If Ryan Poles has said it once, he has said it a thousand times. He’s not so much interested in seeking short-term satisfaction as he is eager to develop a formula for sustainable achievement.
Thus as his second offseason as the Chicago Bears general manager gets rolling, Poles has made no promises of a 2023 playoff breakthrough, instead working to strengthen his roster with a longer view.
Earlier this month, Poles sang a new verse in that familiar tune, reiterating his overall philosophy two days after the Bears finished their wayward 3-14 season.
“I want to stair-step this thing to the top,” Poles said, “and then stay up there as long as absolutely possible.”
Slow and steady. One step at a time. With practicality, patience and discipline.
Yes, there will be top-down urgency inside Halas Hall to accelerate the Bears’ return to relevance, especially over the next three months as Poles and his staff attack first free agency and then the draft with an aim of filling their trunk with as many difference-making newcomers as possible. And with a surplus of salary-cap space to take into the free-agent marketplace plus the No. 1 draft pick, this may be Poles’ greatest opportunity to fortify his team’s talent and depth.
Still, nothing will be hasty. And Poles will operate with valuable experience to help him remain measured and methodical.
“I always go back to making sound decisions,” he said. “And sometimes when you don’t make sound (acquisition) decisions, in the short term it can look really good. But then it’s what happens after (that). … We want to make decisions that can last a long time so we can stay at the top. We don’t want to peak and then have the drop-off after.”
Through that lens, you’d imagine Poles watched Sunday’s AFC championship game with a combination of pride and envy as he took inventory on the continued excellence of the Kansas City Chiefs, the organization in which he spent 13 seasons before exiting for his big break at Halas Hall.
For the fifth consecutive season, the Chiefs were playing on the final Sunday in January with a shot at the Super Bowl. And after a gutty 23-20 triumph over the Cincinnati Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium, they are headed back to football’s grandest stage for the third time in four years.
That is the dream for Poles in Chicago, to awaken the hibernating Bears and not only guide them back to the playoff party but to earn a membership with repeated visits the norm — rather than the annual cleanup project in Lake Forest.
When Poles entered the NFL as a player personnel assistant in Kansas City in 2009, the Chiefs were staggering. Coming off a 14-loss season in 2008, the organization hired Scott Pioli to replace Carl Peterson as GM and soon after brought on Todd Haley to take the head coaching duties from Herm Edwards.
The Chiefs’ ascent wasn’t immediate. Haley failed to make it to the end of his third season, and Pioli was dismissed after 41 losses in his four years leading the front office.
But starting in 2013, energized by the hiring of coach Andy Reid and his subsequent reunion with GM John Dorsey, the Chiefs began making clear progress, methodically reshaping their roster and establishing a winning identity.
In the 10 seasons since, they have won 117 regular-season games and seven consecutive division championships. They also have paired five first-round playoff byes with 11 postseason victories. On Feb. 12 they will clash with the Philadelphia Eagles in Arizona in Super Bowl LVII.
That is an admirable model for Poles to draw from. Or one of them anyway. Because the Eagles, too, are no strangers to Super Bowl Sunday, looking to add to their Lombardi Trophy collection five years after stunning the New England Patriots 41-33 in Super Bowl LII.
Eight players from that Eagles team are still on the roster. But there’s a new coach in Nick Sirianni and a new quarterback in Jalen Hurts, two energetic leaders helping to sustain success for an organization that has remained steady and relevant through significant changes.
The Eagles’ dominant 31-7 blowout of the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday marked their sixth playoff victory in the last 10 seasons. That matches the Bears’ postseason win total since they reached the mountaintop with their Super Bowl XX triumph 37 years ago.
So, yeah, you can understand why Poles is so wary of that whole “drop-off” danger. He is, after all, leading an organization that hasn’t posted three consecutive winning seasons since 1988 and has made back-to-back playoff appearances only once in 30 years — in 2005 and 2006.
But Poles also has his notes from those 13 seasons in Kansas City as he aims to begin a decade-long run full of achievement that the Bears can look back on with pride.
The big difference
To that end, Poles may want to start his 2023 mission with an eye on what sustained success really looks like in the NFL, detailing which franchises have done it best over the last 10 seasons.
Perhaps a PowerPoint presentation at Halas Hall could show talent evaluators and coaches the NFL teams that have made at least five playoff appearances and won at least four postseason games since 2013.
- In the AFC, that fraternity consists of only the Chiefs, Bengals, Patriots and Buffalo Bills.
- In the NFC, it’s the Eagles, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks.
- The leaders in playoff appearances over the last 10 seasons: the Chiefs (9), Patriots (8) and Packers (7).
- The postseason victory leaders: the Patriots (13), Chiefs (11), 49ers (8) and Seahawks (8).
Sure, an argument can be made that the Chiefs’ run of dominance has been propelled largely by a once-in-a-generation quarterback in Patrick Mahomes. But for Poles, that should be another reminder that the responsibility of unearthing franchise-changing stars in the draft is a must to this assignment, especially this year as the Bears have the potential to trade the No. 1 pick — perhaps multiple times — for a bushel of additional selections.
Heading into the 2017 draft, Poles was the Chiefs college scouting coordinator and heavily involved in the process that led to Mahomes. On draft day the Chiefs woke up with the No. 27 pick before aggressively trading up to No. 10. That’s additional proof that being right in the draft is more important than just picking high.
Poles remembers the consensus that built inside the Chiefs building regarding Mahomes. Their top evaluators dismissed worries about the quarterback’s deficiencies and inconsistent fundamentals, instead prioritizing his game-changing talents.
“Sometimes as scouts and evaluators, we get stuck on the flaws and ignore what the player can do,” Poles said last spring. “That, with him, was one thing that stood out. What Patrick could do was make plays that a lot of people just can’t.”
The Chiefs also were drawn to Mahomes’ competitive edge and passion and observed something they knew they could tap into. They saw their golden opportunity and seized it.
In so many ways, that one selection — eight slots after the Bears traded up to make Mitch Trubisky the first quarterback taken in that draft — became transformative, the engine that has powered the Chiefs’ run of elite achievement.
On Sunday, playing on a bum right ankle, Mahomes grinded, kept his team steady and drove the Chiefs to another championship. His final play was a valiant 5-yard scramble in the final minute that was accompanied by Joseph Ossai’s late hit that set up the winning field goal.
In the pressure-packed moments of another high-stakes game, Mahomes and the Chiefs used their finishing formula to reach the Super Bowl again. And that provided another reminder of what Poles said he’ll be seeking this offseason — and in future roster-replenishing cycles — to get the Bears over the hump.
“I want us to finish better,” Poles said in early January. “And bringing in some more playmakers is going to allow us to do that. So the expectation (in 2023) is to take that next step.”
Those expectations now fall squarely on Poles, who must draw from his past with the Chiefs to stair-step the Bears toward a more enjoyable future.
Source: Berkshire mont