NFL owners meetings in the spring that Adams and Getsy learned from each other and that “Luke’s fingerprints are on that — 100%.”
Hackett noted Getsy’s ability to connect with people has helped him on his rise. And part of that ability comes from how Getsy strives to be his authentic, passionate self.
“Later in my career, I just got to the point where I’m going to talk about what I believe in, I’m going to talk about the kind of person I want to be. What I believe in — my faith and my family — are important to me,” Getsy said. “And I’m not going to change my thoughts or my philosophies or my beliefs for somebody else to have a job or be in a position. That’s where you hear the authentic part of it. I truly believe in being myself and … I want to be an example for my children. And I would expect my children could be in that room and enjoy the experience the same.”
When Getsy returned to Green Bay to be quarterbacks coach after a one-year stint at Mississippi State to work for Moorhead, the first season under LaFleur in 2019 wasn’t entirely smooth.
The new staff encountered bumps as they tried to merge Rodgers’ background with LaFleur’s vision of the offense.
“You had a guy who had been in a system for a really long time, and he became really strong in his beliefs and the way he wanted to play the game,” Getsy said. “And now here comes a new staff, new philosophies, new style and asking him to conform to that. Initially it just didn’t work.”
But as Getsy began to understand what LaFleur wanted and how Rodgers learned from past experiences, he tried to adjust his teaching.
“I was able to apply it a little bit more to the way I know Aaron likes to hear it, how he can reflect on what he’s done in his past and how really it’s not that (different),” Getsy said. “It’s like, ‘Hey, I know we called it this, but really we’re just trying to accomplish the same thing. We’re just calling it that.’ And then you give video evidence and then you talk about the footwork and how it matches and marries, and now there’s a connection. Once you have a connection to a play, you’re able to perform it at a much higher level. Each player is a little different in how they connect to that play.”
Hackett said Getsy was an “incredible communicator” during that process, and his understanding of the game was instrumental. With the help of LaFleur, Hackett and Getsy, who was named passing game coordinator for his final two seasons, Rodgers put together back-to-back MVP seasons in 2020 and 2021.
On Wednesday, Rodgers told reporters in Green Bay that Getsy, who is a few months younger than Rodgers, was a close friend and confidante, though the two are in “different stages of life.”
“He’s just a great human being, a great father, husband, phenomenal coach. He’s fun in the room,” Rodgers said. “I loved our constant dialogue during the week. I loved being coached by him and just kind of watching his development. … The next stop for him is probably head coach.”
Getsy has developed a tailored approach to working with players — from different motivating techniques to how he presents information — stemming from his experiences of how he connected with different coaches.
Getsy was never a guy who could read a book and then ace a test. He understands players absorb information in different ways, so he strives for a variety of presentations — film, slide shows, power points and demonstrations on the field and in various classroom settings around Halas Hall.
He records himself speaking and will make it available to players, so those who learn best by listening can watch it on their iPads. Coaches have used the multiple-choice quiz app Kahoot! to see who knows their homework. Getsy will call on people to teach or throw out snacks to those who get questions right.
“Now there are so many different ways technologically that people connect to each other,” Getsy said. “Why don’t we tap into those?”
Getsy also tries to keep it light. Early in his first stint with the Packers, he was struck by the idea that a team could simultaneously have fun and be demanding of focus at the same time. He doesn’t necessarily use the Star Wars references superfan Hackett incorporates in his teaching, but he adds his own twist.
“We might have a video, a GIF, a picture, but it’s always something,” running back Khalil Herbert said. “He’s going to have something on the slide and have a story with it to get the guys going and just make everybody laugh or be entertained.”
Offensive lineman Lucas Patrick, who at one point in the offseason called his confidence in Getsy “unshakable,” said the coach is good at knowing which players need tough love. That includes Fields, who has informed Getsy he wants him to “get on my ass.” And Getsy knows which ones need a softer approach too.
“Some guys need the pat on the butt and then some guys need you to pick him up on your shoulder and pull him along,” Patrick said. “He’s just really good at doing both.”
There’s no more important player for Getsy to connect with in Chicago than Fields.
Setting the standard
Getsy’s debut as an NFL playcaller comes with some scrutiny, and Fields’ smiling story might be met with a healthy dose of skepticism from the outside given the troubles the offense encountered moving the ball early on.
But what matters from that moment is how it affected Fields. And the quarterback so far has seemed satisfied with how his relationship with Getsy has developed. He called Getsy the best quarterbacks coach he has had, and that starts with Getsy’s ability to be straightforward. It also includes his understanding of the position from his time playing quarterback and coaching Rodgers.
“He’s not going to sugarcoat anything,” Fields told the Tribune. “He has a standard for us. And we’re going to have to meet that standard. Two, he’s the OC, but just his quarterback background with the feet. He has been around Aaron for a long time. So feet, timing, everything, he knows what it’s supposed to look like.”
Backup quarterback Trevor Siemian agreed Getsy is very clear about his expectations and standards but said the coach also allows some give and take with players about what they feel is best.
A criticism of Matt Nagy was that the coach was so married to his idea of what an offense should be that he didn’t take into account what worked best for his players. But Getsy has said from February that the Bears’ offensive identity would in large part be driven by what his players, and in particular his quarterback, do best. The Bears have shown glimpses of that so far with Fields, though a full game in better weather conditions could help give a better picture of the offense.
“It’s an interesting question for coaches, one I wonder too, is what’s the balance of input from players, and then falling back on the things you believe in and the principles you believe in,” Siemian said. “There is a balance there, and Luke does as a good job of anybody I’ve been around of striking that balance and getting feedback from players but also (maintaining) the standard, the expectations and the things he really believes in.”
In a season paramount to Fields’ development but with low outside expectations, it will be worth watching how Getsy maintains those standards when things get tough.
Getsy’s experience in Green Bay gave him exposure to how a winning team operates. The Packers were 78-35 with six playoff appearances in Getsy’s seven seasons there. But the Bears’ challenges this year will be a different animal than the bumps the Packers had with Rodgers in 2019.
Getsy’s halftime attitude in Sunday’s win and the adjustments that followed it — which Eberflus called “outstanding” but Getsy labeled as nothing “earth-shattering” — were at least a good start to how he handles adversity. He thought Bears coaches came up with a good plan together and stuck to it well.
“I’m a ‘feel’ guy. I’m an instinct person,” Getsy said. “That’s just how I’ve always been in my life. You get in the game, you’ve got some instincts and I trusted them. I’m glad I trusted them. Most of the time it worked. Sometimes it didn’t too. I want to stay true to who I am.”
It comes back to the confidence, something Bears running backs coach David Walker said flows from Getsy to the offensive unit.
“He’s a very aggressive guy and he’s very convicted in what he believes about what offensive football should look like,” Walker said. “When the ball is snapped, the offensive line dominating the line of scrimmage, everybody being physical, everybody blocks. There is no, ‘OK, this guy won’t block.’ Everybody blocks. And then the timing in which things need to happen with the quarterback and the rhythm of his feet and his throws.
“He’s very convicted in those things, and it shows in his teachings. It shows with his attitude and energy. And I think it’s going to show on Sunday afternoons for us.”