CHICAGO BEARS PRESIDENT TED PHILLIPS
Good morning, everyone. Let me start my saying a special hello to Ryan Pace’s wife Stephanie and his daughter Cardyn, who are here today. Front row. Welcome to the Bears family.
Today is a day to smile and look forward. When I think about building an organization for continued success it all comes down to bringing in the right people and I’m happy to say we have found the right man to lead us in our football operations. We researched many candidates and we brought four strong individuals to Halas Hall for interviews and Ryan Pace stood out to be the best.
Let me articulate a few reasons why: He has the intelligence, the passion, the integrity, high character and toughness to be a strong leader and to make an immediate and lasting impact. He has a clear vision and a plan to build a championship team. He was an integral part of a consistently winning organization in New Orleans and he learned the value of hard work, enjoying his job and the importance of being a team so that every employee not only bought into his vision but knows that their contribution to success matters. Ryan is an excellent talent evaluator.
He also knows not only the attributes of a successful head coach but he also knows the importance of a strong general manager/head coach relationship, which is critical to success in the NFL. He also accepts the immense responsibility and the opportunity to find the right head coach for the Bears. Ryan is going to oversee the entire football operation.
He is going to report directly to me, the head coach will report directly to Ryan.
There is a lot of work to be done here. The head coach search as you know is underway and less than an hour after Ryan signed his contract yesterday he was already leading the interview that we had with Todd Bowles. For future interviews, George McCaskey, Ernie Accorsi and I will be involved and with that I want to say it is an honor and a pleasure to introduce the sixth general manager in Chicago Bears history, Ryan Pace.
G.M. RYAN PACE
First off guys I would really l like to thank the McCaskey family, Ted Phillips and Ernie Accorsi for giving me the opportunity to be the general manager of this historic franchise. I’d like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Tom Benson, Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton for all the things they have done to get me to this point today.
Finally, my wife Stephanie, my daughter Cardyn who are with us here today. Anyone who has worked in our industry knows there is a lot of long hours, there is a lot of time away from home and I appreciate the sacrifices they have made throughout these years.
I am extremely excited for this opportunity. I embrace the challenge of being one of 32 general managers in the NFL. Our plan will start being put into place to get the Chicago Bears back to sustained success this city deserves. The first order of business is to hire the right head coach to lead us to championships. Right now, that is the most critical thing I am doing. I’m not going to get into specific candidates today but I can assure you I understand the importance of decision.
I witnessed this first-hand in New Orleans with Sean Payton and how that was the spark that got the New Orleans Saints headed in the right direction. Today is not a day to discuss individual players, but I want you to know that our roster will be thoroughly evaluated, that will be a critical first step in us making the right off-season plan and decisions. We'll be a team who looks at every single avenue in improving our roster. We'll be aggressive in our approach, but I understand the Bears, for the Bears to have sustained success, we must build through the draft.
The recipe to winning Super Bowls is stringing successful drafts together again and again. We are not just collecting athletes. We are acquiring football players that fit the Chicago Bears. There will be a major emphasis on character, toughness, instincts and intelligence. Guys, it's all about winning games and that's what I'm here to do. Every decision we make goes back to what's best for this organization. It's as simple as that. With that, I'm happy to answer any questions.
IN N.O. THE ROSTER WAS STRIPPED DOWN AND BUILT BACK UP. WHAT DID YOU LEARN?
When I think about my experiences in New Orleans, that's the thing I benefited from the most. We had a 3-13 season in 2005, Hurricane Katrina. We immediately rebounded to playing in the NFC championship the next year, so how did that process start. It started when Mickey Loomis hired Sean Payton, so hiring the right head coach. We developed an organizational philosophy right then and there on the players that we wanted to acquire and that, the whole building was on the same page. Everything was focused on winning games, everyone dropped their egos and the rest is history.
ARE LOOKING FOR COACH WHO RUNS A PARTICULAR OFFENSE OR DEFENSE?
That's a good question. I'm looking for ... it doesn't matter if it's an offensive or defensive coach, if it's 3-4 or 4-3, I'm looking for the best head coach that has the traits we're looking for, That's confidence, charisma, discipline, leadership, those types of things. The best man for the job. So whether it's a defensive coach, whether it's 3-4 coach, a 4-3 coach, offense, it's just the best man for the job.
ARE THE BEARS A QUICK FIX OR A REBUILD?
I've seen, think about New Orleans. IN 2005, we came into that season when Sean Got there in '06 and everyone thought, 'This is a massive rebuild. This team has been decimated.' And we quickly put together a team to go the NFC championship that very next year. But then if you think about the next two years, we were continuing to build, continuing to progress, so 2007 progressing, 2008 progressing, 2009 we won a Super Bowl. The most important thing is that we have an aggressive plan and we're improving.
ANY CHANGES UNDERNEATH YOU?
Those are all things I'm evaluating. To be fair I have to get to know the people in this building. There are good people in this building. There are good people on this roster. The first step for me is evaluating the roster, evaluating the staff here before I make those decisions.
YOU’RE STILL A YOUNG GUY; WHAT MAKES THIS THE RIGHT TIME FOR YOU; WHAT MAKES THE BEARS THE RIGHT SITUATION?
Like I said earlier, I was in a good situation in New Orleans. I worked with great people there in a good environment. I wasn’t one of those guys looking to jump to the next job. This was a very thorough and calculated decision by me and my family. And that’s because this is a historic franchise that desperately wants to win and they’re willing to do whatever it takes for that to happen. And I want to be leading that charge.
LOOKING AT THE BEARS FROM THE OUTSIDE, DO YOU HAVE A SENSE WHY THE TEAM IS WHERE IT IS?
Again, I’m still evaluating the roster. I really want to get down to the details. But again, it starts with hiring the right head coach. That’s the No. 1 … there’s a progressive plan in place. For me, my entire focus right now is the right head coach, evaluating the roster, offseason plan.
HAVE YOU SCHEDULED ANY INTERVIEWS SINCE YOU GOT THE JOB?Yes. The answer to that is yes.
DO YOU HAVE A SHORT LIST OF COACHING CANDIDATES OR OTHER PEOPLE YOU MIGHT WANT TO HIRE TO GET THE BEARS TO THE SUPER BOWL?
Yes. I have a list of coaches that all blend together with Ted, George and Ernie. So I have a list of coaches. Of course, there are staff members I’ve worked with that I value. But again, it’s fair and it’s right that I evaluate the current staff here.
HOW DID THE ADVERSITY OF KATRINA AND BOUNTY-GATE FORM THE WAY YOU DO THINGS?
I look back at those experiences — let’s talk about Katrina first. When we were displaced in San Antonio and we come back to New Orleans, I truly believe in adverse situations like that, you find out a lot about the people that are in the building and on the team. So going through that we knew that when we got back to New Orleans, who’s in and who’s out, quite honestly. Adverse conditions I think can be revealing in good and bad ways.
I think Bounty … I was the interim general manager for eight weeks. That’s invaluable in my experience. In regards to making decisions, dealing with a head coach, all the ups and downs that happened during the season, that was a great experience for me. I took that as a positive.
HOW DO YOU BUILD UNITY AMONGST PLAYERS IN THE LOCKER ROOM?
That starts with the head coach and that’s why interviewing these guys is critical and getting to know their character and their personality. When Sean got to New Orleans, obviously he had come from Bill Parcells. So right away, you felt that discipline, immediately as he entered the building and we needed that as a team in 2006. So I think it’s just hiring the right coach to lead that charge. Taking my plan, my philosophy and pushing it in the locker room.
DO YOU HAVE CONTROL OVER THE 53-MAN ROSTER?
The 53-man roster, to answer your question, yes. But my experience in New Orleans, — the relationship between the head coach and general manager, that’s critical. So is the head coach and the quarterback. Those are the two most important relationships in the building. In my 15 years in New Orleans, I’ve never seen Mickey [Loomis] and Sean come to a major argument on something like that. And what’s the reason for that? Because they have a great relationship. They talk every single day. All those decisions, those are all hashed out because we’re communicating in the relationship we have. That’s what I’m looking forward to.
DO YOU LIKE THE STRUCTURE THE WAY IT’S SET UP NOW? MIGHT YOU CHANGE IT TO WHAT YOU HAD IN NEW ORLEANS?
As far as the scouting structure, the front office structure? Yeah. In reality the structures aren’t that different right now from what we had in New Orleans. The structures are what they are. It’s making sure you have the right people in place throughout that structure.
DO YOU HAVE FINAL SAY ON THE HEAD COACH?
It is a group effort and I’m going to lean heavily on George and Ted and Ernie Accorsi, who I admire tremendously. But yes, I do have final say.
WHAT ABOUT THE QB HERE? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU LOOK FOR IN A QB AS A TALENT EVALUATOR?
The quarterback obviously is a critical, critical position to achieve sustained success. But it’s not the only position. For us to have a lot of success, all 53 guys are going to be accounted for. So yeah, I witnessed things with Drew Brees that I have in my mind, that I know why he was successful. And those are ingrained in me. But I want to get to know Jay. I want to get to know him further before I come to these conclusions.
ANY SETBACKS YOU HAVE LEARNED FROM?
I have learned from those and I touched on those earlier. But the main thing about that is it’s not always a honeymoon. I’m smiling today and things are great today, but how do you handle yourself when it’s not that way? How does the head coach handle himself when it’s not that way? So I think I’ve learned that I can handle adversity and persevere through it. I’m a very competitive person, a very aggressive person and challenges like that don’t bother me.
YOU ARE THE YOUNGEST GM IN LEAGUE.
Again, I lean on my experiences in New Orleans. So, yeah, I’m 37. But I’ve seen a lot in those years, I think a lot more than a lot of people have with a lot of teams, and throughout that time we’ve been a successful franchise. So I don’t look at my age; I look at my experience in New Orleans. There are other GMs that started off at a similar age. I can think of one right now who won the Super Bowl last year, so it doesn’t concern me.
WHAT’S THE LENGTH OF YOUR CONTRACT AND WHAT WAS YOUR EVALUATION OF CUTLER WHILE WITH SAINTS?
The length of the contract … I’ll just tell you this: I feel really, really good about being here. I feel really good that I’m empowered. That’s why I’m here. In regards to Jay Cutler again, I don’t want to comment on specific things about him right now. Evaluating the quarterback is more than just what I see on tape. There are a lot of other things that go into the position and for me to fully answer that question I need to get to know him as a person.
HOW DID YOUR INVOLVEMENT WITH DRAFT EVOLVE?
In New Orleans the pro and college departments are blended together. So whether you’re working on one side or the other, you’re really doing both and I actually think that’s important. So I was involved with the draft throughout my entire career. Obviously that progressed as I ascended up the ladder in New Orleans … As the director of player personnel the last two years … my style in regards to the draft, this is what I believe in: I believe that have sustained success you must build your team through the draft and you must strongly believe in player development. That’s very important. We’re going to explore every avenue to get the best players here. So that can change year-to-year. In a perfect world, you’re acquiring players in free agency that allow you to draft the best player available in the draft.
HOW FAR BEHIND IS THIS TEAM BEHIND THE PACKERS AND LIONS?
This is a strong division and that’s the competitive part of me that’s fired up and getting ready to go. Those teams have a done a successful job of building their teams through the draft. So that’s where we got to get to. We got to build our team strong through the draft to have sustained success. Honestly, I respect what Green Bay’s done. I respect what Ted Thompson’s done. I respect what Detroit’s done. They built through the draft and they are sustaining success because of that.
DO YOU HAVE TIME TO PUT YOUR NEW SYSTEM IN PLACE RIGHT NOW?
I’m still thinking about that. Honestly, I just found where my office is this morning and the last three days have really felt like one day, but eventually I really want to implement our system here. So it’s something I’m comfortable with. I think it’s something that’s successful and I’m excited about bringing new ideas to the Bears organization.
DO YOU HAVE ANY EXPERIENCE HIRING A HEAD COACH?
I’ve hired and identified staff members. I’ve never hired or identified a head coach, so it’s all new for me. And that’s why I’m glad these guys are in the room with me. That’s why I’m glad Ernie Accorsi is there. I mean, he’s a Hall of Fame general manager that I can lean on. That’s a resource. That was my first experience last night, but I felt good about it.
WHY DID THE SAINTS STRUGGLE THIS YEAR?
There’s certain things I look back about this season that I wish we could have done differently — leadership on the defensive side of the ball, things like that. Of course, we had injuries we had turnovers. You turnover the ball, you’re not going to win consistently. But I’m confident those guys are going to get that ship righted. Those evaluations are ongoing down there right now. That team is set up to have sustained success and they are going to be right back at it next year, I know that.
WHAT’S YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE?
This is a win … a winning league. You must win. We’re all judged on wins and losses. I understand that. In fact, I thrive in that. I know I’m evaluated on wins and losses. As far as the time frame and all that, I’m not concerned with that. I want to win. I want to win.
The challenges: The first step, again, is hiring the right head coach to help me lead that charge. And that’s all I’m focused on right now. That’s the most critical thing we can do right now. I think it helps me, again, to have a step-by-step plan in my head — a progressive plan — and right now, that’s hiring a head coach, step 1.
ARE ALL YOUR HEAD COACH CANDIDATES NFL GUYS? CAN YOU AT LEAST GIVE US SOME INITIALS?
I wish I could. I don’t want to do that. we have coaching candidates — broad spectrum. For me, it’s not, is he college? Is he offense? Is he defense? It’s the best man for the job. And hey, that’s the process we’re going through right now. Thorough interviews on these candidates is critical. And there’s urgency. No question there’s urgency. But the most important thing is that we get this right.
HOW WERE YOU INVOLVED IN COLLEGE, COMING UP ON THE PRO SIDE?
Again, in new Orleans, we were blended together. So the whole time I’m doing college things. I think being in the building is an advantage. Coming up as a pro scout is an … you understand the dynamics of the building. You witness the head coach/general manager relationship. You witness decisions happening every day. So I value that I came up on the pro side. You know what it takes, in certain positions, to succeed in the league. So as far as pro and college, again, it was a blend. I’m actually glad I came in on the pro side.
WHAT WAS YOUR ROLE IN ACQUIRING DREW BREES?
That’s a good question. And that was seriously a group effort. And I’m not just saying a generic answer — that seriously was. We talked about Drew Brees. Obviously at the time there were some concerns with the shoulder. We had a plan in place to possibly draft a quarterback and acquire a veteran free agent, if we didn’t get drew Brees. That was our backup plan. We were fortunate to get drew. And, hey, once you get to know him, once you interview him, you realize, hey, he was coming off a shoulder, but this guy was going to persevere through that. I remember we joked about our first training camp practice, because drew didn’t throw the whole entire minicamps, OTAs. So we’re at Millsaps (College) in Jackson (Miss). Here’s Drew’s first throw, right. He drops back on the little 5-yard out, and he skips it off the ground. We all look at each other like, ‘oh man.’ But that guy’s work ethic, he progressed right through that and obviously, hey, he led us to a championship.
HOW DO YOU GET A FEEL OF WHICH HEAD COACHES YOU BLEND WITH?
What was kind of cool about last night was we had a thorough interview, right. I was able to separate just me and him, one on one, for an extended period of time. And hey, natural conversation flows. You get to know each other’s personalities. And I think I’m a really good judge of character. I think I have good instincts. That helps me as an evaluator. And I think that applies to finding the right head coach too. I think you feel it.
YOUR STANCE ON ANALYTICS?
It’s an important role. I look at analytics as a tool in our toolbox to better evaluate players. It’s just another tool. I don’t want you guys thinking that I’m some Moneyball GM, that’s not me. But analytics is important. It’s important, so it definitely will be blended into our scouting process. I know we already have a guy here on staff that was hired out of STATS, Inc. I’m excited about that. We were doing that in New Orleans. That’s progressing right now and I’m exited about that. It’s definitely going to be a part of our process.
TALK ABOUT YOUR EASTERN ILLINOIS ROOTS AND COMING BACK HERE.
I’m really, really excited about it. I was telling my wife, I remember leaving Eastern Illinois in some beat up car and driving down to New Orleans for the job interview. The other night, we’re flying back here to be the general manager of the Chicago Bears. I’m not really proud of that. I’m really proud of the path that I took. It just makes me smile.
WHAT’S YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH THE SALARY CAP?
It’s critical. The Saints’ perceived tight cap situation, I think that’s because that’s a good team with a lot of veteran players and a quarterback. But I’ve been in enough meetings with Mickey and Khai Harley to know that they have a plan in place. I’ve talked about this in the interview. The salary cap? That’s not my background. I wanted these guys to know who I am. I come from an evaluation background. That’s my strength. I think being a good GM is knowing your strengths and weaknesses, right? So I know Cliff Stein is here. I know Ted is here. And again, I’m going to lean on them to help me with that. And I’ll learn. Hey, my work ethic, that’s one thing that’s never been questioned. So if I need to improve in the salary-cap end of the business, I’m all on board with it. I know Cliff and Ted will help me.
YOU TURNED DOWN GM INTERVIEW REQUESTS FROM OTHER TEAMS. WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE BEARS?
In the NFL, I think there’s guys who are always looking for their next job. To me, that can be a little selfish. My entire focus was on making the Saints better every day and I was confident that if I worked hard and we won games that one day this opportunity would come. I talked to Mickey and Sean about this at length because you only get one first shot at this. This is a dream for me. You only get one first shot. So it better be right. The more I thought about this when I came up here and honestly they were interviewing me but I was interviewing them. It’s got to be a fit both ways for it to work. From the moment I walked into the building and I met George and I met Ted, I could just feel it. I’m telling you I feel it here. This is going to be set up to win and sustain success. I’m excited about. So once I got into the building, I met the ownership, the historic franchise, the city of Chicago, coming back to Illinois, my wife is from here, everything just felt right and again I trust my instincts and my gut and that’s why I’m here.
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU’LL DO DIFFERENTLY BECAUSE THIS IS THE NFL’S CHARTER FRANCHISE?
That’s a good question, but I think whatever team you’re with or organization you’re with, my plan and my philosophy is my philosophy and it’s my plan, so I would apply that anywhere. It’s not … I would apply that anywhere. I am proud to be here, I am excited to be part of a historic franchise – that’s one of the reasons why I’m here – but to be honest my plan would apply to whatever team I was with.
BEARS HAVE A HISTORY OF RUNNING FOOTBALL/PLAYING STOUT DEFENSE. AFTER GETTING AWAY FROM THAT RECENTLY, DO YOU SEE VALUE IN REDISCOVERING THAT IDENTITY?
Let’s face the facts – the weather here, I’m experiencing it right now, it can be brutal. To win in that environment you got to be able to run the ball, you got to be able to play tough defense. When you think about the Chicago Bears identity over the years, it’s tough, physical defense, and we’re going to get back to that.
WHAT ARE YOUR PRIORITIES IN THE HEAD COACHING SEARCH?
The thing is, I think every head coach is going to have a different personality. We can talk about head coaches in the NFL that are in the playoffs right now, they’re all successful, but all their personalities are so different. I’m influenced by Sean Payton a little bit because I saw what he brought. I think about qualities like – Sean came from Parcells, so discipline was important right off the bat. But Sean has a charisma, a confidence and an energy to him that’s infectious. I think that’s important, you know? When a head coach gets in front of the room, think about it, he’s selling his plan to the players. And there needs to be buy-in. Sean Payton has that, and we’ll be looking for some of those qualities.
SPECIFIC EXAMPLE OF YOU MAKING A MISTAKE IN THE PAST AND LEARNING TO AVOID THE SAME MISTAKE AGAIN?
I’ve never made a mistake (laughs). When I first started with the Saints, I might have just become a pro scout or a scouting assistant. We were in the draft – I want to be honest with you guys, honest assessment. And when I talk about taking best player available, you have to be careful in the draft … that’s what I believe in. In the draft, it can be human nature to want to push up a position that you need. And that doesn’t happen on draft day. That happens in the process leading into the draft, right? So we’re talking about defensive linemen, we really need a D-linemen. Hey I know we don’t have great grades on this player, but we’re pushing him up because we need it. So we drafted a defensive tackle in 2003 that didn’t end up being a good player for us and I think that was partly because we pushed him up because of need. We should’ve just taken best player available. Honest answer.
WITH SENIOR BOWL RIGHT AROUND CORNER, HOW DO YOU BALANCE BEING THOROUGH IN COACHING SEARCH WHILE MAINTAINING SENSE OF URGENCY?
There’s an urgency, no question. I think about the Senior Bowl a lot – that’s important. But I don’t think that overrides getting the right head coach. I’ll be at the Senior Bowl. We’ll have all our scouts there. I’m confident. But I don’t want that to rush is in our decision for a head coach.
DO YOU THINK YOU’LL HAVE MADE THE HEAD COACH HIRE BY THEN?
I can’t answer that. We’re going through the process right now.
IS THERE A PARTICULAR DEFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY THAT YOU FAVOR THROUGH YOUR EXPERIENCES?
The thing now… I guess the philosophy I favor is a coach that can adjust to the players that he has. A coach can adjust his defense to the players; not pigeonhole players into his scheme. I think that’s an important trademark of a coach: the willingness to adjust your scheme to maximize your players’ talents.
BECAUSE YOU’RE A FIRST-TIME GM, ARE YOU LOOKING FOR A HEAD COACH WITH EXPERIENCE?
Again, it’s the best candidate. I’m sure there are going to be coaches who we interview that are younger that, hey, just like me they have a lot of years in the league. And they’ve gone through a lot of things. I don’t always want to think that age is an indicator of experience.
WHAT’S THE TIME FRAME FOR FINDING A HEAD COACH?
There’s no set time frame. There’s not. There’s an urgency to it. But again, the most important thing is that we get the right guy. This is the critical thing right now. You report to Ted, the coach reports to you. What do you like about that? I think just getting to know Ted and everything that I’ve heard about Ted. Ted honestly reminds me a lot of Mickey Loomis who I worked with closely in New Orleans. So I think there’s an automatic connection. I think our relationship is important. Me and Ted’s daily communication. So I’m comfortable with the hierarchy here. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t comfortable with that.
WHAT ARE THE PHILLIPS/LOOMIS PARALELLS?
First of all, they’ve both been in the league for a long, long time and they have a lot of unique experiences that I can lean on. Hey there’s no denying and as you guys have stated numerous times, I’m a young GM. I’m going to lean on his experiences. I’m going to continue leaning on Ernie Accorsi too and other mentors I have throughout the league. But Ted and Mickey, their temperaments are similar. Their experiences are similar. Similar personalities.
YOU LOOK AT EASE BUT THIS IS A TOUGH FAN BASE/MEDIA MARKET.
I’m surprised that I’m at ease. No. I don’t know. I know this is part of the job. I’m excited about it. I know that everybody here, the fans and the media, you guys are passionate. You guys are big Bears fans. I’m sure everybody in here is a passionate Bears fan. It’s up to me to lead that charge. It started yesterday when they hired me. And we’re going full speed.
HAVE YOU TALKED TO CUTLER?
You know, I just found my office this morning. I have a list. I’m going to meet with him soon. But right now, seriously, I’m really narrowed in on this head coach search right now. I’ll have time to talk to Jay. But I don’t have a set date. If that answers your question.
HOW DO YOU EVALUATE THE QB POSITION?
I think a lot of people would say that obviously the intangibles of the quarterback position is critical, right? There are things that might carry more weight for me on a quarterback than maybe another evaluator. Drew’s left an impression on me regarding that. But, no, you evaluate every position the same way. There are certain traits and qualities you look for at each position. But overall, the discipline, toughness, instincts, intelligence. We want reliable players that you know what you’re getting from them on game day.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.