Jahns: Bears’ drive for a new stadium makes Kevin Warren the perfect choice as CEO

LAKE FOREST, Illinois — As history goes, Virginia McCaskey needed someone to cut the Bears’ next deal with the city of Chicago for Soldier Field, and it wasn’t going to be her son Michael.

After 15 turbulent years it was time for a change.

But it came from the franchise.

On February 10, 1999, the Bears promoted Ted Phillips to team president. “I never dreamed of becoming president of an NFL team,” he said at the time. “It still blows my mind.”

Almost 24 years later, it’s a new stadium that has helped breathe new life into the Bears. Phillips retires; and Kevin Warren, the Big Ten commissioner, is replacing him as president and CEO, several people with knowledge of the situation said Thursday morning. Warren becomes the only African American CEO in the NFL.

Before running the Big Ten, Warren was the chief operating officer of the Vikings. His crowning achievement was the construction of US Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis. Considered one of the NFL’s premier stadiums, it is the result of the largest $1.3 billion public-private construction in Minnesota history. It opened on July 22, 2016. The Vikings hosted Super Bowl LII in 2018 and the NCAA Men’s Final Four in 2019.

Despite all of that, it’s easy to see why Bears chairman George McCaskey was attracted to Warren.

McCaskey wants the bears to have the best of everything, and they just don’t have that at Soldier Field. A new stadium and entertainment district is to be built in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Phillips has previously overseen construction progress on the Arlington Park site. That responsibility now shifts to Warren.

But by hiring Warren, the bears also made a very unbearish move. Warren isn’t an insider having spent decades with the team. That was Phillips, who first joined the franchise in 1983 as a controller. Warren is an outsider, one who should give the entire organization a long overdue and needed jolt.

McCaskey, the Bears chairman since 2010, needed that too. Phillips will step down at the end of February. There will be a party for him at Halas Hall.

Warren was hired after an extensive and lengthy search process. McCaskey and Phillips directed the secret interview process with the help of Nolan Partners, a sports executive recruitment firm.

the athlete learn that the bears are casting a wide net. It included contestants from a variety of sports, including the NFL, NBA, MLB, collegiate athletics, and even professional football in Europe.

Videoconferencing was used, but the bears narrowed their search in November, and fewer than 10 candidates were invited to Halas Hall for interviews. Fewer than these were brought back for a second meeting with the team in December.

One was Warren. He was accompanied by his wife Greta.

The Bears will surely say that Warren’s arrival involves more than just his stadium experience. His resume is long on NFL experience. It includes 15 years with the Vikings and previous stints with the Rams and Lions. He’s got the league connections the Bears need and then some.

Warren was surprisingly hired by the 2020 Big Ten and is leaving the conference as the envy of the collegiate sports world. He turned the Big Ten into a national conference with the addition of USC and UCLA. After that, Warren secured a seven-year, $8 billion media rights deal for the Big Ten with three major networks – Fox, NBC and CBS.

He went out of college to the dealmaker.

When Phillips took over the Bears, the team was in dire need of fresh leadership. The franchise was still reeling from the Dave McGinnis fiasco, in which Michael McCaskey announced his tenure as a non-contract coach in 1999. Upset that the news broke, McGinnis turned down the job and the Bears apologized. McCaskey’s bid to build a new stadium in the suburb of Elk Grove Village also fell through.

Phillips took a different approach. In 2000, he secured the stadium’s contract with the City of Chicago, and renovations began at Soldier Field immediately after the end of the 2002 season. The wrecking balls were waiting. In June 2001, the Bears hired Jerry Angelo as the team’s first general manager since Jerry Vainisi in 1986.

The bears are different now. Very different. They’re worth more — $5.8 billion according to Forbes 2022 ratings — and they’ve actually done more.

Under George McCaskey and Phillips, the team modernized and expanded Halas Hall by nearly 200,000 square feet in 2019. The vision for these changes, including moving the training camp from Bourbonnais to their home base in Lake Forest, came from former general manager Ryan Pace. but “because of Ted’s efforts, we have one of the best assets in the league,” McCaskey said the athlete‘s Dan Pompei in September.

Warren is responsible for making the Bears one of the best stadiums in the league. It’s his chance to make a lasting impression in America’s most popular sport.

The football portion of the Bears is owned by current GM Ryan Poles. He was hired by McCaskey after a search assisted by Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian. The Poles will report directly to McCaskey, a change in the team’s power structure that had become a point of contention locally but was suggested by Phillips himself. The Poles hired Ian Cunningham as the first GM assistant in team history.

Unlike Phillips in 1999, Warren is coming to the Bears at an exciting time. The Bears have a young, promising quarterback in Justin Fields — “We’re excited to see his development and where he goes next,” the Poles said this week — and the first pick in the NFL Draft.

The Bears “deserved” this pick after a 3-14 season and a near miraculous win by the Texans over the Colts in Indianapolis in Week 18, but the Poles and coach Matt Eberflus also believe in the foundation they built in their first season together.

Fields is an important part of this.

And when it comes to the franchise as a whole, now so is Warren. He’s another difference maker in a team that has clearly become a different team since the winter of 1999.

(Photo: Gary A Vasquez / USA Today)

https://theathletic.com/4084838/2023/01/12/chicago-bears-kevin-warren-new-stadium/ Jahns: Bears’ drive for a new stadium makes Kevin Warren the perfect choice as CEO

Russell Falcon

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