Changes at Halas Hall have been happening with blinding speed of late. First the firing of both head coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery at the end of the season, followed in short order by the hiring of Ryan Pace, the youngest GM in the NFL. Just a week later, Denver’s John Fox is on board and ready to go as the Chicago Bears’ next head coach.
It’s all happened under the watchful eye of team president Ted Phillips, who was in charge of the entire process.
“There was a definite sense of urgency in all of this. It was something we needed to do and do quickly,” Phillips said following Fox’s introductory press conference. “However that does not mean we rushed. As I look back on the process, I feel it was efficient but not hurried. We took the time to pick the best men for these jobs. There is no doubt in my mind that both hirings were the absolute right decision.”
Phillips credited Bears advisor Ernie Accorsi with a broader perspective in terms of who might be available and which GM or coach candidate is the best possible fit for the Bears.
“Ernie has been in the league for a considerable period of time,” Phillips said. “Years of experience there and he proved invaluable in helping to keep us focused during our search. He has developed numerous strong relationships throughout the NFL. He was well aware of the sense of urgency we had and was able to keep us focused on that. Ernie was able to steer us to the exact people who would benefit our organization.”
And although Accorsi’s official role has ended, the Bears know he’s just a phone call away.
“I can see Ryan or John picking up the phone and calling Ernie to get his view on things. He gives that outsider’s perspective that is often needed in situations, “said Phillips. “I can’t give you a specific example right now of when his views might be needed but I know our new head coach and GM will be in touch with Ernie going forward.”
Phillips said he was pleased with Pace’s leadership throughout the Fox hunt.
“I chuckled today when during his press conference. John Fox said he asked Ryan something about the Bears last weekend and then Ryan reminded him that he had only been at Halas Hall a few days himself. It’s impressive to me that from the moment he arrived here Ryan has led this process. He understands that he still has a learning curve but he’s picking things up with remarkable speed. It’s not easy to sign on as a new GM and then have to find a new head coach immediately. It says a lot to his character and work ethic that the process was completed so quickly and effectively.”
Phillips stressed that the GM/head coach relationship would be the most important relationship in the building and feels the personalities of both men mesh well.
“Both these signing were vital to the Bears,” Phillips said. “After such a disappointing season we are suddenly all filled with optimism and it’s not just blind hope. We have a new general manager who is a rising star and we have a new head coach who has brought two teams to the Super Bowl. That is exactly the way you want things to turn out. Going forward we can all see these two men working well together to build a contender.”
Phillips said he was most impressed by Fox’s overwhelming confidence, success and charisma.
“You want somebody with that winning background to come in here and get things going in the right direction. To me it was a game changer for us when John suddenly became available. Nobody expected that. When that happened it changed the entire dynamics of our search process. Ryan noticed it and acted quickly. Now we have the best possible man for our head coaching job. I see him coming in here and energizing the entire building.”
Fox said he’ll reach out to Brian Urlacher, whose relationship with the Bears is strained due to his treatment from former GM Phil Emery.
“They are both quite aware of our past. For John to say today that he has reached out to Urlacher and planned to contact [Mike] Ditka, well that to me says he understands our history and the importance of including these men. We all agree with that. John and Ryan both understand the importance of both keeping those relationships with our alumni and enhancing them going forward.”
The past three weeks have been a whirlwind for the Bears, yet the team is only in the beginning stages of rebuilding a franchise that fell apart last year.
“We have a lot still left to do,” Phillips said. “Ryan and John met through the weekend evaluating staff. It will be an ongoing process for some time to come. I feel confident with what has happened and what will happen from here on. With John Fox and Ryan Pace in the building we have given our team the best possible start in moving forward in a very positive direction. There is great passion, great energy here now. They are both winners and form a great combination. I for one am looking forward to watching what will happen from this point on.”
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 17 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.