As George McCaskey embarks on the search for the first new Chicago Bears President in more than two decades — and the first one he will have hired personally — he’s keeping possibilities open.
The Bears Chairman said members of the search team, who were assembled to find a replacement for retiring President and CEO Ted Phillips, are “not locked into a business or football person.”
They’re open to both in-house and external candidates.
They’re not going to hire or eliminate someone based on their availability to join the team by Phillips’ retirement date of Feb. 28.
And they would consider a candidate who doesn’t have experience with a stadium project like the one the Bears are exploring in Arlington Heights, if that person could hire the right people to lead it.
So what exactly are the Bears looking for?
“Leadership, vision, humility, consensus building,” McCaskey said.
McCaskey and Phillips sat down with the Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times in a Halas Hall conference room Friday to discuss Phillips’ announcement last week that he will retire at the end of the 2022 season after 40 years with the team and 23 as president.
The Bears’ search team has been established: McCaskey, Phillips, Bears senior vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion Tanesha Wade and search firm Nolan Partners. McCaskey said the group has delved deep into discussions, but he doesn’t expect the team to announce interviews along the way, as it did with coaching and general manager candidates in the winter.
McCaskey wants to keep an open mind about the qualifications of Phillips’ successor, but Phillips added a few more details about what he thinks the Bears should look for, beyond “Ted 2.0,” as McCaskey joked.
“Someone that can make tough decisions,” Phillips said. “Someone who can handle a lot of different balls in the air on a daily basis because every day is different. Someone who understands what it means to be a Bear. Culture here is important.
“Someone that’s able to deal with different personalities from politicians to business leaders to the media. It’s not easy, so we need someone who can understand all those different dynamics. Someone who can groom younger people. I think about that because I got a lot of great opportunities when I was younger and through my whole career, obviously. So I love that, and I think that’s important for someone to be able to come in and listen more than they talk and learn from others, including those who aren’t at the same level as them.”
McCaskey did reveal one other most notable detail of the Bears’ plans: “We don’t anticipate any change in the structure.”
That means McCaskey does not expect the Bears to create separate presidents of business and football operations. Whether the new president has both business and football experience, however, is possible.
It’s a factor that will be closely watched because it was one of the main criticisms of Phillips’ career, which has been marked by the Bears’ financial growth but also a 177-192 regular-season record.
‘I don’t have regrets’
Phillips has heard and read the line over the years. The man who started his career in finance politely seemed to admit it rankles him a little bit.
“Everyone says I’m not a football guy. It makes me chuckle a little bit,” Phillips said. “I’m not a coach. I’m not an evaluator. I’ve been in the business for 40 years, and I think I’ve learned a little bit. I’ve never made the decisions of who should coach and who should play. So I guess that’s what I’m saying, the people that write that, I don’t quite understand it. But it’s OK.”
His critics would have been focused on that less if the Bears had won more under Phillips.
Since Phillips was hired in 1999 to replace Michael McCaskey, the Bears have made six playoff appearances, had 12 losing seasons and haven’t won a playoff game since the 2010 season. They had one Super Bowl appearance in the 2006 season.
Phillips has guided plenty of business growth, including the 2002-03 Soldier Field renovations, the expansion of Halas Hall and the exploration of the old Arlington International Racecourse property as a site for a new stadium.
And McCaskey said he appreciated Phillips’ ability to make tough decisions and handle various personalities.
But Phillips’ tenure always will be clouded by the Bears not winning enough, and questions remain about whether Phillips could have done anything differently to help the general managers that reported to him and better set up the team for success on the field.
“I don’t have regrets. I don’t operate that way,” Phillips said. “Am I disappointed? Absolutely. We haven’t been able to find a consistently winning team. We’ve had moments of success that have been really fun to be around, but whether or not the structure would have made a difference, I’m not convinced that it would. I think you need a football decision-maker, which we’ve always had. And at some point that person always reports up to ownership.”
The criticisms peaked after a January 2021 news conference in which McCaskey and Phillips discussed retaining former GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy for the next season.
Phillips was asked then about where to draw the line when leaders make missteps. In a lengthy quote in which he talked about believing in the football culture Pace and Nagy created, Phillips uttered a few sentences that became fodder for Bears ire across Chicago.
“Have we gotten the quarterback situation completely right? No. Have we won enough games? No. Everything else is there,” Phillips said.
On Friday, Phillips maintained the rest of the quote was needed for proper context, noting he was talking about how Pace and Nagy “brought a lot of good things to the organization.” But he also recognized one of the biggest problems of the Pace era.
“Some of the mistakes that were made were high-profile mistakes,” Phillips said. “Those are tough to come back from. The Achilles’ heel, the one thing I’d change: Get the quarterback right, please. That’s what I’d change. It hurts when you see. … I think since the (1985) Super Bowl year there’s been 45 different starting quarterbacks. OK? It’s disappointing. Hopefully, we’ve got that right now.”
Phillips also hopes the Bears have it right with new general manager Ryan Poles, whom the Bears asked to report directly to McCaskey as Phillips focuses on the stadium project.
Phillips credited Poles with putting together a good staff, which includes the Bears’ first assistant general manager in Ian Cunningham.
And that’s where Phillips offered reflection on what could have been done with the other GMs before Poles — and what a team president could do in the future.
“Would I do something differently? No. Maybe encourage past GMs to make sure they’ve got the right people in place who can have a lot of influence and listen to them,” Phillips said. “Again, we’ve taken the approach that the GM is the final decision-maker. I don’t see that being an issue if they make the right choices going forward.”
‘Hard to say no’
Phillips said he wanted to give himself the gift of time, so when he retires, his first plan is to “take a breath.”
“It’s a high-pressure job and I wanted to retire when I still felt good, physically and mentally. And I do,” he said. “So that was important to me, to start a new chapter.”
The fact that the entire Arlington stadium and entertainment district project could take 10 or more years to complete was another reason Phillips considered leaving when he did.
McCaskey and Phillips frequently referenced how much work there is to be done before the Bears can close on the property and develop it, though McCaskey let on his enthusiasm when asked about the Bears’ opportunity to build their own home after playing for decades at Wrigley Field and Soldier Field — venues not originally built for their team.
“This is our 100-year opportunity to design it for us,” McCaskey said.
As the Bears work on closing on the property potentially at the beginning of 2023, Phillips and McCaskey said they have not yet designed the stadium and have not completed their financial analysis of potential funding for the multibillion dollar project. And they are far from determining finer details such as what will happen to personal seat license holders, though Phillips said, “We will come up with a plan that we hope will be beneficial to the long-term PSL holders we currently have.”
But Phillips believes the handoff of the project to a new president won’t be difficult and said there are many other Bears employees working on various aspects that can help the transition.
“I believe, I hope, that by the time I retire this project will be in a place where we know if we’re going to close, maybe we have closed, hopefully we have closed,” Phillips said. “And that there’s a path to where we want to go, either developing or not developing. If I can get to that point, then the rest of it, we’ve got good people that know what’s happened, and I’ll make sure the transition is smooth. I’ve promised George that.”
Still, Phillips said he and McCaskey have touched on the idea of Phillips consulting with the Bears on the stadium project beyond his retirement date.
“If it makes sense for the Bears and for me, I’d consider it,” Phillips said. “It’s hard to say no when you’ve been somewhere for 40 years.”
Added McCaskey: “It makes sense for the Bears.”
So even after the work of finding his replacement is done, Phillips might be sticking around a bit longer.
Source: Berkshire mont