LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Ryan Pace's age became a constant topic of conversation Friday during his introductory news conference at Halas Hall.
But instead of getting defensive, Pace simply pointed to Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider as an example of what the Chicago Bears might be able to accomplish under his direction.
“I lean on my experiences in New Orleans,” said Pace, the NFL’s youngest general manager. “So yeah, I’m 37. But I’ve seen a lot in those years, I think a lot more than a lot of people have with a lot of teams, and throughout that time, we’ve been a successful franchise. So I don’t look at my age. I look at my experience in New Orleans. There are other GMs that started off at a similar age. I can think of one right now who won the Super Bowl last year. So it doesn't concern me."
Back in 2010, the Seahawks had gone 9-23 under two head coaches over two years before bringing Schneider into the fold as GM. He was 38 at the time. In Schneider’s first season in Seattle, the Seahawks turned over the roster with an NFL-high 284 transactions from February through the club’s final contest of that season.
That year, the Seahawks won the NFC West and defeated the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints in the wild-card round, before falling to the Bears in the divisional round.
“After all our interviews, we never once talked about his age,” Bears team president Ted Phillips said. “Never knew he was the youngest GM until you guys wrote about it. I didn’t know that. To me, it was because all we were focused on was his experience, what he had to say about what he can bring to the Bears. And he just did a great job, from showing intensity, from showing toughness, from really being able to articulate the kind of head coach he wants and how to build the roster. I’ve heard the comments made that he has to win right away. Look, we want to see progress. [Do] we want to win right away? Yeah, he did it in New Orleans, or he was part of that plan in New Orleans. So we hope we can be there. I don’t think that’s too much added pressure on him. We’re in this business to win. He knows that, and I love his intensity and his competitive fire.”
Like Schneider back in 2010, Pace was a surprise hire by the Bears, which also interviewed Tennessee Titans vice president of player personnel Lake Dawson and Houston Texans director of pro personnel, in addition to local favorite Chris Ballard, who serves as director of player personnel for the Kansas City Chiefs after 12 seasons working in Chicago’s front office. Like Schneider back in 2010, Pace joins the Bears with several years of experience despite his young age.
Pace joined the Saints in 2001, and started his career as an assistant helping in areas such as game-day and training camp operations, before working his way through the ranks in the personnel department.
ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett pointed out New Orleans valued Pace so much it created a new position for him when the club promoted him in 2013 to director of player personnel overseeing both the college and pro scouting departments. Prior to that, New Orleans utilized separate pro and scouting directors, who reported to general manager Mickey Loomis.
Pace’s promotion in 2013 marked the second major promotion he received during the most significant run of success in New Orleans franchise history.
In describing the decision to hire Pace, Bears chairman George McCaskey recited a line often uttered by team consultant Ernie Accorsi.
“He said when you see that great, young quarterback, you’ve got to take him,” McCaskey said. “That’s the analogy [Accorsi] applied to Ryan. So we think and hope we have the right guy.”
After the Bears hired Pace on Thursday, Phillips, who has known Loomis 31 years, picked up the phone to thank the Saints GM.
“When I called him to thank him, he said, ‘You son of a gun. I can’t believe you took my guy,’” Phillips said. “So that says a lot about Ryan.”