At just 37 years old, Ryan Pace, the sixth general manager in Chicago Bears franchise history, has already faced his fair share of adversity. Pace is entering his 15th year in the NFL and has dealt with hardship since Day 1.
In 2001, two years after graduating from Eastern Illinois University, Pace took a leap of faith and headed to New Orleans. In New Orleans he paid his way into a job fair, a wise career decision to say the least.
“Looking back, the odds were stacked against me,” Pace said on WBBM Radio. “Maybe I was a bit naïve but I didn’t know anybody in the NFL and it was a dream I had. They said it was a job fair, you had to pay for it and stand in line for an hour and that’s fine with me.
“I guess I was confident in my ability, that if I got in the building then things would lead in the right direction.”
In his journey from painting fields and moving furniture on an un-paid internship, to scouting assistant with the Saints and eventually general manager of a premier NFL franchise, Pace has faced a unique set of challenges.
On August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans, among many other locations on the southern half of the United States. The damage of the storm took the city to their knees.
Enter the Saints.
In April, owner Tom Benson halted lease negotiations until after the 2005 football season, which lead to a large amount of speculation if the Saints would stay in New Orleans. Once the storm hit, the team evacuated to San Jose, California and shortly after established a temporary headquarters in San Antonio, Texas. The Saints didn’t play a single home game at the Superdome in the 2005 season.
Behind the scenes, Pace and the rest of the front office were still dealing with everyday team operations.
“When we were displaced in San Antonio and we came back to New Orleans, I truly believe in adverse situations like that,” Pace said during his introductory press conference. “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.”
In 2012, the “Bountygate" scandal again made the Saints the NFL’s hottest topic. The team was accused of collecting money from teammates and paying players that purposefully took an opposing player out of the game due to injury. At the root of this scandal was defensive coordinator Greg Williams.
Within the organization, both head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis were suspended by the league for their knowledge of the situation and unwillingness to shut it down.
Not even a decade removed from the horrific disaster that was Hurricane Katrina, Pace found himself in the middle of another mess, this time stepping in as interim general manager for eight weeks.
“In Bountygate I was the interim general manager for eight weeks,” said Pace. “That’s invaluable in my experience. In regard 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.”
As a consequence of the scandal, the front office dealt with some of the worst publicity a sports team had ever endured, all of this while getting the team back in the playoffs in the 2013 season.
NFL's Youngest GM
At just 37 years old, Pace is the league’s youngest general manager. While some feel that his age is a good thing, there are still many doubters.
“Again, I lean on my experiences in New Orleans,” he said. “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.”
Pace referenced Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider, who became GM at 39.
“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.”
Upcoming Key Issues
There’s not much that has phased Pace in his journey to this point in his career. This will be key for the big decisions he’ll soon make, including the future of Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, and other roster and coaching decisions, the most important of which is finding the next head coach, that will loom large within the coming months.
With personnel decisions on the horizon, Pace said he will be analyzing the current staff and set of players before considering his options outside of the organization.
“I owe that to them,” he said.
Pace may be young in terms of age but considering his timeline of responsibilities since coming into the league, adversity doesn’t seem to be an issue. That should be a refreshing feeling for Bears fans everywhere.
Aaron Leming has years of salary cap knowledge and has written for Rant Sports, Bears Draft On Tap, and Cover 32. He is a regular contributor to Bear Report.