- Jon Greenberg, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- After Ryan Pace's general manager interview Wednesday, George McCaskey, Ted Phillips and Ernie Accorsi shared a moment.
“When he left the room, Ernie, Ted and I looked at each other, and you could tell by the looks on their faces, he was the guy,” McCaskey said.
A day later, Pace was hired as the sixth general manager in Chicago Bears history. Phil Emery, we hardly knew ye.
Now, you, me and everyone else in the free world trust exactly one guy in that room’s opinion when it comes to football matters, and it’s Accorsi, the former Giants general manager who’s now earning a nice, fat paycheck for a few weeks' work as a consultant.
So if Ernie liked him, that’s a good sign, I suppose.
Even Phillips, the team president, joked about his reputation, telling reporters, “Hey look, you guys have all convinced me I’m not a football guy, all right?”
When asked about the Bears' brain trust betting on Pace, a 37-year-old New Orleans front-office veteran, to fix this mom-and-son operation, McCaskey quoted Accorsi.
“Ernie had a good analogy,” McCaskey said. “He said when you see that great young quarterback, you've got to take him -- that's the analogy he applied to Ryan. So we think and we hope we have the right guy.”
A good young quarterback in Chicago? Does anyone here know what that looks like?
It wasn’t Cade McNown or Rex Grossman or even Jay Cutler.
In his televised introduction to Chicago, the new “great young quarterback” of the Bears' organization looked the part. He’s tall, good-looking and young. He said “sustained success” so often I believe he owes royalties to Cubs president Theo Epstein.
He didn’t have much to say, because there’s not a lot to talk about yet. His vision for the Bears is your vision for the Bears. He wants to win a lot of games behind a bunch of athletic football players.
There’s no coach yet, no coaching staff, and Pace definitely didn’t want to wade into the dangerous waters of publicly evaluating Cutler, the $54 million elephant in the room.
Pace can’t remake the guts of the football operations department until the draft, so what’s there to say to the world? Not much. Just vague statements, a joke or two, and that’s it.
There’s a lot of work to do in a very short window. Emery lasted three years at the job, Marc Trestman just two as head coach. The Bears bottomed out at 5-11 in 2014, their worst record in a decade.
The roster isn’t rife with talent, and there are some expensive questions to answer. There are schematic questions, philosophical quandaries. But really, there’s only one acceptable result.
“This is a winning league. You must win,” Pace said. “We’re all judged on wins and losses. I understand that. In fact, I thrive in that. I know I’m evaluated on wins and losses. As far as the time frame and all that, I’m not concerned with that. I want to win. I want to win.”
Like Phillips, I’m not a “football guy,” either, so winning sounds better than “growing the man” or whatever else Trestman and Emery did the past two years. I’m not interested in what lessons Pace learned on the football fields of Eastern Illinois or even as an executive during the Saints’ upheaval after Hurricane Katrina.
Our past makes us human, but until they see the fruits of his labor, Bears fans shouldn’t care about Ryan Pace, the well-rounded individual. They just want to watch good football once a week, maybe make the playoffs more than twice a decade.
The Bears were an unlikable team that Chicago tuned out this season. Local ratings were down about 13 percent compared with 2013, the fifth-biggest drop in the NFL. Thousands of unused tickets were announced as the team stumbled to the end, losing five straight and eight of 10.
Pace's job isn’t to win news conferences or offseasons. He has to put together an organization to win games. But with that in mind, he definitely appealed to the crusty archetype of a Bears fan in one answer.
“Let’s face the facts -- the weather here, I’m experiencing it right now, it can be brutal,” he said. “To win in that environment, you got to be able to run the ball, you got to be able to play tough defense. When you think about the Chicago Bears' identity over the years, it’s tough, physical defense, and we’re going to get back to that.”
George’s mustache probably tingled at that one. Pace got right to work after signing his deal Thursday, walking to the Bronko Nagurski Room to interview head-coaching candidate Todd Bowles, the hotly pursued defensive coordinator from Arizona.
“I was very impressed, because you would think it would be natural for somebody to want to celebrate a little bit after reaching this point in his career,” McCaskey said. “But he got right down to business. I was very impressed with the way he conducted the interview, the questions he was asking and the rapport he developed immediately with the candidate.”
Hey, time’s a wasting as it is. Pace said he’ll combine his coaching wish list with the one created by Accorsi, McCaskey and Phillips.
“The first step, again, is hiring the right head coach to help me lead that charge,” Pace said. “And that’s all I’m focused on right now. That’s the most critical thing we can do right now. I think it helps me, again, to have a step-by-step plan in my head -- a progressive plan -- and right now, that’s hiring a head coach, Step 1.”
It’s not just about a hierarchy of decisions. You have to hire a coach before someone else does, and you have to hire assistant coaches before someone else does. Middling assistant coaches result in a mediocre team.
The timing here is key. This hire has to come quick and true or else the whole thing falls apart. The Bears have interviewed only two coaching candidates without Pace, playoff assistants in Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase and Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, both of whom could be busy in the coming weeks. McCaskey said they’ve delivered Pace their notes on the duo.
No matter what, Phillips assured everyone that it will be Pace’s decision.
“Here’s the way it has always worked, and it’s the way it’s gonna work going forward: It’s Ryan’s call, OK?” he said. “Would we give input, give ideas, ask questions? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, if Ryan is sold on a certain candidate, we’re going with it.”
One would assume that goes for Cutler’s future, too. If Pace and his handpicked head coach don’t want him around, they have to try to deal him by March 12 or his 2016 salary becomes guaranteed. The Bears would take a salary-cap hit by moving Cutler, which is difficult on its own, so it’s a decision that affects bean counters such as Phillips.
“I don’t want to comment on specific things about him right now,” Pace said. “Evaluating the quarterback is more than just what I see on tape. There are a lot of other things that go into the position, and for me to fully answer that question, I need to get to know him as a person.”
Is that good or bad for Cutler’s future?
Regardless, the Bears are in Pace’s hands now. He looks like a great candidate, now he just has to prove it, one decision at a time.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- After Ryan Pace's general manager interview Wednesday, George McCaskey, Ted Phillips and Ernie Accorsi shared a moment.“When he left the room, Ernie, Ted and I looked at each other, and you could tell by the looks on their faces, he was the guy,” McCaskey said.